Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Accidental Tourist

Biting into a piece of fruit is biting into a chance encounter. For the blossom of a fruit tree to come to fruition there must first be an exchange of pollen.

Pollen is the male reproductive part of a plant. The Stamen carries the male DNA gamete and the Pistil holds the female DNA gamete.

Pollen must be strong to protect the male gamete on their journey. The outer wall of the pollen grain, the exine is composed of a very unusual substance called sporollenin which is very tough. The inner layer is made of cellose and is similar in construction to an ordinary plant cell wall. Pollen grains are microscopic and just a pinch of pollen powder contains thousands and thousands of grains.

When insects such as bees, butterflies, moth, flies, and hummingbirds pollinate plants, it’s accidental. Usually the insects are at the plant to get food, the sticky pollen or sweet nectar made at the base of the petals. This kind of relationship in nature is called symbiosis.

Pollen granules stick to the bees' legs and other body parts as they help themselves to nectar (the precursor of honey) inside the flowers. When the stamen falls into the dewy chamber, by whatever means, of the flower and brushes onto the pistil it is referred to as cross pollination. At this point the production of seeds begins.

It would seem that in all of nature the brightest and prettiest get all the attention. The planet Earth is a plant based Biosphere so all plant life is vital no matter the painful societal comparisons.

Plants that are pollinated by insects are often brightly colored and have a strong smell to attract the pollinators. Bees cannot see the color red. But they do see a color we can’t: ultraviolet (UV). UV is what gives us sunburn. But to a bee, it’s a whole different color. Since bees can’t see red, red flowers are pollinated in other ways, by bats, butterflies, birds, or the wind. Flowers that want to attract bees have colors that bees can see. Often, white flowers, which look plain to us, actually reflect UV light, so they look very pretty to the bees.

Plants that are pollinated by wind often have long stamens and pistils. Since they do not need to attract animal pollinators, they can be dully colored, unscented, and with small or no petals since no insect needs to land on them. The exception to this would be the tenacious Dandelion. The bright yellow flower full of sweet nectar is not only a declaration of spring but a guiding light to very hungry bees.

There is no distinction between Bee pollen and pollen found on any other insect. Pollen has been called the perfect, some say for bees only, food. It contains proteins, essential amino acids, and B vitamins. It is easy to collect for eating and is often referred to as the bee keepers’ lunch.

If the bees don’t move the pollen fruit won’t be on the branches, shelves, or tables.


One hundred nine. That's the number of Colorado vanity license plates. The plates are for fun, declaration, and are badges of honor.
Colorado vanity plates announce higher education, the lucky and not so lucky soldier, a particular dog breed, avian dominance, heritage, a couple of kindergarten rules, yea to the breasts but woe be the prostate and - 2hot4u - are the very personalized personal plates.

Drivers in all fifty states have plate options. Some titles seem to be someone's illusions of their state's attributes. Colorado easily basks in 362 days of sunshine a year however Florida, having no pride, took that one. Kentucky, the birth place of our 16th president, lost to Illinois as being the Land of Lincoln. New Hampshire's controversial plate, Live Free or Die, comes from a toast written by A.R.W. General Stark. The toast was made at a reunion of soldiers who had fought together in the Battle of Bennington. The battle took place in Vermont.

Texans gets crazy. They have plates for their Red Grapefruit, Smiling, and Reading. And they ask that God Bless Texas separately from the rest of the union.

Mississippi has plates for the diabetic and their family members as well as one for the Hearing Impaired. Marines are okay everywhere. Oregon thinks ducks are unlimited and Alaska, not space, is the Last Frontier.

Plates proclaming mental illness, praise for Satan or Allah are out.

Colorado's Share the Road is sported by vehicles but it's all about the bicycle. Respect Life comes not from the Sand Creek but the Columbine massacre. A hamburger gobbling driver whose mini van was festooned with pro-life stickers had that particular plate. "Respect Some Life" seems more appropriate.

There is no mention of the Ute Indians that once called present day Colorado their home however the Pioneer plate pays tribute to those who "settled" Colorado. It's a daily reminder to the Native Americans of just who killed their ancestors. Arizona respectfully acknowledges several Native Americans tribes.

Colorado doesn't have a plate proclaiming what makes the state great. For a time it was summed up with the adjective, Colorful. Colorado's wonder and definition is not in seasonal bursts of color or in the banality of our current plate of silhouetted mountains. We could - but for some reason, don't - have plates announcing our 52 fourteener's, The Great Sand Dunes, Rocky Ford Cantaloupe, The Colorado River or even the big hot dog on Highway 285.

On the 1958 plate, Colorful was accompanied by a skier. In 1959 the skier disappeared. A search and rescue party was never dispatched. Seems the skier landed on Utah's plate. Taking into consideration how the men of Utah deal with women it stands to reason that the skier is being held against her will.

Be it vanity or insecurity there is only a small percentage of the 6 billion people on the planet who need the plates. Fastened to both bumpers is the ostensible struggle between individuality and tribal affiliation.

