"Bee" Surprised

Some of the surprises in our yard

    We moved last fall, after the flowers had finished blooming. So these lovely spring days have been full of surprises as we work in our new yard. Rhododendron and azalea bushes are breathtakingly colorful. Mounds of snow-on-the-mountain fling the whitest of snowdrifts against the somber evergreens. A mix of ground covers fill drab areas with violets, primroses, forget-me-nots, lilies of the valley, and other bloomers. Tulips and irises have popped up where the ground seemed bare.

    Along the end of the house a bank drops steeply to the drive below. Big rocks shore it up. The crevices bloom with a variety of perennials, but not much grows in the sandy soil at the top. One morning I decided to give it a good weeding, then plant ground cover there.

    Another surprise! Buzzing filled the air as hundreds of swarming bees swirled ankle high above the ground.

    No, they weren’t swarming…they seemed interested only in pursuing other bees going in and out of burrows in the ground. In some places, the holes were no more than two inches apart. The busy creatures ignored the big feet standing there in their midst, and they ignored the camera lens hovering just above them.

Ground bees at work on their burrows (Click photos to enlarge)

    I hurried to my computer and found that the Northwest is home to several species of native ground bees. These include digger bees, alkali bees, bumble bees, leaf cutter bees and sweat bees (so called because they like to land on people and sip the moisture from their skin.) They all belong to the Hymenoptera order but are in different families.

    Early spring is mating season for ground bees. They do not live in hives, as honey bees do, so there is no need for a queen. Each female digs her own nest in dry soil and gathers pollen and nectar for the young that will grow there. I watched several females start their burrows. As each kicked sand out, a miniature “hill” formed, with a slightly larger than bee-sized-hole in the center. Other bees returned to their own nests with abdomens yellow with loads of pollen. Meanwhile, the males hovered overhead, waiting their chance to grasp and mate with a female.

A female at work on her burrow.

    The burrows go at least six inches into the earth, with vertical, horizontal, or slanting tunnels, depending on which species the bees belong to. The female lays an egg in her finished burrow, pushes in a lump of pollen and nectar for her baby to eat as it grows, then seals the hole. By next spring the larvae have developed into adults. Then they dig their way out to start the cycle over.

    Ground bees can sting, but they are usually docile. However, I did see a few yellow jackets also burrowing in the same area. Yellow jackets can be cantankerous. Their stings are painful and they can sting repeatedly. Larger than ground bees, they are hairless and marked with a pattern of black and yellow stripes.

How many burrow entrances can you count in this 6 inch patch of ground?

    Usually smaller than a half inch, the various ground bees are beneficial insects, indispensable as pollinators to farmers or gardeners. Pesticides should be used only as a last resort. To prevent them from nesting in your yard, try not to leave large, open patches of earth. Plant thicker grasses or use a mulch they will not find attractive to dig in.

    Perhaps the easiest way to discourage them is to saturate the ground with water. They need drier earth to build stable burrows. I watered our colony of nesters and by the next day, only a few remained. They’d moved on to more favorable conditions. Of course, there’ll be a few larvae remaining in the ground, but by next year I’ll have a nice layer of mulch there to encourage the new generation to go elsewhere.

Book Review: Sailing With Impunity by Mary E. Trimble


Mary Trimble and Impunity

                Sailing With Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific
                                                            Mary E. Trimble

    Impunity: freedom from punishment, harm or loss. Impunity was the serendipitous name for the vessel that in 1989 carried Mary and Bruce Trimble, now of Camano Island, on their 13,000 mile voyage through the South Seas and back to Seattle.  While reading Sailing With Impunity, the story of that adventure, I felt like I was on the boat with the Trimbles, living something far beyond any previous experience. Though it was certainly not free from punishment—seasickness, storms at sea, a terrifying time when Bruce was knocked overboard, a cyclone in Samoa—the Impunity’s journey also brought tranquility and ideal sailing conditions as well as happy occasions of exploring the South Sea islands and making new friends.

    Meticulous planning went into the execution of the Trimbles’ voyage. We learn the work involved in gathering and storing supplies and extra parts for the boat. Mary shares practical solutions to adaptations one must make to daily routines, such as bathing or washing clothes in salt water, or cooking nutritious meals on a plunging boat while strapped into the galley and holding on with one hand. Even eating those meals could be challenging. The author tells how they’d load up their plates and hang on to them for dear life. They couldn’t put them down or they’d slide away. In bad weather, salt spray was constant. They had to hunch over their plates to protect their food from the water.

    We become privy to the details of shipboard emergencies, celestial navigation, even the tricks of sailing safely through the barrier reefs surrounding some of the islands.

    Whether you’re an experienced sailor or an armchair adventurer, Sailing With Impunity has plenty to engage your attention. If you’re not a sailor, you may want to start at the back of the book and  skim the very helpful glossary. You’ll want to return to it often. While you’re there, read the epilogue, which traces Mary’s career as an author. Then begin the journey. You’ll be glad you sailed along.

Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific
ISBN 978-0692417782

Sailing with Impunity may be purchased through your favorite bookstore, or for paperback or Kindle e-book format, through amazon.com.
contact Mary at: http://www.marytrimblebooks.com/order-books/