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Bee.otany hopes to educate beekeepers, public, and others who want to #savethebees into understanding what flowering plants and trees help honeybees and other pollinators. By specializing in place and language of flowering plants for pollinators it allows everyone to be part of the solution to #plantforbees to #planttheseed to #helppollinators and #changetheworld Continue reading “What we do”

What are Pollinators?

By Megan Wannarka Edited by Brian Dryska

“Bees are a gateway bug. Once you realize that these honeybees are important that you realize there are over 20,000 species of other types of bees. And you realize that other kinds of bugs are important, and you realize that all these plants are blooming, all these trees are blooming, that you never realized before. It changes your relationship with the world.” 

Sam Comfort (“Queen Rearing Anarchy Style with Sam Comfort – 2019 Alternative Beekeepers Conference – YouTube,” 2019)

When someone says “pollinators,” the first thing that likely comes to mind is a bee, maybe a honey bee or a bumble bee, but typically not bats, birds, beetles or a plethora of other insects that are pollinators.

First off, pollinators are any animal that transports the grains of pollen (male reproductive part of a flower) to a female reproductive part allowing the formation of viable offspring otherwise known as seeds. Water, wind, and even humans are wonderful at doing this without actively being part of moving pollen too. Some plants do not need animal transport of pollen, like hemp Cannabis sativa, which is adapted for wind pollen dispersal.

Flowers attract animal pollinators by color and smell to encourage the pollinator to participate in moving pollen grains. There is an idea that certain colors and smells attract a certain group of pollinators. This idea is called pollinator syndrome. While not entirely scientific, they are a simplified rule of thumb for a researcher to work from.

Figure 1 Pollinator Syndrome Trait Table

One of the reasons understanding pollinators is so difficult is that they span many taxonomies (and of course taxonomies themselves can change). Dr. Jeff Ollerton (Ollerton, 2017) of the University of Northampton, United Kingdom does a wonderful job presenting a picture of what taxa are pollinators and gives an idea of the number of species in each group as well. This big-picture view gives us a good idea of which animals are pollinator, where to find them, and what plants they need for food and nesting sites. Table 1 below from Ollerton’s interesting article is hyperlinked to the full pdf.

You can use Clemson University’s 4H manual (Manly, 1999) on entomology, to better understand the classes, families, and subclasses discussed above, which hopefully will give you a better overall idea of the true diversity of pollinators, and prove it’s not just honeybees doing the work.

Figure 2 Screenshot of page 20 from Clemson University’s 4H Entomology Manual

To break it down further and make it simple I’ve made a handout you can find here:
Want to learn more about bugs? Check out the free class ‘Bugs 101: Insect-Human Interactions’ via Coursera (University of Alberta).

References:

Manly, D. (1999). Entomology. Clemson, South Carolina: Clemson Extension Service.

Ollerton, J. (2017). Pollinator Diversity: Distribution, Ecological Function, and Conservation. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 48(1), 353–376. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-ecolsys-110316-022919

Queen Rearing Anarchy Style with Sam Comfort – 2019 Alternative Beekeepers Conference – YouTube. (2019). In Youtube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hisnSeLN9zk&t=2895s

University of Alberta. (n.d.). Bugs 101 -Insect-Human Interactions. Retrieved January 17, 2020, from Coursera website: https://www.coursera.org/learn/bugs-101/lecture/1qInd/00-01-welcome-to-bugs-101

List of Pollinators from Ollerton, J. (2017). Pollinator Diversity: Distribution, Ecological Function, and Conservation, bolded names are cited pollinators.
Arthropods (Arthropoda) »
Hexapods (Hexapoda) »
Insects (Insecta)
Phylum Arthropoda – Arthropods
Subphylum Hexapoda – Hexapods
Class Collembola-Springtails
Class Insecta – Insects
Order Dermaptera – Earwigs
Order Plecoptera – Stoneflies
Order Orthoptera – Grasshoppers, Crickets, Katydids
Order Blattodea – Cockroaches and Termites
Order Thysanoptera – Thrips
Order Psocoptera – Barklice, Booklice, and Parasitic Lice
Order Neuroptera – Antlions, Owlflies, Lacewings, Mantidflies and Allies
Order Coleoptera – Beetles
Order Hymenoptera – Ants, Bees, Wasps and Sawflies
Clade Anthopila (Bees)

Family Pompilidae (Spider wasps)

Family Bombyliidae (Vespoidae)

Order Trichoptera – Caddisflies
Order Lepidoptera – Butterflies and Moths
Unranked Heterocera (moths)
Suborder Rhopalocera (Butterflies)
Order Mecoptera – Scorpionflies, Hangingflies and Allies
Order Siphonaptera – Fleas
Order Diptera – Flies
Family Syrphidae (Hoverflies)

