Sunday, January 8, 2012

Honeybees in January?

   Today wasn't the warmest day we've had lately, it was only in the upper 50's, but for some reason the local honeybees were out in droves. They were all congregated on my half dozen Leatherleaf Mahonia bushes. The Mahonias shouldn't even be blooming now, they're supposed to bloom in early Spring, usually March, but the unseasonably warm winter is causing them to prematurely open.        
   I know, I know, Leatherleaf Mahonias are non-natives, even invasive in some of the southern states, but our cold winters keep them in check here. I have several good reasons I can justify growing them: deer don't eat them, they tolerate deep shade or sun, they tolerate wet or dry soil, and most importantly they provide late winter and early spring nectar for the bees. If not for these early blooming aliens, I don't know what else the bees would have to feed on.
   I'm sure you've heard by now that honeybees are really suffering these days. Yeah, they're non-natives too but without them the US agriculture industry would collapse. I've contemplated keeping bees, but so far I'm pretty intimidated, I need to find a workshop somewhere local to see how difficult it is. I've read that so many bees are dying that new beekeepers are desperately needed to help start new hives and stabilize the population. As if colony collapse disorder and mites weren't bad enough, now a parasitic fly is posing a threat to bee populations. If you're a bee fan like myself, you can listen to a story about the parasitic fly, along with several other bee stories here from the Science Friday program on NPR.


  1. Perhaps you could replace one or more of the Mahonias with a fruit tree like Apricot, Cherry, Crabapple or Apple. Yes. No. Maybe?

  2. Well, I'd love to but I'm afraid it won't work in this situation. The Mahonias are planted either up against the house or under established trees, which are not good places for fruit trees. Plus, fruit trees bloom later, Mahonias bloom really early. If any one else out there has an alternative early bloomer, please let me know!

  3. Boy do I understand your dilemma! I loved my mahonias in South GA, especially when the cedar waxwings moved in and stripped them of their berries! When I moved to NC and found out that they were invasive for this region (despite being native in Oregon), I was really upset.

    The Pollinator Partnership has been a huge help to me as we re-make our yard. They have planting guides for each zone in the U.S.. which you can access here at : . The guide even has a section that lists plants in order of bloom season. It's a free .pdf, and I highly recommend it!

  4. The invasive mahonia is "Mahonia bealei" which is not native to Oregon, that species is native to China. It is all over my neighborhood thanks to the people here that like it. I pull out about 10 seedlings per year; my immediate neighbor's yard has over a dozen mature ones. If you want to have the flowers for the bees but control the invasiveness, simply cut off the flower structure after it is done blooming. Then it can't make the berries. That will give you time to research something different. Personally, I don't feel obligated to support non-native bees! ;) I believe the native bees are dormant right now.

  5. RK Young, I have to confess, my mahonias aren't even the ones native to Oregon (I wish they were), mine are the ones native to China. :( I didn't know when I bought and planted them, it was before I knew the difference.

    Thanks for that link, it should help me pick plants so I can have stuff blooming continuously through the seasons. It looks like I need to put some Alders on my shopping list as a March nectar source.

  6. Ellen, yep, mine are Chinese. I'm busted! I planted them before I got into native gardening. Looks like I'll have to find a substitute. Cutting off the faded flowers is a good idea.

  7. The weather and its corresponding nature seems so upside down at times, does it not. The UK is currently thankfully entering a colder spell which should help the balancing act.

    Kind Regards

    Tony Powell

  8. Tony,
    Thanks for the comment and for visiting my blog. It's interesting that the UK is experiencing some aberrant weather too. I watch a lot of English football on TV and remember recently some insanely strong gales blowing through, I'm guessing that's not normal.

  9. I just saw your blog. I'm a bee keeper and it is not uncommmon for honeybees to fly when it is over 50 degrees. They are doing one (or both) of two things: searching for food or doing what bee keepers call a 'cleansing flight' aka taking a poop. Honeybees are active all winter but tend to stay in their hive where it is warm. As far as getting started beekeeping - see if your local community college has any classes or call the local nature center to see if there is a local bee keepers club.

    illissemorsirion @ comcast dot net

  10. Pam, thanks for the info and for checking out my blog!