Grit Blogs > A Lakeside View

A Spring Without Bees

By Cindy Murphy


Tags: honey bees, wild bees, fruit crops, pollination, attracting bees, Cindy Murphy,

CindyMurphyBlog.jpgOur strange “winter that wasn't” was quickly followed by a spring marked with abnormally warm weather. March had no lion’s roar; it started off mild, and by the middle of the month, temperatures climbed into the high 70s and 80s. 

There was no gradual greening of spring; everything went into fast forward. One day the trees were bare, and the next they were full of leaves. My early season daffodils lasted a day before the flowers melted in the heat, and the mid-season varieties didn't bloom at all. The late-season bloomers are flowering now, along with the azaleas; they normally flower at the same time, but not until late-May. 

 Karen Azalea and Thalia Daffodils

We harvested our asparagus in late March; planted next to the house, it was warmed even more by the siding, and was ready to pick nearly two months early!

In the orchards, the apricots, peaches, plums and cherries seemed to all bloom at the same time, and the apples and blueberries were way ahead of schedule.

The weather was the topic of conversation wherever you went; the potential disaster brought on by this early, two-week-long bout of heat was on everyone’s mind. In an area known as Michigan’s Fruit Belt, what would happen to the crops if temperatures dropped back down to normal?

The temperatures did drop. Fruit growers struggled with the frost and freezing temperatures in April, but there was another problem that occurred during the accelerated rate at which the trees bloomed in March:  the bees weren't here to pollinate.

Many of the commercial beekeepers in Michigan over-winter their hives in Florida; approximately 450,000 colonies of bees spend their winters in the Sunshine State. Others are trucked to California, where they are contracted to pollinate the almond orchards. Most of these colonies aren't ready to return to Michigan until mid-April.

Not all colonies are sent to warmer climates for the winter. The good news is that the beekeepers who keep their hives in Michigan year-round report that the mild winter helped in keeping their bees strong and healthy.

The honeybees get top billing in the cast of pollinators, but wild bees are essential players too. Bumble bees especially play a vital role in blueberry and cranberry pollination. While Colony Collapse Disorder has severely affected the population of honeybees, our native bees throughout the country are declining in numbers also. They are not affected by the same diseases and parasites as honeybees, but habitat loss and pesticide use are cited as threats, with the possible result being extinction of some bee species.

Another problem in agricultural areas is the large monocultures of bee-pollinated crops. These provide food sources for a few weeks only. A lack of nearby flowering wild plants can result in famine or unhealthy colonies. A variety of plants with different bloom periods is crucial in providing season-long nectar sources.

The decline of bee populations affects everyone. One of the seminars we are offering at the nursery this year is about bees and their vital role in food production. A County Extension Agent who is also a hobby beekeeper is coming in to speak to our customers to explain the benefits of having bees in the garden, how to attract them, and the basics of beekeeping. A great article, Plant Pollination: A Bounty to Buzz About, in the last issue (March/April 2012) of GRIT covers much of the same information that will be discussed in the seminar. Check it out.

michelle house
4/30/2012 4:19:19 AM

lol, Cindy, I did laugh, after it was made sure he had no adverse reaction to the bee sting. :D He may not remember it, but his Mother and I, will remind him of it. :D.


cindy murphy
4/28/2012 2:44:15 AM

Hi, Shannon. I've always loved old-style cottage gardens with fruits, veggies, and flowers mingling and overflowing their beds in colorful bliss. It's a great look I've tried to recreate, and has the added bonus of attracting bees. You'll have to post photos of your garden of veggies and flowers (love Icelandic poppies!) once the season gets hopping. Enjoy your weekend too!


s.m.r. saia
4/27/2012 8:47:07 PM

Hi Cindy! Thanks for pointing to the article in Grit. I'll check that out. I'm planting more flowers in the garden this year than I ever have before, trying to attract as many bees as I can. Plus, my daughter loves to follow around her "friends the bees". Have a great weekend!


cindy murphy
4/24/2012 12:21:53 PM

Oh-my, Michelle! I don't want to laugh at your grandson's traumatic experience (ouch!), but can't help it. Poor little guy! (I'm sure the bee wasn't too happy about it either!) His reasoning, though off, was understandable - if you can milk a cow, why not a bee? Sometimes the most memorable lessons are learned the hard way! (Unfortunately for him and the bee.) I'm definitely waiting 'til mid-to-late May to plant my seedlings, which is the normal time to plant them here. Although there seems to be a warming trend, you can never count on the weather do what the forecasters say it'll do! Hugs to you, and enjoy your day.


cindy murphy
4/24/2012 12:10:47 PM

Hi, Dave. The weather here in Michigan is pretty much back to normal and after everything has evened out, it appears on average, things are about a month ahead of schedule too. I planted potatoes, and a second round of green onions this week. A second planting of peas went in too; I planted the first a few weeks ago, and wouldn't you know it - those pesky squirrels nipped nearly all of the tiny seedlings to the ground! I planted the second batch (a bushing variety) in 15 gallon pots so I can net them to keep the squirrels out once they sprout...I'm hoping it'll work. I've never had the desire to keep bees either, though I plant many things to attract them. One is over-seeding my lawn with dutch clover, which the bees love and I understand makes very good honey (the flavor of honey varies depending on what plant the nectar is gathered from). If I'm not harvesting the clover honey, I hope someone is enjoying it!


michelle house
4/23/2012 2:56:18 AM

Hi Cindy, nice to see you again. Beyond weird is how I describe this spring/non-spring. I want to plant my seedlings, but I am trying to wait until middle May. I had dandelions in March!! Unheard of here. I rarely see bees, wasps? yes, all the time. I know bees are important to pollination, and I certainly hope it works here. My plants are all from seeds, they should be ok, right? Around 6 years ago, my youngest grandson, got stung by a bee. He picked it off a flower, and smushed it in his hands. His reasoning? He wanted honey, and he knew bees, made honey. He learned the hard way that is not how to get honey. lol


nebraska dave
4/23/2012 1:55:09 AM

Cindy, I knew there would be repercussions from this odd weather cycle we are experiencing. Nebraska is back to some what normal weather but the flowers and fruit trees are a month ahead of schedule. Our trees here did the same thing. They went from tiny buds to fully leafed out in about a week. It was very strange to see that happen. I expect another crazy garden year. I am hoping to get bee colonies on my new property some day. I don't want to take care of them but just volunteer the space to place the bees. I figure it would be a great benefit for my garden and maybe I could get some of the honey as well. I've heard that local bee honey is good for allergies. My grandson has allergy issues already this spring. Have a great day at the nursery.