Beekeeping Wednesday : Bumble Bee

Rusty Patch Bumble Bee

by Peter Cole

We’ve all heard the talk of colony collapse disorder and the combined impact the pests and the environment  are having on honey bees, yet we have not really felt the urgency of the situation we are facing with regards to our pollinators.  I am currently researching MP3 for an assignment in 4H.  I am learning about Managed Pollinator Protection Program and how it hopes to help our pollinators and slow heir decline.  You can expect to read both my essay and Jacob’s in the near future, but today I wanted to share with you what I recently learned about the Bumble Bee.  While the Bumble Bee is not our beloved Honey Bee, it is still a kind of bee and an important pollinator.  When we see what is going on with the bumble bee we can see how in danger our honey bees are for the same reasons. 

bumble bee 2

A key pollinator to thirteen different states and one Canadian province, the Rusty Patched Bumblebee is the first bee in the continental United States declared endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service on January 10th 2017. Like honey bees, bumble bees are among the most important pollinators for blueberries, cranberries, clover, and almost the only insect to pollinate tomatoes. Over the past twenty years, the Rusty Patched Bumblebee has declined eighty-seven percent due to: loss of habitat, pesticides, and loss of crop diversity. With a pollination value of 3 billion dollars annually, the decline of native bees is becoming an important issue.

Rusty Patched Bumblebees have been in decline. Once found in almost half of the US, they are now found in only thirteen states. A variety of causes have led to its decline, the important ones being loss of habitat, loss of crop diversity, and pesticides. Most of the upper Midwest and northeast grassland habitat has been converted to monoculture farms and cities. The grasslands that remain are small, few, and far between. This may not have been a big problem if not for loss of crop diversity. The monoculture farms plant one crop that blooms once a year. The bees have nothing to forage the rest of the year. Also, the pesticides meant to kill bad bugs could also kill the bumble bees, even if applied to the soil, because the bees nest underground.

bumblebee 1

Even though the Rusty Patched Bumblebee does not live in Texas there are many different native bumblebees in Texas that could also be in decline. We should try to conserve bees whether they are endangered or not. An easy way to do that is to plant native bee plants. As beekeepers it will attract honey bees but it will also attract other bumblebees and pollinators. Planting flowers that bloom throughout the year will also help all pollinators. Limiting or stopping pesticide use would benefit our pollinators as well. Being underground nesting bees the Rusty Patched Bumblebee prefers tall grass and old unused dens. So if you have an area of your yard that you can allow the grass to grow taller, it would benefit Bumblebees very much.

The decline of the Rusty Patched Bumblebees has led to its endangered status. However, it could come back if the right steps are taken to help them. Even though they don’t live in Texas we do have native bees that these same steps will help strengthen. Most importantly these steps are easy to do: plant a couple plants in your yard, stop or reduce your use of chemical pesticides and keep let your grass grow a little taller.

Beekeeping Wednesday : Salvias

by Jacob Cole

Henry Duelberg Salvia

henry duelberg 2

Its winter right now, a kind of down time for beekeepers, where we plan our spring strategies, and decide if we are going to do anything new. My family also begins to plan our spring garden, research plants, and plans the layout. Since we are members of our local Master Gardeners Association, we are exposed to several incredible plants. One of these is salvia, a native flowering plant. Below is an article I wrote for my Master Gardener class in December about the  Henry Duelberg variety of Salvia.

Have you ever been walking around and seen a plant that you’ve never seen before?  Did you ever think to do a little digging into it, and maybe try to identify it? Well Greg Grant did, and that paid off tremendously. If you have heard of the Henry Duelberg Saliva, you have probably heard its back story as well. When walking through a cemetery, Greg spotted two different colored flowers growing side by side, on the graves of Henry Duelberg and Augusta Duelberg. When he did a little research, he realized that this was a new cultivar of Mealy Cup sage. He quickly patented his find, which turned out to be one of the greatest decisions he made.

Salvias are incredible plants, especially for Texas. They are often drought hardy, and bloom for long periods of time. One great variety is the Mealy cup sage, specifically the Henry Duelberg or Salvia Farinacea cultivar.  Henry Duelberg is great for a number of reasons. One reason is its color. This salvia is blue/purple in color, which is beneficial to honey bees, who see in the ultraviolet spectrum.  Another reason is that it is low maintenance, native which means that is drought resistant, and loves full sun; remember it was found in an old Texas cemetery. It is also a perennial, which means that it will return year after year for several years. It is also not preferred by deer and other browsing animals. It produces large amounts of flowers, and when paired with its mate which is colored white, it can look quite stunning. Butterflies also love salvia, along with other nectar feeding insects.


Henry Duelberg salvia is a great plant for any gardener, at any level of expertise. Its low maintenance and water needs are great, and it can stand full sun. It will bloom from spring until frost, and will provide many years of beauty. This plant is great if you are planning on planting a Beescape, or just want a beautiful plant.-

salvia comes in a variety of colors and sizes, and grows almost every where. It is a great bee plant, and supplies a ton of pollen and nectar. I hope that you all have a great last month, and can’t wait to see y’all next month. see y’all soon, Jacob

  1. “Salvia Farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’ – Blue Mealy Cup Sage.” Flowers by the Sea. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.
  2. “PLANTanswers: Plant Answers Salvia Farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg'” PLANTanswers: Plant Answers Salvia Farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’ N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.
  3. “‘Henry Duelberg’ Salvia.” Texas Superstar®. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.

