Sticks + Time = Hummingbirds

remaining branches of treacherous spine bush

14 months ago the pandemic still allowed, which is to say forced, creative use of abundant time and limited budget, so I took a day or so to rethink this pile of rocks. It curves around where we park our car and had been covered by a gigantic bush.

build back better

That bush produced spines abundantly and flowers sparingly. While spines may offer ecosystem services I have not yet learned about (other than self-protection for the plant itself), we are focused on regenerating bird habitat, so flowers count more in our calculus. In June, 2021 I cut the bush back to the short branches seen in these photos above.

Spearmint, which can be seen growing straight up on the lower right side of this photo, is for scent, and then for tea; the rest is for the winged folk.

The treachery removed, the slate was blank, and the opportunity to build back better was clear. Hummingbirds and butterflies focus on the bushy abundance covering most of the area.

The bushes producing these orange flowers are slower to fill in

I went through the exercise that Ari described yesterday, trimming back a couple of bushes that hummingbirds and butterflies favor. I cut the branches into one foot long stalks and stuck about 100 of them into the soil in between all those rocks. 14 months later, here is what we have. Difficult to see from the macro view, flowers are constantly available for the pollinators. Every day, dozens of hummingbirds and numerous species of butterflies can be seen in these flowers. With a camera phone I am not well equipped to capture good photos of those, but when someone else does so we will share here.

Sticks + Time = Hummingbirds

Coffee, Birds & Bees

Seedlings from coffee picked in early 2021

On a couple of acres of mountain land in Escazu, on property that once was part of a larger coffee farm, we have been preparing to plant a thousand or so coffee saplings, which will eventually become trees among trees. Above are the thriving seedlings from 2021 germination, and below the early stage of germination from this year’s pickings.

Germination of coffee picked in early 2022

Coffee culture has been a long time in the making, so the slow pace of the Organikos arc has not intimidated me. And yet, if I could speed it up, I would because of the variety of beneficiaries.

Today an article by Cristen Hemingway Jaynes on the website EcoWatch brings to my attention a team of researchers who I will pay more attention to. Some are here in Costa Rica, at CATIE; the others at University of Vermont. Their work makes me appreciate the value of getting on with this:

Birds and Bees Make Better Coffee, Study Finds

Birds and bees work together as pollinators. DansPhotoArt on flickr / Moment / Getty Images

For many people, one rich, pleasant smell signals the start of a new day more than any other: coffee. Different techniques have been used to get the best cup of the caffeine-rich liquid, from a French press to the pour-over method.

A unique new study has found that the secret to better coffee is really in control of the birds and the bees. Continue reading

Care For The Little Ones Among Us

Illustration of insects

Thanks to the Guardian for providing this biologist the platform to explain to us why insects matter so much:

The insect apocalypse: ‘Our world will grind to a halt without them’

Insects have declined by 75% in the past 50 years – and the consequences may soon be catastrophic. Biologist Dave Goulson reveals the vital services they perform

I have been fascinated by insects all my life. One of my earliest memories is of finding, at the age of five or six, some stripy yellow-and-black caterpillars feeding on weeds in the school playground. I put them in my empty lunchbox, and took them home. Eventually they transformed into handsome magenta and black moths. This seemed like magic to me – and still does. I was hooked. Continue reading

Bombus Polaris, An Adaptive Winner

PHOTOGRAPH: KATIE ORLINSKY/NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX

Arctic bumblebees came to our attention nearly five years ago, and this story below reminds us that while climate change is not a zero sum game–it is more like a game of perpetual loss, which is more like what we have witnessed with bees in general–there are some winning adaptations in some locations:

The Quest to Tally Alaska’s Wild ‘Warm-Blooded’ Bumblebees

Extreme environments offer them an unexpected paradise. Now researchers and conservationists want to get a head count.