Family Bombyliidae (Bee flies)
Order Protorthoptera – Primitive Winged Insects

Class Aves (birds)
Order Neornithes
Order Palaegnathae (thinamous, emus, ostriches, and relatives)
Family Maliphagidae (Honeyeaters)
Order Neognathe
Order Gallorserae (fowl, ducks and relatives)
Order Apodiformes (most modern birds)
Family Trochilidae (hummingbirds)
Order Passeiformes (Perching birds)
Family Nectariniidae (Sunbirds)
Family Zosteripidae (White Eyes)
Order Psttaciformes (True Parrots)
Family Psittacidae (Parrots)

Subphylum Crustracea
Class Malacostraca
Order Isopoda

Class Polychaeta

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Buckwheat, the Forgotten Food for Pollinators (and Humans)

By Megan Wannarka, Edited by Brian Dykstra

About the Plant

Buckwheat (Latin name Fagopyrum esculentum) is a pseudocereal grain that is primarily grown in the United States as a cover crop to help preserve topsoil and suppress weeds. The groats, (hulled kernels), are an edible cash crop, but only 30,000 acres (~12,150 ha) were grown in 2012. (Pavek, 2016)

Primarily found in Eastern Europe as a staple food, buckwheat was cultivated in Asia before being one of the earliest introduced crops to North America.  Typically, the best land to grow buckwheat is late to frost in the fall and can be planted after a spring crop such as wheat. Low fertility soils can be helped with the addition of buckwheat as long as they are well-draining. (Björkman, 2019)

“Buckwheat is not a type of wheat or even a grass; therefore it is not a true grain. Sometimes referred to as a pseudo-cereal—since its seeds are cooked like cereal and made into flour as well—buckwheat is actually related to sorrel and rhubarb.” (Medrich, 2014)

wholegrainmilling

Farmer Doug in front of his buckwheat field in Southern Minnesota, USA. Taken 2018 Photo credit – #SevenSundays via @wholegrainmilling on instagram


Seeding and yields

Buckwheat is an easy crop to grow for pollinators as it has both nectar and pollen and is accessible to honeybees, bumblebees and native bees (United States Department of Agriculture, 2015), as well as butterflies, moths and other insects.

“BUCKWHEAT. Buckwheat is useful for rapidly covering the soil and crowding out weeds. Since it goes to seed eight to ten weeks after being seeded, we take note to mow it before then. Because buckwheat is highly sensitive to frost, late August is our latest seeding date. Seeding rate: 3.3 pounds/100 feet of bed” (Fortier, 2014)

Flowering plants can also be coppiced before going to seed to produce another nectaring flower head. This was found out by a researcher at the University of Minnesota raising bumble bees (Bombus impatiens) and monarchs (Danaus plexippus) on an assortment of nectaring flowers.

Flowering potted buckwheat plants after they have been coppiced

Honey

Maybe you’ve seen this dark jar of honey in a store and thought to yourself…is that even honey? The color resembles brown, rich gravy, not the amber yellow that brings to mind “honey.” But would you taste it? Most people think that honey “should be” a shade of transparent yellow or orange or maybe even light brown color. But not an opaque dark brown, leading many not even to taste if they have the opportunity.

I do have to warn you if you choose to smell buckwheat honey unless you grew up on a farm, the smell might be off-putting. It typically resembles barnyard warmth or animal. Now, after telling you that, why would anyone want to taste this honey? Because you will be rewarded with something that tastes like caramel, chocolate, deep cigar smoke, and even some salt in the case of the Midwest United States and Central Canadian Buckwheat honey. Not all buckwheat honey is the same, year to year the changes of moisture in the soil (rainfall) will change the plant’s ability to produce a weak to strong nectar that honeybees will make into honey, even if in the same location year to year.

Just like wine, the same honey, produced in different regions, will take on different terroir. Not terror, like being scared, but all the factors around making a foodstuff from a region. The type of variety of plants you are growing, the mineral content of the soil, how much rainfall and sunlight happens in that particular place and I’m sure I’m missing some other crucial environmental factor that plays a part in this.

In my experience, buckwheat honey from the coasts of North America has a stronger flavor than the ones produced in the Midwest of the United States and Central providences of Canada. So, if you are lucky enough to find this honey, also ask where it is from. It’s flavor still might not bring you back for a second taste, but you also might be pleasantly surprised and finding yourself enjoying this new idea of honey in all its deep flavors.