Beekeeping Wednesday : Propolis

by Peter Cole

This is Peter the 2017 ETBA Junior Ambassador. While it might be warm outside, it is still winter which means we are feeding our many of our bees. If you have gone into your hives while it has been cold then you may have noticed how tough the propolis is. Well did you know that propolis has too many health benefits to count?


Bees make propolis with tree resin. So when the foraging bees go get water, pollen, or nectar, a small group of bees will go collect resin from tree buds, sap flows, and other parts of the tree. They come back and mix the resin with their saliva and beeswax to form a substance that is super hard and brittle in the winter, and sticky in the summer. The composition of propolis is different hive to hive and season to season. Normally, it is dark brown in color, but it can also be found in green, red, black, and white colors, depending on the sources of resin found in that particular hive’s area. The properties of the propolis depend on the exact sources used by each individual hive; therefore any medicinal properties that may be present in one hive’s propolis may be absent or vary from another’s.  Analyses shows that the composition of propolis varies considerably from region to region.

propolis 2

In northern climates, bees collect resins from trees, such as conifers.  Propolis also contains persistent lipophilic acaricides, a natural pesticide that deters mite infestations. In more southern regions, in addition to a variety of trees, bees also gather resin from flowers in the genera Clusia and Dalechampia, which are the only known plant genera that produce floral resins to attract pollinators. Honey bees are opportunists, gathering what they need from available sources occasionally, worker bees will even gather various caulking compounds made by humans when they have a hard time find the more usual sources.

Bees use propolis for many different things. For centuries it was believed that bees used propolis for sealing the hive to keep out the rain and cold. In reality ventilation is crucial to survival during winter. Bees use propolis as a reinforcement, gluing the hive makes it much more stable. Sealing alternate entrances makes the hive easier to defend.

Propolis is anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral. That makes the hive easier to defend from bacteria, viruses, and other dangerous microbes. Bees even use propolis to prevent decay in the hive. If something dies in the hive bees will take it out, if they can carry it. If a mouse or small lizard gets into the hive and dies then the bees will completely seal the animal in propolis making it odorless, harmless, and mummified.

As beekeepers we have designed ways of harvesting propolis. One is the propolis trap; some of you may know that bees have a minimum space of 3/8 inches that they need to be able to maneuver their hive. They usually maintain this measurement by filling any spaces greater than 3/8 inches with wax for extra storage. Most places smaller than 3/8 inches they fill with propolis. The propolis trap is similar in design to a queen excluder; it looks like a piece of plastic with slots throughout the plastic. The most obvious difference is that the slots are smaller than bee space so when placed under the inner cover the bees will fill the slots with propolis to prevent pests from hiding above them.

Bees are not the only ones who use propolis; humans have many uses for the bee glue as well. Its properties make it healthy and some countries use it as medicine.  A tincture can be made by grinding up the propolis as much as possible and letting it sit in everclear for about 6 weeks.  This tincture then can be used in a variety of ways, and you can find other ideas and uses if you check out Propolis on line.  Another common use is as a varnish on guitars, violins, and other stringed instruments.

Now you know all about propolis, how bees make it, what bees do with it and what we can do with it. It’s the perfect time to get a propolis trap of your own and start your own adventure with this amazing product of the honey bee!!

Bee Keeping Classes

It is almost time to kick off our Beekeeping Classes for 2017!

Our family started these classes in 2016 and we are so excited to kick things off for 2017.

Here is what our class schedule looks like :

Class I:  (January)  Honey Bees 101 : Bee Biology; Equipment, Tools and Clothing; Apiary Location; Codes and Regulations; Honey Processing Houses; Beekeeping Products and Services

Class II:  (February)  Feeding your Bees; Foraging Plants for Bees

Class III:  (March)  Yearly Management of your Apiary; Assembling Boxes

Class IV:  (April)  Installation of Nucs and Packages

Class V: (May)  Brood & Adult Diseases; Parasites; IPM

Class VI: (June/July)  Honey Harvest!  You will learn by doing.  We will remove frames from our hives and then extract the honey in our Honey House.

Cost for the Beekeeper’s Series:  $200 per person for 6 classes, 18 hours of instruction.  There is a 50% discount for another person in your immediate family.  Please contact us for more information on Youth pricing & possible scholarship opprotunities.

A DEPOSIT of $50 will hold your place in the class.  You will be able to pay the remaining at the first class or work out a payment plan with Milk & Honey Meadows.

Who are we?

In 2010, we established Milk & Honey Meadows.  We have been teaching about beekeeping for four years all over Henderson County.  Robert and Jacob are Advanced Master Beekeepers, Peter is an Apprentice Master Beekeeper.   Janelle and Peter are Master Gardeners  in Henderson County and Jacob is a Master Gardener Intern, and the three of them are the brains behind the Beescape planning.

We currently manage over a dozen hives in multiple locations.  We manage the Observation Hive at the East Texas Arboretum for East Texas Beekeepers Association (ETBA), and help teach the public through summer workshops and talks.  We are members of HCBA (Henderson County Beekeepers Association), ETBA (East Texas Beekeepers Association), and  TBA (Texas Beekeepers Association).

While we do not know everything about beekeeping, we do know where to find the answers to any questions you may have.

We are so excited to have you join us for our Honey Bee School!