“People don’t come to Denali and other parks in Alaska to look at bumblebees, but they should,” says Jessica Rykken, entomologist for Denali National Park and Preserve. The “Last Frontier” state may be known for supersized wildlife, from bears to moose, but on a smaller scale, the diversity of bumblebees (or bumble bees, depending on whom you ask) there is unusually high, and powers entire ecosystems. Continue reading

New Methods For Bee Species Protection In Photos

Apiarist Darryn McKay of Bowral Bees inspects hives in Bowral. McKay is a ‘farm to gate’ beekeeper with a number of hives hosted in the southern highlands. He also provides bee swarm collection and runs workshops.

Thanks to the Guardian:

Bee Survey, Bee Hotels & Other Bee News From The Netherlands

A ‘bee hotel’ in Hennipgaarde in the Netherlands. Photograph: Andre Muller/Alamy

Any time we see news on new bee hotels, we are inclined to share. Seeing this news from the Netherlands about a bee survey is also particularly smile-producing. Our thanks to Anne Pinto-Rodrigues and the Guardian’s Environment section for this article:

Bee population steady in Dutch cities thanks to pollinator strategy

Scheme involving ‘ bee hotels’ and ‘bee stops’ reaps rewards as census shows no strong decline in urban population

More than 11,000 people took part in the national bee survey. Photograph: Martijn Beekman/Hollandse Hoogte

Bee hotels, bee stops and a honey highway are some of the techniques the Dutch are crediting with keeping their urban bee population steady in recent years, after a period of worrying decline.

Last week, more than 11,000 people from across the Netherlands participated in a bee-counting exercise as part of the fourth edition of the national bee census. Continue reading

Taste Of Place Experiences In Costa Rica

While bee populations have waned throughout rural America, urban hives are thriving in cities such as Detroit, producing honey that’s reminiscent of mint, clover or goldenrod. Photo by Patricia Heal. Prop styling by Martin Bourne

Terroir is a word that has appeared often in these pages. Taste of place, a phrase with related meaning, likewise has appeared plenty of times. This phrase is a tag line used frequently in our work, based on an experience I had in Paraguay in 2005. We will begin weekly “taste of place experiences” for guests in both Authentica shops tomorrow; starting with mead, followed by chocolate, then honey, coffee and so on. Every week an artisan will present how they source ingredients, how they make their product, and how the taste of it reflects the particular location in Costa Rica where sourcing is done. So, great to see this about urban taste of place movement in our neighbor to the north:

The Growers, Bakers and Beekeepers Embracing the Terroir of American Cities

THE GRAPEVINES RISE at the corner of East 66th Street and Hough Avenue in Cleveland, 14 trim green rows claiming over half a city block — a little less than an acre — beside an abandoned building with boarded-up windows, whose rolling lawn on a summer morning is as lush as Versailles’s. The sky is brilliant and wide above stoplights and swoops of telephone wire. Across the tar-patched street stand storefronts behind scissor gates and a former grocery whose facade half collapsed last May, raining brick on the sidewalk. Down the avenue, the walls of another boarded-up building have been commandeered as an outdoor art gallery, papered over in posters with messages: “I survived the Hough riots”; “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

Long celebrated in France, the concept of place-specific tastes is spurring the revitalization of neighborhoods and communities.

THE GRAPEVINES RISE at the corner of East 66th Street and Hough Avenue in Cleveland, 14 trim green rows claiming over half a city block — a little less than an acre — beside an abandoned building with boarded-up windows, whose rolling lawn on a summer morning is as lush as Versailles’s. The sky is brilliant and wide above stoplights and swoops of telephone wire. Across the tar-patched street stand storefronts behind scissor gates and a former grocery whose facade half collapsed last May, raining brick on the sidewalk. Down the avenue, the walls of another boarded-up building have been commandeered as an outdoor art gallery, papered over in posters with messages: “I survived the Hough riots”; “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

For centuries, the French have used the word “terroir” to describe the environment in which a wine is produced. Going back to the Latin “terra,” “earth,” it’s rooted in a traditional vision of the countryside and has become more fervently embraced as our agrarian past recedes. Continue reading

Bees & Citizen Science

A rusty patched bumblebee. Nature Picture Library/Alamy

If you are a regular here you have seen plenty about citizen science. And plenty about bees. We have posted only one time previously about the intersection of bees and citizen science. Today makes twice:

How You Can Help Count and Conserve Native Bees

Honeybees and their problems get the most attention, but scientists are using tactics learned from bird conservation to protect American bees. Continue reading

Hornet Hunters of Paris

Urban beekeeping has exploded in Paris, and the honeybees have become an easy target for invasive wasps.