Beekeeping notes (growing season, soil preference, nectar, and honey yields)

Buckwheat flowers
Flowering potted buckwheat plants

“…beginning and ending dates for the typical nectar flow of the desired honey crop and arrive a few days in advance with empty supers and stack the colonies up with empty equipment. If the flow goes well, monitor the progression of the flow. Once the flow has clearly peaked, and the blossoms are waning, the supers should be taken off before the next flow, if there is one, starts and contaminates the crop.” (Tew, 2015)

“Fast-growing annual crop, flowering 4-6 weeks after sowing and can continue for 4-15 weeks.  Honey fast to crystalize. Annual honey production; Pollen color: light yellow-green, Nectar is available only in the morning. Honey is very dark (molasses color) with strong flavor. Lime and fertilizer affects nectar yield.” (Sammataro & Harman, 2013)

“Buckwheat flowers prolifically during late summer, with most nectar secretions occurring in the morning. Buckwheat requires very fertile, loose, moist soil, plus cool weather for maximum nectar flow. If anyone of those requirements is absent, nectar flow will be reduced by 50% or more. Honey crops may vary year to year, with yield increase up to 25 pounds per colony or 8 pounds per day for 2-3 weeks under favorable conditions. Average sugar concentrations are 7 to 48%. Pollen proteins at 10% are below minimum honey bee nutritional needs (20%).” (The Xerces Society, 2016)

“[Blooms] July to August. Newfoundland, west to British Columbia. A commonly cultivated species, occasionally escaping to fields, waste places, and along roadsides. Introduced; a native of Asia.” (Crompton & Wojtas, 1993)

“The white [can also be pink] flowers have eight conspicuous orange-yellow nectaries. The honey is a dark purple usually referred to as black and it is heavily bodied with a strong flavor and odor. In spite of this, it is well-liked by many people in the buckwheat belt who consider all the other honeys insipid. It yields nectar only in the morning and bees often become very cross in the afternoon when the flow ceases.” (Lovell, 1966)

“Annual [blooms in] summer, as occasionally planted. A surplus honey producer where grown. A native of Asia and grown commercially for seed. Furnishes very little pollen but copious dark nectar. Nectar sugars about 50%.”  (Burgett, Stringer, & Johnston, 1989)

“Temperate-zone annual grown for its seed which is ground into flour; and are also used for stock and poultry seed. Flowers (which show some complex variations) are bisexual but usually incapable of automatic self-pollination. Burin the morning (only) then secrete much nectar, which attracts bees, and the plant is an important honey source. The bees effect cross-pollination and are unquestionably the best pollinators of buckwheat. In USSR, 80% of seeds set with 5 colonies/ha, but only 58% of 1/ha.” (Crane & Walker, 1984)

“Flowering 12-4 [months], 1-2 China. Few fields of what once was a major honey crop for Highveld beekeepers. Occasionally patches of naturalized plants. Honey: very dark, strongly-flavoured, characteristic musty aroma. Pollen light yellow to light greyish-yellow, with 146% crude protein.” (Johannsmeier, 2016)

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References and Additional Resources

Björkman, T. (2019, Dec 10). Where to grow buckwheat. Retrieved from Information for Buckwheat growers: http://www.hort.cornell.edu/bjorkman/lab/buck/guide/wheretogrow.php

Burgett, D. M., Stringer, B. A., & Johnston, L. R. D. (1989). Nectar and Pollen Plants of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest : an illustrated dictionary of plants used by honey bees. Blodgett: Honeystone Press.

Crane, E., & Walker, P. (1984). Pollination Directory for World Crops. London: International Bee Research Association.

Crompton, C. W., & Wojtas, W. A. (1993). Pollen grains of Canadian honey plants. Ottawa, Ontario: Canada Communications Group.

Johannsmeier, M. F. (2016). Beeplants of South Africa: Sources of Nectar, Pollen, Honeydew and Propolis for Honeybees (Vol. 37). Pretoria: South African National Biodiversity Insititute.

Lovell, H. B. (1966). Honey Plants Manual: A Practical Field Handbook for Indentifying Honey Flora (2nd ed.). Louisville: A. I. Root Company.

Pavek, P. L. . (2016). Buckwheat Plant Guide (Fagopyrum esculentum). Retrieved from USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service website: https://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_faes2.pdf

Sammataro, D., & Harman, A. (2013). Major Flowers Important to Honey Bees in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic States (2nd ed.). Flint Hill: D. Sammartaro.

The Xerces Society. (2016). 100 Plants to Feed the Bees: Provide a Healthy Habitat to Help Pollinators Thrive. Storey Publishing, LLC.

Jerejef Arame, Jerejef Allah

At dusk in a southern region of Senegal, West Africa, three men don winter coats, rubber boots and pull on canvas sweatshirt with attached veil and put on rubber gloves tying strips of old fabric around the cuffs to secure the openings to make sure none of the tiny, but deadly creatures we plan to rob invade the makeshift suit.

We are going to collect honey in mangrove forest just beside the small village of Sangako at night from African bees. Also known as killer bees. The three men have been doing this for years, their wisdom precedes their age and they understand the risk they take for the liquid gold they hope to find.
Continue reading “Jerejef Arame, Jerejef Allah”