In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
April, 2012
Regional Report

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Despite the cold, honeybees stay warm in their hives until warm, sunny weather returns.

The Life of Honeybees

Springtime in the Rockies has been a roller coaster. In my last report I noted that the apricot trees where in full bloom, but the cold weather returned last week, and a killing frost dampened my thoughts for a bountiful fruit crop. Welcome to spring.

The worry over the late freeze is not the only concern for gardeners who are wondering whether the fruit blossoms will set fruit. Apples and pears will soon be in bloom and it will be up to the honeybees to help these trees set fruit. Will there be enough honeybees around to pollinate the next batch of blooming fruit trees?

Luckily for me, the honeybees are back from working in California and now ready to work the orchards, vegetable gardens, and alfalfa and hay fields in our area. It's always a welcome sight to see the beekeeper and visit about the importance of honeybees.

Oh, what a life for a honeybee! It all starts when the bee is born. If it is a female bee, it will most likely become a worker. The busy workers help make and maintain the nest. The younger worker bees will clean the empty cells and tend to the developing larvae. It is the worker bee that you are most likely to encounter in the garden and orchard as it gathers nectar, pollen, and water for the young thriving in the hive.

The success of each beehive not only depends on workers, but also the queen bee. Worker bees are programmed to select only a few of the larvae to develop into queen bees. These selected larvae are grown in special cells and are feed a substance called royal jelly. A queen will emerge from her cell in about 16 days after the egg has been laid.

The new queen will eat honey to gain strength. When there is more than one queen in the nest, the queen bees may fight until one dies, or a queen may leave the hive and swarm with other workers to start a new colony. She will mate with drones and this process will allow her to lay eggs for the remainder of her life. Queen bees often lay up to 2,000 eggs per day and a million over their lifetime.

It is critical that we protect these important pollinators. Other than keeping your own beehives, what can you do to help encourage bees to improve pollination in your garden? Start by using insecticides sparingly, if you must use them at all. Many insecticides, even ones considered organic, are broad-spectrum, meaning they harm all insects, including beneficial ones, not just the bugs you are targeting. Always avoid applying pesticides when plants are in bloom and honeybees are active.

Pesticides should be used as a last resort. I've found that being watchful and knocking insects off plants with forceful spray of water, using homemade soap sprays, hand picking and protecting crops with row covers will keep most pest problems at acceptable levels.

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