We recently published some good news about a similar invasive insect in Washington State, but it’s important to note that the species on the prowl in Paris is related, but not the same.  Although far less dangerous (tell that to the honeybee prey…) they still are a menace to other insects, especially honeybees. The good news here is that the hornets have been in France for well over a decade, and the human wasp controllers have the skills and tools to combat them, protecting the thriving businesses of urban apiculture.

The Murder Hornet Hunters of Paris

And other tales of hives and honeybees in the City of Light.

“The queen is dead?” a preschool administrator in suburban Paris asked Matthieu Bize, a wasp controller who had come to rid the schoolyard of Asian hornets.

On the ground, a nest was in tatters. Twenty minutes earlier, it had been high up in an ivy-choked tree, where it looked like a jumbo gray-brown balloon. Mr. Bize, 32, had sent a telescopic pole through the canopy, injected a paralyzing white powder into the hornets’ home, and knocked it down. The colony’s larvae, future queens among them, were strewn about. “Nearly finished here,” he said.

In English, the Bize family name is pronounced “bees”; in French, it is “bise” (short for kisses). Dozens of times a day, when Mr. Bize answers his cellphone — “C’est Monsieur Bize” — this gentle phrasing sweetens an otherwise sting-y situation.

For Mr. Bize doesn’t hunt just any pest. One-third of the nests to which he responds belong to a species of dreaded “murder hornet,” a type of wasp that beheads and feeds to its larvae an insect that is very important to, and symbolic of, France: the honeybee.

Beyond the fact that Napoleon chose the honeybee for his logo in the early 19th century (the emperor favored the insect for its tenacity), France is the European Union’s largest agricultural producer, and generally known for pollinator-friendly policies. It is also one of Europe’s major honey trade hubs.

Continue reading

Can There Be Murder Hornet Good News?

Hornets with radio trackers attached led entomologists to the nest. Washington State Department of Agriculture

If you noted the danger five months ago, and find this topic newsworthy, you know how important it was to find the nest. Finally, after an exhaustive search, they found it and it seems we should count this as good news, especially in a year like 2020:

Murder Hornet Nest, First in U.S., Is Found in Washington State

Officials said they planned to destroy the nest in Blaine, Wash., on Saturday before the voracious Asian giant hornets could multiply and lay waste to bees.

Like detectives closing in on a fugitive hide-out deep in the woods, officials in Washington State announced on Friday that they had located the first murder hornet nest in the United States, tucked in a tree hollow near the Canadian border.

The officials said they planned to destroy the nest in Blaine, Wash., on Saturday before the voracious Asian giant hornets could multiply and begin laying waste to bees that are vital to the survival of the region’s raspberries, blueberries and other crops. Continue reading

Think Twice About Whatever It Takes For Honeybees

A honey bee visits a blooming catmint plant in New Mexico. ROBERT ALEXANDER/GETTY IMAGES

Since Milo’s 2011 post on this topic we have paid attention to the plight of honey bees and their human keepers, and might have had a “whatever it takes” perspective on letting those human keepers find solutions to keep their colonies alive. Jennifer Oldham’s article in Yale e360 has us thinking twice:

Will Putting Honey Bees on Public Lands Threaten Native Bees?

As suitable sites become scarce, commercial beekeepers are increasingly moving their hives to U.S. public lands. But scientists warn that the millions of introduced honey bees pose a risk to native species, outcompeting them for pollen and altering fragile plant communities.

Beekeeper Dennis Cox checks his hives in Strawberry Valley, Utah in July. JENNIFER OLDHAM / YALE E360

Honey bees heavy with pollen and nectar foraged from wildflowers on Utah’s Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest collide with tall grass and tumble to the ground. They are attempting to land alongside a hive, and I watch as they struggle to stand, fly into the box, and disgorge nectar to be made into honey.

