A Dearth of Bees

“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”
― Ray BradburyDandelion Wine

There are no honeybees this year and it is devastating. I use no chemicals and I plant with pollinators in mind, always. Normally bees are all over my garden, gathering pollen and flitting between flowers. Not this year. I have bumblebees. I have some beneficial wasps. I have carpenter bees. I have no honeybees. I have been actively hunting for them and the most I’ve been able to find is two in a patch of clover. I’ve been gardening for 20 years and I have never seen anything like it. Even the other species of bees that I do have are sparse.

Of course I know they are in serious trouble. The whole planet is. Gardening is one thing I can do to help so I do it. But to not have any honeybees in a garden in full bloom, with flowers overflowing the pathways and with more flowers every day is just shocking. We had a late frost here in South Carolina this year so perhaps that’s part of it, but I don’t think so. Even with the frost we still should have some, even if it is not as many as normal. Maybe the city has been spraying for something. I’ve seen multiple articles about hives being wiped out by careless pesticides sprayed to control mosquitoes or some other nuisance. I just don’t know. It’s discouraging. Last year the United States lost another third of it’s hives and still we haven’t banned neoniconitoids. This country is being destroyed by corporate greed and our corrupt government is helping.
Anyway… this is the first time I have ever had to pollinate vegetables by hand. I don’t have a large vegetable garden. Most of my garden is flowers and herbs. I have tomatoes of various types, cucumbers, Jenny Lind melons, Sugar Baby watermelons and eggplant. Tomatoes are self pollinating, so I’ve just been assisting with gentle shakes to distribute the pollen a bit. My eggplant has several beautiful flowers open so I took a q-tip and ran it around the flower and gently onto the stigma. I’ll repeat this over the next few days until I’m sure it’s pollinated. I’ve read that this is best done in the morning. Speaking of when to pollinate, humidity and excessively high temperatures can be a factor in preventing pollination. Apparently that can cause the pollen to clump together and prevent it from being moved around like it needs to. As for melons, I have one small watermelon growing so far. The Jenny Lind vines seem to be all female flowers as of today, so I’ll look for a male flower again tomorrow. With melons, you use the pollen from the male flower to pollinate the female flowers.  The male flower has a stamen, whereas the female flowers have a stigma. The stamen is a pollen covered protuberance in the flower. The stigma is a sticky knob. Pull the petals of the male flower back to expose the stamen and gently rub it against the female flowers. You can do this with a q-tip or paintbrush or your choice of tools, but for melons just pulling the male flower off and rubbing against females seems the easiest. I really need photos for this, but there are plenty of those on the net if you need them.

So, that’s what I’m doing this year. I should be able to get veggies doing this, but it’s not just the pollination assistance that the honeybees are wanted for. They are one of the jewels of a healthy garden. My bee balm is in bloom, and the bumblebees are loading up on it. But it should be alive with honeybees and it isn’t. I love coreopsis and have probably six or seven varieties in my garden. Most of them are in bloom now. Bees are usually all over the coreopsis but this year they are bare. Bachelor’s button, echinacea, liatris, sage…. all of these are normally covered in bees. The garden is much quieter without them too. I don’t think you really notice the sound of bees in a garden unless it’s excessively loud, but now that they are gone I definitely notice the lack.
On a nicer note, a few lightning bugs have decided to hang out in my garden. It’s only a few but they are the first I’ve seen in years. These guys have been perching on the top of my tallest milkweed and I have to mind them when brushing through that area. Apparently they like to hang out in higher places to give them a nice launching pad for their evening flight. I hope they colonize the area. There is really nothing like the sight of lightning bugs at twilight. I remember catching them when I was little, holding one cupped in my hands and peeking at their glowing lights before they flew off. I don’t know if kids still chase them now or not. I hope so. I think every kid should chase lightning bugs in the gloaming.

“Fireflies in the Garden
By Robert Frost 1874–1963

Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.”



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