How do bee’s “see” flowers?

Bees get to see in the ultraviolet world.  We can use photographic techniques to mimic that world, but all resulting colors are approximations of what a bee MIGHT see.  (More photos by scientist-cameraman Bjorn Roslett can be found at his web site NaturFotograf.com  (click on Infrared in the left side menu

Infrared and standard image of crocus By Bjorn Roslett (www.naturfotograf.com)

We can never see colors the way bees see them.

  • Bees see “primary colors” as blue, green and ultraviolet
  • They can distinguish yellow, orange, blue-green, violet, purple, as combinations of their three primary colors.
  • Humans see “primary colors” as red, blue, and green
  • We can distinguish about 60 other colors as combinations of our three primary colors.

Bear in mind that not all the studies agree on the exact colors or preferences bees see, but they all agree red is black

Some studies propose that honeybees see orange, yellow, and green as one color (green in that group surprised me).   Blue, violet and purple are seen as a second color.

Ultraviolet being their third color.

Honeybees Do Not See Red

It’s not that they don’t get angry (as in “to see red”), but honeybees see the color red as black.

Their Favorite Colors?

Their favorites are said by some to be: purple, then violet, then blue (which all look different to them).   I could not find the study that came to this conclusion, but I like it, as my favorite colors are purple, violet, and then blue.

How Do We Know All This?

We don’t know it all; studies vary.  However:

Bee’s color sense was partially demonstrated by Karl von Frisch.  In 1915, he showed that bees could discern green, yellow, orange, blue, violet, and purple.  He did this by using colored cards and bee feed.  He imprinted the bees with the idea that feed could be found on a blue card, but not the other colors.  When he removed the feed, the bees still went to the blue card.  He then tried this with green, yellow, orange, violet, purple and red.  The only color it did NOT work with was red.

In 1927, Professor A. Kuhn took the study of honeybees’ color sense further.  He tested bees using the visible spectrum for humans, but also used longer and shorter wavelengths : the ultraviolet and infrared.  The infrared was black to the bees, but ultraviolet was a color.

You CAN Try This At Home

A very nice PowerPoint presentation at this Link from the University of Nebraska, will walk you though an experiment on which colors in our visible spectrum honeybees can see.  Sorry, there’s no test for ultraviolet.

Information courtesy Brookfield Farm Bees & Honey Blog

Hey honey, I got me some bees!

The bees have arrived! We were fortunate to find 2 overwintered nuc’s (colonies that have survived one winter already) which will hopefully be strong enough to produce honey this Summer. My bee mentors posed for pictures and inspected the hives. The hives are surrounded by a bed of pea gravel both for aesthetic purposes and the safety of the lawn mowing team. They are supported by 2 cinder blocks with two 2×4’s running across the top. The boxes are quite heavy even before the bees have filled them with honey, so I don’t think they are at risk of blowing over. The exact location of the hives was chosen with great care. In order for the bees to survive the cold and windy Winters the East Coast has been experiencing, we gave them a Southern exposure so they would have the heat of the sun through the Winter.

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pea gravel and wooden rails outline the apiary

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The queen is laying brood (new eggs) in this tray

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an arc pattern is desirable as bees build out each frame

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Painting Bee Hives

This year we took the plunge and decided to try our hands at raising bees. I’ve always wanted fresh honey for my family because of its ability to dampen allergic reactions to seasonal allergies and because it just tastes so much better than store bought honey.  I was introduced to an amazing couple of experienced beekeepers through a mutual friend and they agreed to teach me about the art of apiary’s.

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Hive before painting

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4th grade painting a hive

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a small stamp created this effect

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Of course, if you know me at all you know that keeping bees in an opportunity for art. We decided to have my daughters 4th grade class paint one of the hives with an animal theme. They children loved using the bright colors to create scenes of birds, butterflies, giraffes, etc.

Another box was decorated with hand drawn and stamped black butterflies against a white background. The boxes were primed with outdoor paint and then decorated with acrylics. In order to protect the decorations from the elements each hive was lacquered with a clear sealant to make them waterproof.

Bees have a different visual spectrum than humans which help them identify pollen inside of flowers. The same visual spectrum is used to help bees identify one hive from another.

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Springtime in the garden

Signs of spring are everywhere! The Orchard is in bloom and the hens are loving the green grass and worms that come out after each rain.

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Apple Blossoms

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Pear Blossoms

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“Katniss” being loved by little man

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Peonies in bloom

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The first lotus flowers of the season

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Sewing heirloom seeds and why it matters

Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes

What is an Heirloom tomato and why does it matter? Heirloom vegetables are old-time varieties, that have been handed down through multiple generations of families. Heirlooms were bred naturally for taste. Modern hybrid varieties are bred for durability (think about apples bouncing on a truck as it crosses the USA), ripening pace, and color. (Ever bit into a beautiful red apple only to find it has no flavor whatsoever?)

