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Pollinators in Spring - MaryBeth Reid

Having lived and worked in the northeast for most of my life, May has always been one of my favorite months of the year. When I started beekeeping many years ago, it became even more so! It’s such a time of vibrant awakening. As the weather truly begins to warm, the landscape starts to explode with color – flowering trees, wildflowers in meadows, and all kinds of gardens bursting with life. Behind all this floral abundance is a hidden collaboration, a vital partnership between plants and a diverse group of pollinators.

Honeybees are one of the members of this pollinator team. Their social colonies, led by a queen bee, are marvels of organization. Worker bees, all female, dedicate their lives to the hive. They forage for nectar and pollen, the colony's fuel and building blocks. The honeybee life cycle is a remarkable feat of nature. Eggs laid by the queen hatch into larvae, which are fed a protein-rich concoction called royal jelly. Some larvae develop into worker bees, while others become drones (males) or a new queen. In this region, the honeybee queen starts to lay eggs in January. This new brood aids in replacing some of the workers that have died over winter, and ensures there is a strong workforce ready to go out and forage for nectar and pollen just when the flowers start to bloom in early spring. After living off their stored honey through the winter, they are ready to get out and get some fresh food. Some of the early flowers that honey bees visit for their first fresh meal in early spring in this area include skunk cabbage, maple flowers, and dandelion. As the season progresses, more and more flowers will bloom, providing a constant supply of food for these busy insects.

The more I have gotten to know honeybees, the more passionate I have become about them. Here on the farm, I love speaking with my coworkers about their encounters with honeybees and other pollinators when they are out in the field or out and about on the farm. One day when I got to work, the farm manager heard a loud buzzing sound and excitedly told me he thought there was a honeybee swarm in the large white pine by the door to the farmhouse. When I went out to investigate, I realized that it was not a swarm, but rather many, many bees foraging for pine pollen from that huge old tree. When you walk underneath that tree for several days in the spring each year, you can hear the loud and happy-sounding buzz of bees foraging. It’s an incredible experience.

On the next warm sunny day, go seek out a flowering tree, like a fruit, maple or willow tree that is just starting to bloom, and stand or sit underneath it for a while. See if you can hear the buzz. If you spend some time you will start to see all the bees, including honeybees, going from flower to flower. Perhaps you will see their little pollen sacs, full of pollen. You also may catch glimpses of other pollinators such as bumblebees, butterflies, hummingbirds, or even some wasps. It’s a beautiful dance to witness. Ah May, how I do love thee!

If you’d like to learn more about pollinators and about edible wild plants that feed both pollinators and humans alike, join my brilliant co-worker Sarah Lucas and me for a Wild Edible Walk and Pollinator Talk on Sunday, June 9th!


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