The pollinators belong to a 96-hive apiary, trucked here to Logan Canyon for the summer to rest and rebuild their population, replenishing bees lost to disease and pesticides after months pollinating California’s almond groves. By Labor Day, the yard could house 5 million domesticated pollinators. Continue reading

British Beekeeping Benefits

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Anne Rowberry, chair of the British Beekeepers Association, with some of her bees. Photograph: Sam Frost/The Guardian

Thanks to the Guardian for this report:

British apiarists knew it all along: honey is the bee’s knees

As a study trumpets the food’s medicinal properties, there’s a buzz about beekeeping in the UK

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Carly Hooper: ‘Bees are my life’. Photograph: Anita Parry

When honey made headlines this week as a better treatment for coughs and colds than antibiotics, beekeepers sat smugly by. “I’ve been saying this for ages,” says Carly Hooper, who has 12 hives near her home in Fleet, Hampshire, and a honey-based business.

The study, published in the journal BMJ Evidence Based Medicine, found that honey was a more effective treatment for coughs, blocked noses and sore throats than many remedies more conventionally prescribed. Continue reading

Bees’ Precise Proboscis

11TB-BEES-jumbo

Jiangkun Wei

Bees, in all their surprising ways, are important to humanity, so we share science about them. Our thanks to one of science writing’s most deft explainers, James Gorman, for one more insight. If only for the video, showing the precision of the bee’s ability to drink nectar, this article is worth a look:

A Honeybee’s Tongue Is More Swiss Army Knife Than Ladle

Once again, insects prove to be more complicated than scientists thought they were.

For a century, scientists have known how honeybees drink nectar. They lap it up.

They don’t lap like cats or dogs, videos of whose mesmerizing drinking habits have been one of the great rewards of high speed video. But they do dip their hairy tongues rapidly in and out of syrupy nectar to draw it up into their mouth. For the last century or so, scientists have been convinced that this is the only way they drink nectar. Continue reading

Buzz Kill, The Yale e360 Video Contest Winner

Buzzkill

Thanks to Yale e360, as always, for at minimum illuminating important environmental questions and, on days like today, lifting our spirits in the process. Click the image above to go to the award winning video:

Backyard Battle: Helping Native Bees Thrive in a Honeybee World

Native bees are at risk across the United States. “Buzz Kill” — winner of the 2020 Yale Environment 360 Video Contest — depicts the beauty and key ecological role played by these bees and shows how industrialized agriculture and its use of honeybee colonies threatens endemic bee species. Continue reading

Tending The Pitch

Quad

In previous posts I have pointed my lens to this area, but from another angle and with limited scope. In the photo above, in the distant upper right you san see a small light object which is the top of the bee colony. With this view you can make out where the curvy berms lead and if you squint you can see the long quadrangle. A few months prior to our departure to live in Croatia in August, 2006 I decided that this stretch of relatively flat land would make a good football pitch for our boys and their friends. It was a mess of bramble and brush at the time so I cleared it and removed the big rocks and let it be. We would be gone for one year, and when we came back I would finish the pitch.

Plans change. We did not return to live in Costa Rica for another dozen years. This week, as we move to Plan B I took a snapshot of how that pitch looks right now. I am one quarter of the way through removing all the grasses that invaded the land while we were away. Under their blanket is all the rich soil that earthworms produce when left alone for awhile. That pitch, which now has 30 banana and plantain trees, and hundreds of bean plants as well as beets, will next get watermelon where the land is already cleared. These all will help the soil, and prepare the shade needed, in advance of coffee planting next year.

Bee Surprises

HiveOur bee obsession on this platform has many explanations, but my personal motivation for following the science of bees goes back to a summer in the late 1970s when I worked for a beekeeper. I cleared brush and vines from the forest edge to make way for more bee-friendly plantings. I worked within sight of a dozen active bee colonies in boxes where I could see buzzing swarms constantly. I learned to be calm around them from the man who tended them. He used a poncho, a mask, and a smoker when opening the boxes to remove honey, but other times walked among them with no protective gear. To my surprise the resins from Toxicodendron radicans–poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac–did more harm to me than the bees I worked around. In fact, I was never stung by those bees. Not once.