“A lot of the breeding programs for modern hybrids have sacrificed taste and nutrition,” says George DeVault, executive director of Seed Savers Exchange, the leading nonprofit organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom and other rare seeds. “The standard Florida tomato is a good example. Instead of old-time juicy tangy tomatoes, it tastes like cardboard. It was bred to be picked green and gas-ripened because that’s what was needed for commercial growing and shipping.” (cited from Motherearthnews.com) IMG_7246

Hybrid tomatoes destined for supermarkets are harvested prematurely while still green and sprayed with ethylene, a gas that helps the fruit develop its red color. They are refrigerated for preservation until shipped, a process that further eliminates flavor. That’s why any farmer will tell you to never refrigerate your tomatoes.

It was important to me that we use only organic heirloom seeds in our garden this year. Not only are they superior is taste but they are superior in nutrition as well. (For more details, see Industrial Farming is Giving Us Less Nutritious Food.) Another benefit to Heirloom plants is that they are less uniform than Hybrids, meaning the fruit does not all ripen at the same time. This is an undesirable trait for commercial farming where harvesting happens all at once, but for the home gardener, it is exactly what you want.

IMG_8456The most exciting part of starting seedlings this year has to be the addition of a new three tier SunLite garden. Ordered from Gardeners and it came in about a week. The unit required assembly and had very poor directions, but the unit itself is well made. Once I got it together it looked great placed against the kitchen wall.

I also decided to invest in the Growease seed starting Kit. I justified this expense by knowing that the containers can be reused year after year and that the units are self watering!  The kids and I got to work mixing water into the germinating mix and packing it into the trays. They enjoyed labeling the wooden sticks with the variety of seeds that were being planted. We started with cool weather plants like kale, spinach, lettuce, etc. These seedlings can go into the garden much earlier that other more sensitive plants especially with the protection of hoops and a cover cloth. So now, our heirloom seeds are sprouting…next project…growing microgreens! IMG_8455

Planting a Fall Garden

I recently read that there is an entire Fall growing season that I never knew about when it comes to back yard gardens. Since our raised beds were not ready in time for a full Spring planting, I was thrilled about this second chance.

Fall Garden Box made from Red Cedar containing "Mel's Mix"

Fall Garden Box made from Red Cedar containing “Mel’s Mix”

Our garden boxes are 2 ft. high and made from Red Cedar specifically chosen for its naturally ability to resist decomposition and the fact that it is a non-toxic and not chemically treated. The whole point of growing our own food was to know that it is chemical free and as natural as possible. The “soil” is actually a blend of 3 different materials known as “Mel’s Mix”. Mel Bartholomew wrote the Square Food Gardener book and after years of trial and error has come up with what he considers to be the ideal blend of ingredients for home gardens. The mix includes:

1 Part Peet Moss (makes the soil more friable – or makes it break apart more easily)

1 Part Vermiculite (makes the soil retain water reducing the needs for watering)

1 Part Organic Compost from at least 5 different sources (adds the nutrients plants need to grow)

Heirloom "Survival" Seeds

Heirloom “Survival” Seeds

Next it was time to find our seeds.  It was important to me to find non-GMO Heirloom varieties in our garden. I found a reasonable priced pack of 50 different varieties on Amazon called Survival Seeds. There were each individually packaged and were well labeled.

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The seeds were planted according to package instructions in rows much closer together than traditional gardening techniques. My big concern was that our chickens would hop the fence and take dust baths in our garden and eat our precious seeds, which eventually did happen.

I had never started seeds directly in the earth before I had only started them indoors, so I had no idea how long it would take to see sprouts. Much to our delight within 3 days we had growth and within a week they looked like this…

1 Week Old Sproutlets

4 Day Old Seedlings

Some of our beautifully laid out rows eventually looked like a messed up rubiks cube so we did our best to put the seedlings back in order once they sprouted.  Our first radishes were ready at only 4 week!  Bibb lettuce is growing quickly and we already stole a few leaves for our turkey burgers last night. Yum.

Fall Garden

Fall Garden at 4 weeks old.

Homeade Fruit Roll Ups

Since I had the dehydrator out and humming, I wanted to try making homeade fruit rollups. My kids area always asking for a “sugary snack” and they love those chemical laden gummy like snacks that don’t taste anything like fruit at all. I remembered when I was a kid, my moms friend always packed homeade fruit rollups in her children’s lunches so I gave it a go. Fruit rollups take a lot of fruit so using a “base” fruit like apple helps create volume. You can then add lesser amounts of more expensiveIMG_5899 fruits for color / flavor. I happen to have 2 small containers of raspberries that were slightly mushy but not rotten. Perfect for rollups!

Into a saucepan, on medium-low heat, I put the raspberries. As they were heating up I peeled, cored, and sliced up whatever apples I had in the house and added them. Once the mixture was warm and a little liquidy (the raspberries were quite juicy when heated) I used a hand blender directly in the sauce pan to pulverize the mixture. Knowing my kids, I added a little agave syrup but of course this is completely optional.

