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Dig It! Garden Blog

Category: Pollinators

The Once and Future Queen (Bee)

Tuesday, September 15th, 2020

I always imagine what our new Learning Apiary must look like to visitors—walking up to it for the first time, it almost looks like a garden picture with a beautiful apiary in the middle. But your friendly beekeeper walks through the image and suddenly you notice all the bees buzzing behind the screen. These bees are like many hundreds of thousands of hardworking members of staff, pollinating our plants.

Let’s take a look at 14 of the most important bees we have here at the Gardens—the queens. Read More

It’s Honey Time!

Wednesday, September 9th, 2020

Did you know that Labor Day is when beekeepers begin extracting their fall honey?

Let’s start from the beginning with how bees make honey. It all begins at the flower—flowers produce nectar as a reward for the pollinating bees. Forager bees bop around the garden from flower to flower, collecting nectar and pollen before heading back to the hive. The nectar collected is stored in the nectar sac, a special spot in a worker bee’s body where enzymes are deposited and water is extracted. Another worker comes and collects the nectar from the forager and deposits the nectar into the comb. She then extracts and deposits the nectar over and over, dehydrating it little by little with each cycle.

honeycomb Read More

Fields of Gold: For the love of goldenrod.

Thursday, August 6th, 2020

 

Before I begin waxing rhapsodic on goldenrod (Solidago spp.), let’s get one myth buried: goldenrod is not the culprit behind the agony of late-season allergies. Though goldenrod takes the brunt of the blame, it’s an insect-pollinated plant rather than a wind-pollinated one, meaning the pollen is heavy, sticky and stays put until a pollinator goes foraging for nectar. It’s the wind-pollinated, simultaneously-blooming ragweed responsible for the miseries of hay fever. Read More

Notes from the Apiary

Monday, June 15th, 2020

Hi there–as this summer’s beekeeping interns, we thought we’d give you a bird’s eye (or bees’ eye) view of our first few weeks on the job.


The hives in their new home at CMBG. You can see the apiary sign is still under construction in the background, and Erin is going to chat with some curious visitors. Observation, questions, curiosity, and education are what this apiary is all about!

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Five Sweet Benefits of Honey

Monday, April 27th, 2020

Honey is close to our hearts here at CMBG, given our sixteen resident hives, new Learning Apiary, and our Certified Beekeeper of a CFO/COO, Erin MacGregor-Forbes. So I thought today we could look at a few of the lesser-known attributes of this sweet byproduct of the hive.
Honey bee covered in dew
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Morning Hummingbird Meditations

Thursday, April 23rd, 2020

I awoke this morning listening to the cacophony of birdsong. The spruce edges were filled with rapid twitching movement as new spring arrivals jockeyed for position at the feeding stations. In that moment, I felt grateful for the steadfast traditions of nature in the face of such uncertain times.

Amidst the morning chaos, it occurred to me that there was one feeder missing—the hummingbird feeders. These tiny magical creatures have always been some of my favorites. I thought about these little birds, weighing about as much as a penny, making their way 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico. It’s no surprise that they might be hungry when they get here!  With their arrival happening in the first week of May, it might be time to dig out the feeders and check my “hummer”-friendly plant list for spring.
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Backstage at the Butterfly House

Thursday, September 5th, 2019

If you’ve spent time in our Native Butterfly and Moth House this summer, you’ve probably noticed some changes there. Built vestibules now flank the entrance and exit of the House, and if you’ve wondered why, it’s because we’ve brought in butterfly and moth species from other parts of New England.

The vestibules are a necessary, added protection against winged-creature escapes and escapades. Another necessary component of “importing” our New England neighbors is a USDA-certified rearing room. Sound a bit intense and sci-fi-esque? Well, it is, in a way—especially when the rearing room is guarded by a large “Access is to Authorized Personnel Only” sign.

Inside, it only gets more fascinating. On tabletops around the room sit cages from which the only sound, if the room is quiet, is caterpillars noisily munching on leaves. Read More

For the Bees

Monday, May 20th, 2019

Most of us are probably aware of the importance of bees, from pollinating almost everything we eat to the production of honey, beeswax, pollen, royal jelly, and propolis. Bees are so vital and so fascinating, that they’ve been studied and connected to human society for thousands of years.

“All the great thinkers have become beekeepers,” says Erin MacGregor-Forbes, CMBG’s Chief Operating Officer, co-owner of Overland Apiaries, Chairman of the Eastern Apicultural Society (the largest noncommercial beekeeping society in the country), and guru of the Gardens’ apiary. Read More

Creating Bird-Friendly Habitats

Thursday, April 25th, 2019

Creating a bird-friendly backyard habitat can be as low-maintenance as installing nesting boxes, bird feeders and a simple birdbath, or as involved as an entire backyard overhaul, complete with reducing the area of lawn, installing native plants and removing invasive plants from your property.

One of the more quickly rewarding options—for you and for the birds—is to plant a bird-friendly garden. First, though, it’s important (but fun!) to learn different birds’ preferences so you can figure out which plants you’d like to grow. Obviously, different plants provide for birds differently, depending on whether they’re grown for their seeds, fruit, nuts, nectar or as a hosting station for hungry insects (i.e. bird food). Read More

Saving the Swarm

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

The Gardens has a lot of volunteers, and an important group among them are our volunteer pollinators. Honey bees are a key pollinator that we depend on. We maintain a small apiary – a fancy name for the location where beehives are kept – of about 400,000 honey bees by our horticultural building, and it is maintained by Master Beekeeper (and Gardens CFO) Erin MacGregor Forbes.


Recently, Erin received an alert from the Maine State Beekeepers Association (MSBA) about a swarm of honey bees that had been reported by an alarmed East Boothbay resident. The swarm had landed on a tree in her front yard, and she used the form on the MSBA website to alert the nearest team member to come remove it. (You can report your own swarm here. Please note that they only remove honey bee swarms – they do not handle wasps, hornets, bumble bees or other stinging insects. If possible, try to ID the insects before reporting.)

“Swarming,” as Erin says, “is the colony level reproductive behavior of honey bees. The colony intentionally raises more individual bees than the current space can accommodate, and also raises a new queen.” Just before the new queen hatches, she makes a specific sound to let the old queen know it is time to depart. The old queen and a portion of the adult bee population in the hive – typically 20-30% of the total colony – fly out of the colony together and form a swarm cluster somewhere usually not too far from the old hive.


This swarm cluster, while sometimes loud and a little intimidating, is busy and distracted looking for a new cavity to inhabit and create a new hive in. They send out scouts to find locations, while the rest remain with the queen.

Erin, prepared with an empty hive ready to go, facilitated the relocation of this particular swarm into an ideal and safe new nest. She was even able to locate the queen in the swarm, and place her directly in the hive to help ensure the swarm moves in. “As far as these bees are concerned,” she said, “finding this hive directly below them is a miracle.”

After giving the scouts some time to return and locate the colony’s new home, Erin then came back to collect the hive and add them to our team of volunteer pollinators here at the Gardens. They make hive #9 in our apiary – to the far left in the image below. This year we anticipate harvesting several hundred pounds of honey flavored by the floral diversity that is unique to the Gardens. This honey will be shared with volunteers and members.

If you want to learn more about our bees, check out our upcoming ‘Secret Lives of Beekeepers’ class this fall on October 18 – more details to come soon!