Which explains why when we finally had the chance to start our own bee colony I was all in. Above is a bee box, with found objects inside, above and below it. The bees inside had nested at the top of our house so we had a beekeeper extract them. He gave them this new home in a location where we have been clearing brush to make way for coffee planting. The old table had been in the chicken coop and the mysterious disk was on the roadside headed for recycling. One month later now, very happy bees.

Brush

Above is a small sampling of the vines and brush I have been clearing from the land near that hive. History may not repeat, but sometimes it rhymes. As it happens, on my arm I have some of the same toxins from vines like those 40 years ago. The clearing work started in March and is nearing completion to make way for several hundred shade trees and several thousand coffee plants.

Bananas

One section of this clearing has already received twenty banana plants, based on the practice of our friends at Hacienda la Amistad. These make excellent companions to the coffee and are pollinated by bats, so provide another kind of ecological service too complex to discuss in a post primarily about bee surprises.

So, with all that in mind I was very happy to come across the story below by Cara Giaimo. Her work first appeared in our pages last October, then again a few months ago–both times related to birds. Somehow I missed this short article on bees from earlier this year, and I thank her for it now for making me laugh when there is not enough other news to laugh about:

22TB-BEES-jumbo

Frank Bienewald/imageBROKER, via Alamy

Bumblebee Vomit: Scientists Are No Longer Ignoring It

Regurgitation is an important consideration when it comes to the process of pollination.

The bumblebee is a discerning nectar shopper. When choosing which flowers to gather the sticky substance from, it might consider a plant’s distance, the shape of the petals and how sugar-rich the nectar is. Continue reading

Bees@Church

 

We are happy to learn their fate, but did not even know they had a fate to consider. Bees at church? Come to think of it, churches are normally considered a safe haven. Thanks to Kim Willsher (again, at long last) and the Guardian (as always) for this coverage:

They survived fire and toxic fumes. So what happened next to Notre Dame’s bees?

Hives that survived catastrophic Paris cathedral blaze are healthier than ever, says beekeeper

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Sibyle Moulin tending the hives on the roof of Notre Dame in 2018. Photograph: Dmitry Kostyukov/The New York Times/eyevine

It is a crisp winter morning and the area around Notre Dame is sealed off as it has been since the fire last April that devastated the cathedral.

Those in the know, however, especially those with the keenest of eyes, might spot some small movement high up to the south of the stricken and blackened structure.

The bees of Notre Dame, whose escape from the inferno seemed almost miraculous, are thriving and conserving their energy ready to produce honey this summer, just as they have every year since they took up residence on the sacristy roof in 2013. Continue reading

Re-Opening, Regeneration & Restoration

BeesAmie

Friday, one of the hotels where we operate Authentica re-opened. With not much exaggeration I can say that for hotel staff, for Amie and me, and for the Costa Rican guests we interacted with, seeing tourism start up again after three months felt emotionally kind of like this, only with serious social distancing.

Yesterday, day 2 of this experiment in moving forward, before going to greet guests at the shops we began on the land. Above is the first of what we expect to be a larger set of honey bee colonies that will pollinate our coffee and fruit trees. Amie is in beekeeping tutorial mode and after a few weeks in place it seems to my untrained eye that the bees are happy with her progress. The land surrounding the hive, and other parts of the property, have been planted with beans common to the Costa Rica diet–mostly black and red–and some special varieties that we favor, such as white and butter varieties. Those we planted first, as you can see below, are already sprouting.

BeansSprouting

While we look forward to their eventual edible state, the primary purpose of these legumes is to fix nitrogen in the soil in advance of planting when our coffee seedlings are ready. Regeneration of the nutrients will allow the soil to host the coffee we are preparing for the microlot restoration project, planned long before current crises and to bear fruit some time after we have figured out how to move on with life. For now, seeing guests again, having beans sprout and bees buzzing is good enough.