The Bees Knees

At Wishetwurra Farm, in addition to the weeds that pop up, unsown by human hand, there are  always interesting volunteer plants here and there in the garden. They pop up from seeds of plants that have matured and set seed in previous years. The greens claytonia and mache (corn salad) are now “weeds” in the garden. Some years we’ve had lots of borage plants. This year there’s a patch of dozen or so poppies at the end of the asparagus beds. I think they’re breadseed poppies, the seed for which originally came from Fedco Seeds, up in Maine.

The poppy blossoms are ephemeral…glorious at dawn and in the early hours of the morning. By early afternoon they’re senescent. By late afternoon the poppies are but petals on the earth.

Early one morning, I barefooted it to the poppy patch, to see the full-open flowers.

Scores of busy bees were descending, landing, and buzzing happily in the blooms.

Happily? How do we know if bees and bugs are happy or not?

There are actually scientists crafting experiments to try to measure optimism, pessimism and depressed mental states in bees. Any beekeeper will tell you that, yes, bees have moods. Different species definitely have different personalities. If you’ve ever had the misfortune to piss off a nest of yellowjackets, you’ve seen “angry”.  Closely related insects can have radically different emotional baselines. The “Africanized”, or “killer” bees are the sweet Italian honeybees’ mobster cousins.

There’s a hive of wild honeybees living underneath one of the buildings here at Wishetwurra Farm. A couple of years ago the colony died off, but the spaces between the floor joists seem to be prime homestead space, and the next year was recolonized. That hive was probably the source of the bees that came these poppies.

Back to the poppy patch.

What did I see?

One bee.

Two bees.

Three bees…

Four bees, or more, were in each blossom…

Look at the bees’ “pollen baskets” on their legs. They’re chock full of white poppy pollen. The scientific term is “corbicula”, which is Latin for “little basket”.

Getting a good photo of a bee in flight is not an easy thing to do. But there were a few bee-in-flight shots that came out OK. Here’s one coming in for a landing…

Antennae down, checking out the odors.

This next image has a nice sense of busy-bee-ness. The amount of pollen crammed in to those corbiculae is impressive. Those are some heavy shopping bags.

I recently read that a honeybee, in her four to five week lifespan, may produce as much as a half a teaspoon of honey.

Pliny the Elder says that bees, if they stay out too late in the day and can’t return to the hive before dark,  will “camp out” flat on their backs, to protect their wings from the dew. Pliny also tells us that swarms of bees are portents, and that a swarm of bees settled on the mouth of the infant Plato, foretelling his “pleasing eloquence”. Pliny got a lot of things correct in his book, “Natural History”, but hewasn’t right about everything.

As the day wears on, the stamens, pollen now harvested, will shrivel and fall, first into the interior of the flower, and then, as petals tumble off, to the surface of the soil. To be earthworm food, perhaps.

Around and around, so it goes.

One response to “The Bees Knees

  1. Pingback: The Wishetwurra Rabbit and a Bouquet | thetompostpile·

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