Monthly Archives: August 2019

Blessed Bee, Thy Name

Last week I attended a bee info session with Thaddeus Gourd, Director of Extension for Adams County to introduce new-bees to Dat Buzz Lyfe (I can’t believe this hashtag hasn’t been acculturated into the lexicon). Thad walked us through the bees we may encounter locally, how they got here, some typical and atypical behaviors, as well as a truly charming attempt at convincing me to bring bees to my own yard, regardless of my wife’s severe allergy, as he shows us his son bare-handing his GoPro at the bottom of a brand new bee abode. The bee community, it turns out, is pretty righteous. They are passionate about the bees livelihoods and are nearly involuntarily bursting with facts and love and recruitment strategies. As far as I can tell (and I’m pretty far), not only are bee keep-have-and-lovers informed of the goings-on of the world around them, they are also deeply involved in their communities with the idealism that we still stand a chance. 

One of my favorite parts of preparing for this post was reveling in how smitten everyone who writes, studies, or just enjoys, bees cannot help themselves to the low hanging fruit of the ever-accessible bee puns. I won’t go so far as to say it’s obligatory to at least dabble in the punny when writing about bees, but it’s pretty darn close (how’d I do?). 

To my surprise, North America has no native honey bees that produce large amounts of honey, and the bees we have working for us now were imported (intentionally and accidentally) by European colonizers. The European honey bees are typically docile and too busy to be bothered by folks approaching or tending to the hive-unless of course, the alarm is sounded and whatever intentions the intruder has are being interpreted as a threat, which apparently smells a bit like banana. File this under Lessons I hope never to encounter, and yet, how interesting! 

If you do happen to get stung, Thad informed us that the venom sack dislodges from the honey bee (essentially causing it to bleed to death, major bummer) and will continue pumping venom for another minute or so after the initial sting. To stop this, simply scrape the stinger from the entry point with a credit card or fingernail. DO NOT try and pluck it with your fingers or tweezers–this just pumps all the venom directly into the wound all at once. Expect the site to be a bit itchy after the initial shock and scramble settles, and write it off as an ouch! and a thank you for your service.

Of course, a small sting is literally nothing compared to the plight the bees face. Documentaries and campaigns are beleaguering (the opportunities for bee-utifying this entire post are just too much) the fate of our planet, and news reports of the extents of human willpower and reliance on the honey makers to keep the decline in bee population discussions plentiful. The main threats include loss of habitat, diseases and mites, pesticides, and climate change. 

As lovers of the living, albeit animal or vegetable, pesticide-speak can draw that line as firmly in the sand like many of our other hot button political issues. Be ye not afraid, comrades. We don’t have to go to the polls with this one, but we do have to follow the law (cue that GBU soundtrack). Treating plants–weeds included–with pesticides (neonicotinoids) while the plant is flowering transfers the chemicals into the nectar, and the feasting bees bring the toxins back to the hive. Truly, this seemingly innocuous move one time could kill an entire hive. Always read the labels, folks. Take your time and educate yourself on all the possible management strategies before grabbing the glyphosate. 

We are inundated with problems and presented with conveniently packaged solutions. We have come to a place that is moving so quickly that it’s too easy to keep in motion and miss the very real consequences each step incurs along the way. Unfortunately for bees, they are getting caught in our wake of rapidity. How can you take one extra breath, second, or step to consider your impact?


For those with a burgeoning interest in the apiary, one great way to check yourself is to plug into a community of other beekeepers/havers/enthusiasts. From what Thad was telling us, many organizations and groups are looking to help you get started, problem solve, or just ponder the wondrous life of bees. CSU Extension is an excellent resource for research and education on bees; they are continuing to compare hive designs to determine which work best for Colorado. There are also lots of beekeeper mentor programs, beekeeper associations, and even folks who you can hire to set-up and care for a hive on your own property. These folks have lots of experience and want to propagate more interest in beekeeping by mentoring and sharing. Getting into bees is definitely not something to go at alone or from a quick study. Taking risks is part of beekeeping, why not expand yourself right at the start by making new connections and community building?

By McKenna Hynes

Apprentice Colorado Master Gardener since January 2019

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The Leafcutter Bee in Action

Rose leaves with leafcutter bee damage

Leafcutter bee damage to leaves is cosmetic and won’t harm the plant.

Have you noticed any circles missing from the edges of your rose leaves? Do some leaves look like little violins?

