The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

April 4, 2011

Honey bees & the allure of flowers

Garden Guide
Bob Filbrun

TARBORO — Spring is such an exciting time of year; vegetation begins to “green-up”

all around us and flowers magically appear. Somewhat like a bear, I even

feel a new fervor as I emerge from my semi-hibernation and recognize the

new life all around. During my travels, I find myself stopping to

photograph the amazing flowers of red maples, sugar maples and ornamental

cherries. Often in my attempt to photograph these delicate beauties, I am

delighted to see my friends, the honey bees, visiting the same flowers.

While I am drawn to the amazing halo of color surrounding the plant, the

pollinators are drawn by a much broader set of stimuli. Although you

might suspect that flowers are a blessing bestowed upon us for our viewing

pleasure, in reality plants (flowers) have evolved to attract pollinators

to insure pollination and subsequent fruit/seed development.  While flower

color may be an obvious draw – flower shape, structure and nectar

abundance all play a critical role. Much like an airport runway, the

ultra-violet, nectar guides help to direct honey bees and many other

pollinators through the maze of male and female flower parts to the

nectaries below the flower’s ovary.

  Flowering is a very critical time to the plants and the insects that

pollinate them. Once the flower bud has opened, the structure is very

susceptible to damage by extremes in temperature, wind and precipitation,

as well as the application of many pesticides. Similarly, this is the

period when the pollinators are most active and pesticide use can be

devastating. As we transition from March to April, the palette of

flowering “nectar plants” increases. Lasting into mid May, this period of

time is fondly referred to as the honey flow by bee enthusiasts.  This

window of pollen and nectar abundance is essential for development of

brood (young bees) and honey. The April flowers so highly coveted by the

honey bees include the huckleberry, holly species, brambles, sumac and

tulip poplar. As one might expect, the source and variety of nectar

contributes to the quantity, quality, color and flavor of this sweet


   It is not surprising that during this time of plenty, the population of

bees is rapidly growing within the hive. This congestion can trigger the

colony to raise a new queen, after which the old queen takes more than

half the workers and leaves the hive. As the swarming process begins,

hundreds or thousands of workers, some drones and the queen darken the sky

until the queen finds a resting place. Soon after, most of the workers

cluster around the queen in a “ball of bees” and wait until the scout bees

make a final decision of the colony’s new home. Often this occurs within

three days of swarming. While some folks become un-nerved at the sight of

this mass of bees, in reality most swarms are quite docile because they

gorge themselves on honey before departing the hive and therefore are

unable to push their stinger out. While I do not encourage you to test

out this phenomenon, I do ask that you remain calm and resist any urge to

harm the bees. Please call the extension office (641-7815) so that I can

contact a beekeeper to come and relocate the swarm.

For those folks who are curious about “beekeeping” or have wanted to try

his/her hand at tending a hive, you will have a unique opportunity to

participate in “A Season of Beekeeping” later this month.

 Beginning Tuesday, April 26 from 6:30-7:30 p.m., we will set up a new hive and

introduce a package of bees and queen. The workshops will be at

Saint Anne’s Chapel at the corner of Howard Avenue Extension and McNair

Road. I anticipate meeting monthly from 6:30-7:30 pm through November.

If you would be interested in learning more, please contact me at