Colorado needs to add beekeeprs to the list.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Winter Ruminations #1

A coupled of nights ago as the temperature dropped and the wind howled I found myself pacing along the back window. The action fueled by my high octane thoughts of; are they cold? Are they hungry? Was the wind permeating the thin walls of the Langstroth hive? Are they dead? Did I properly medicate and or winterize the girls? Does REI sell outwear for Apis mellifera? Where is their catalog they surly must have a blanket for just this conundrum? Aggg!

Foo (my dog) and I ventured into the windy night air looking for a modicum of hope that all was well within the boxes. As I stood shivering in the wind, the hives now illuminated by the holiday lights, I felt helpless as I stood in the stillness of the hives.

I couldn't put a sweater on them tonight or ever and so with trepidation I acquiesced into the world of beekeeping. There has been no, nor will there ever be, domestication of the honey bee in my back yard; no sit, stay, or come. No trips to the veterinarian for removal of pesky genitals, no bee park socialization, never to be besieged by wet noses in inopportune moments and or places.

The inhabitants of the hives are not my children, they're bugs. The latter more inclined to clean up after themselves but both equally as patience and accommodating to my daily caprices.

Falling asleep seemed to take forever but when I woke the Colorado sun not only greeted but reminded me that it's nice place to live.

Colorado Beekeepers Meeting

Over the weekend I attended my first meeting of the Colorado Beekeepers Association. The CSBA, which was established in 1888, convened in Longmont. It was a weekend of meet and greet, what and what ifs, why and why nots.

The first evening was an informal round table discussion with Dr. Gordon Wardell. As I settled deeply in the arm chair of novice I witnessed a scene unfold that resonated of a time gone by. The beekeepers seemed a rendition of fur trappers from long ago that descended from mountains to convene at a summer solstice. The forever need to connect with likeminded people was never more evident.

These gentlemen, and a slight smattering of double x chromosomes, didn't arrive heavy with furs or teaming with tales of wildlife encounters'. Rather they showed up, from as far off as the San Luis Valley and the great plains of Eastern Colorado, with jars of honey, tales of mites conquered, notions of viruses and old wives tales coming to fruition. The escapades shared brought about burst of hearty, robust laughter and moments of deep and heavy sighs. At the core they pondered the mystery of bees, a matriarchal society that's come under the gun and is in dire straights.

I garnered from the time spent that you must try and try, try again. The only guarantee; your observational skills, your scientific method and your patience will be tested.

The Denver Bee Hearing

It's not been quite a month since Denver City Council saw its way clear to pass an ordinance allowing for beekeeping. The proceedings creeped slowly through the November evening; finally after fours hours of ruminating the powers that be capitulated voting 10-2 in favor of the proposed beekeeping ordinance.

The council was addressed by sixteen adults and one spryly child all of whom spoke with clarity and affirmation concerning their beliefs as to why Denver should: allow, support, and encourage the keeping of honey bees.

The council volleyed back with, a garden variety of, concerns. What kind of person takes up such a hobby? How can we insure citizen safety? What happens if hives are left unattended?
Shouldn't we consider the Right of Use? I have a friend that's allergic, what about her?

The latter two questions, both of which were posed by the same councilperson, were interesting insomuch as the aforementioned councilperson conceded that yearly she plants vegetation specifically for attracting bees. One can easily ascertain that they're eating in her yard and housekeeping in mine. I wondered, as I sat fidgeting through the arduous process, is her allergic friend concerned for her own safety in this our elected officials' yard? Perhaps it is she that needs to post a warning sign of; hyssops twenty feet ahead, lavender at 9:00 o'clock, oh merciful Lord flowering trumpeter vine directly overhead, mint at your feet, poppies in your sights! All of which are colluding to nourish, perpetuate and attract the honey bee. Run for your life it's an urban garden!

You see, the bees are already here, albeit waning they are here.It may not seem possible but their symbiotic relationship with plants ensures our very existence.

They have a leading role, purely accidental, in the forever repeating life cycle of a plant and life on Earth as we know it: pollination, reproduction, the release of the oxygen we breathe, food we eat, shelter, most assuredly the blossoms at our festivals. Earth, this Biome we call home, will always be enslaved to the plant.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Oh Say Can You Bee

The balcony of a high-rise building, a cliff, a mountain top, even a microscope. The aforementioned are vantage points, god's eye views. Looking down or onto and beholding amazing,painful, benign, and genuine interactions of the world.

Nothing quite showcases the industrial bounty of nature like a hive of honey bees. Stealing a glance or being able to gaze onto the matriarchal system is awe inspiring. Their isolation underscores their vulnerability.

Bees provide among other things; door jams, raspberry jam, clothing, wrapping paper, the morning paper, beautiful beautiful flowers and food. Whatever the perishable, traipse back to it's nascent and you'll find a bee, many bees. Tirelessly they work.

Though the connection to all our accouterments and plates may not be obvious what we have and what we eat is brought to us by a small flying insect.

No one thinks that the bees will go away, but then again nobody thought that the Titanic would sink either.We, hobby beekeepers are the life boats that the Titanic was denied. We keep a hive we keep a species going. In the cities bees have an abundant variety of foliage and countless backyards to quietly nestle hive boxes in.