If you answer yes to those questions, congratulations! Leafcutter bees have taken a fancy to your garden.

Leafcutter bees are native bees and important pollinators for our native plants. These bees are a bit larger than a honeybee and are dark gray with hairy white bands.

Female leafcutter bees cut circular snippets from rose leaves to create wrappers to line brood cells for their young. Think of these rose snippets as blankets for baby bees.

It can take as little as 10 seconds for a leafcutter bee to use her mandibles (jaws) to cut a snippet and fly off to her nesting site. Check for yourself on my short film called The Leafcutter Bee I posted to YouTube.

After seeing the speed at which she can land, snip and fly away it’s no wonder leafcutter bees are included under the family Megachilidae which means “big-lipped.”

pink roses

The Canadian Explorer ‘John Cabot’ climbing rose is a favorite of leafcutter bees.

It’s not easy to catch these bees in action  because they’re so speedy. However, earlier this season I staked out a spot near their favorite climbing rose and patiently waited with camera in hand. Finally one bee flew in and tried landing on a leaf or two before finding the perfect one.

After cutting the leaf, she flew off to her nesting site. The site could be in holes found in a piece of old wood, stems of plants with pithy centers or anything with a hollow center. One year I found leaf snippets stuffed in a piece of unused garden hose.

These pieces of leaves are the construction materials for brood cells that are packed with pollen to feed the young. In CSU Extension Fact Sheet 5.576 on Leafcutter Bees, Dr. Whitney Cranshaw explains that leafcutter bees are solitary bees and don’t produce colonies like honeybees.

Instead, leafcutter bees construct “nest tunnels that may contain a dozen or more cells forming a tube 4 to 8 inches long. The young bees develop and will remain in the cells, emerging next season.”

Every summer I watch for evidence that leafcutter bees have been busy in my garden. As soon as I see rose leaves that start to look like Swiss cheese, I know leafcutter bees are happily at work.

Text and images by Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardener since 2005

Preventing Tomatoes From Cracking and Splitting

After months of anticipating ripe, sweet tomatoes, my first harvest came a week ago. Unfortunately, several of the inaugural ‘Sun Gold’ cherry tomatoes were cracked around the equator, exposing healthy flesh underneath. Why did this happen and how can it be prevented?

Cracks and splits are a fairly common occurrence. They can start at the stem and run down the side of the fruit, or circle the width of the fruit, like mine did. The good news – the fissures are not the result of a disease, virus or insect. The cause? At least in part – me! On the bright side, I can easily fix it.

Tomatoes crack due to fluctuations of moisture and/or temperature that occur when the fruit is nearly fully mature. In my case, forgetting to water or underwatering a container grown plant on the first few 100 degree days, followed by “forgive me” overwatering for the next few days is the culprit. (Another tip – tomato plants don’t like to get heat wilt. Mine did that too.)

Here’s what happens to cause the fruit to split – during the dry spells, the exterior skin (epidermis) of the fruit toughens. When the plant is watered again, the fruit rapidly takes in the moisture and the fruit plumps up. This expansion causes the toughened skin to burst. Cherry tomatoes and large beefsteak varieties are particularly prone to these stretch or growth marks.

These tips will help prevent tomatoes from cracking and splitting:

  • Tomatoes like consistent moisture at regular intervals. Think of Goldilocks – not too much, not too little. Sounds simplistic, but the point is there’s a delicate balance. Watering on a regular schedule really helps.
  • Use natural mulch such as grass clippings or shredded leaves to keep the plant roots cooler.
  • Fertilize with low dose, slow-release fertilizer; high nitrogen fertilizers stimulate growth which can increase cracking.
  • Pick fruit just before it is fully mature and allow it to ripen on a sunny windowsill.

Some tomato varieties are bred to have more flexible skin and therefore are less likely to crack. When researching next year’s garden tomatoes, look for varieties labeled crack or split-resistant. You may want to give them a try.

Perhaps most importantly – is it OK to eat a cracked tomato? It really depends. Don’t take a chance if the split is deep, the fruit has been on the vine for a long time or you simply aren’t sure. Bacteria can develop in the opening with time. But if the crack has just appeared and the fruit looks healthy despite the scar, it is likely fine. Did I eat mine? I did. And it was worth the wait!

Additional reading: https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/faq/why-are-my-tomatoes-cracking

Photo Credit: Pixabay.com

Posted by Linda McDonnell, Denver County Master Gardener