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Once the mixture had thickened slightly, I poured it onto a silicone cooking sheet that I found at my local Michaels. Using a spatula I spread the mixture evenly to about a 1/4 inch thickness all over the sheet. Into the dehydrator it went until morning. When I check them the next day, they needed a little extra time, so I gave them another few hours. Around mid morning they were ready. You will know they are ready when they lift from the mat easily butIMG_5902 still have enough plasticity to be rolled without breaking or cracking.

With my kids, presentation is everything. The more I can make things look like store bought the better chance I have that they will eat them. I couldn’t find my kitchen scissons so I cleaned a pair of pinking shears and cut the sheet into strips that were then rolled up. The extra remnants were cut into square “chips”.

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The rollups turned out great and the kids loved them. I think I ate all the “chips” myslef before anyone else got a chance. Next up…mango rollups!

Making Dehydrated Zucchini Chips

Of all our seedlings started indoors this Spring, only a handful made it into our raised beds due to delays in construction. Not expecting much, we were thrilled to see a thriving Zucchini plant and several sunflowers producing fruit when we returned from vacation at the end of August. Our 2 zucchini plants are prolific and are the size of a little shop of horrors plant. They produce way more zucchini than a family of 5 could ever consume, so what is one to do after making loaves and loaves of zucchini bread?

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Introducing the Excalibur Food Dehydrator! (Note: if I were to do it all over again I would purchase their stainless steel model instead of the plastic one. Not crazy about warm air flowing around plastic that touches food)

Zucchini makes wonderful chips when dried properly. We sliced our chini’s using an attachment for my Kitchen Aid blender to get uniform size slices. You can also use a mandolin if you don’t have access to the attachments. I coated the slices in EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) and sprinkled a garam masala spice mixture on half, and plain salt on the other half.

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We let the dehydrator run overnight at the vegetable setting, and in the morning we had perfect zucchini chips. They are not quite as crunch as a fried potato chip, but the flavor is wonderful and it packs a nutritious punch. Sadly, we gobbled them up before I had the chance to snap a photo.🙂

Its Orchard Planting Day!

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former horse paddock…future orchard

Chickens…..check,  Garden….check,   Orchard…..CHECK!

Months ago we began dreaming of a beautiful orchard where you could walk underneath boughs of apple trees enjoying their shade and nibbling on their fruit fresh of the branch.

 

 

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Plum tree

Not knowing what varieties would work in our zone and not wanting to make costly mistakes in the selection of our trees, we turned to expert horticulturist Jeff Minnich (Minnich Garden Design) to advise and install our orchard. I told Jeff we wanted a lot of variety and showed him the space we were planning to use, about a 1/2 acre former equine paddock that was in the shape of a long skinny rectangle. He came back with recommendations that just delighted me! Here is what we planted today:

 

 

2          All-in-One Almond—Prunus x ‘All-in-One’

4          Apples (varieties to be determined)

1          Chinese Apricot—Prunus armeniaca

1          Tilton Apricot—Prunus armeniaca ‘Tilton’

1          Bing Cherry—Prunus avium ‘Bing’

1          Ranier CherryPrunus avium ‘Ranier’

2          Brown Turkey Fig—Ficus carica ‘Brown Turkey’

2          Nectarine—Prunus persica var. nusipersica

1          Indian Blood Peach—Prunus persica ‘Indian Blood’

1          White Lady Peach—Prunus persica ‘White Lady’

2          Keiffer Pear—Pyrus communis x pyrifolia ‘Kieffer’

1          Methley Plum—Prunus salicina ‘Methley’

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The single almond on our almond tree

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Admiring the orchard

Raising the raised beds…

To officially meet farm status I suppose one must have a garden. We decided to go the raised bed route for two main reasons. First, with raised beds you control exactly what the make up of your soil will be and are not dependent on what is in your yard. (clay in my case) Secondly, raising the level of your garden off the ground is much more friendly on your back and makes weeding / harvesting easier.

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Measure twice – cut once!

The location of the raised beds was chosen due to its proximity to the house and chicken coop (chicken poop makes the best compost) and because it had full sun. We decided to build 2 raised beds out of Western red cedar because it is naturally resistant to rotting and insect attacks, and is not treated with chemicals like standard pressure treated wood. Wood manufacturers will say that pressure treated wood is safe to grow food in, but we were told Asbestos was safe too, and we all know how that turned out.

 

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Cedar Beds are 24″ tall and 5 ft. by 20 ft. long.

After all, the whole point of this is to grow food that is chemical free! The boxes are designed to be 24″ tall and 5′ x 20′ in size. There is a large path between them to move equipment in and out of the garden. The fencing is a complicated issue because we are not only trying to keep out the deer, but also the foxes and rabbits. At the moment, we plan to install high tensile wire along the upper portion of the fence and electrify it to keep out the deer. The bottom half of the fence will need galvanized metal fencing with no more than 2′ x 4′ openings. This fence will be installed a minimum of 12′ deep into the ground to keep out animals that like to dig. (dogs, fox, wood chucks, etc)

 

Now all I have to do is the the soil to fill the boxes….stay tuned!

 

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Pea gravel finishes the look

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Our master designer and littlest helper.🙂

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