Critters in Our Midst ~ Honeybees
It was a beginning to a wonderful day, as I looked up and discovered a natural honeybee hive, nestled on a sturdy limb thirty feet up in a gumbo limbo tree. Hundreds of honeybees were thriving on the abundant resources of nectar, pollen, water and sunlight found in my Florida friendly yard.
Upon sharing the news with my husband Ted, as he sat sipping his honey sweetened cappuccino, he urged me to get the bees out of the tree so they’ll be safe, as the limb supporting their growing nest may break.
If you were the proverbial “fly” or “bee” on the wall, this is how the conversation went:
Make the bees safe? How would that would work?
He replied, "You put a box on the ground and the bees go in it."
“Really… to get bees, you need a queen... where would you get the queen?
"From the hive in the tree," he says.
Silly me. I thought, how could it be that bees, who have survived in the wild for millions of years, all of a sudden need my assistance to live? I thought this was capitalizing on the bees rather than saving them, so I rejected that idea, and the bees continued to grow their hive.
Then one clear September morning, I awoke to the sound of the mosquito control helicopter. Outside I found the honeybees were dying from the spray. I cried as I watched with awe as the bees were slowly dying due to the ignorance of people who should be preventing this type of carelessness. There must be a better way to control the mosquito population without indiscriminately blanketing everything with poison.
That’s when I learned that the only way you can protect a hive is by covering it in advance of the spray with a wet sheet. The bees encounter the wet sheet, think it is raining, and stay inside. But since the hive was high up, the sheet method was not practical. I devised a plan for saving the bees by creating a little artificial rain shower over their hive by using my garden hose. The next spraying event we had better results. Rather than a hundred plus bees dying, the casualties were reduced to a couple dozen dead bees.
Bees are important ... it goes without saying. Without bees there are no flowers to grace your dining table, no plants to eat. What is happening here? If I called a beekeeper to move the bees, who would pollinate the vegetables and flowers in my garden?
Crazy mixed up world where you have some “men” protecting nature from the actions of other “men”. The bees do need our help to survive. Beekeepers, "keep" the bees for their honey, pollen and wax and in return, cover the beehives during spray events.
Life is Tough. I found this out in 1988 when I spent a day with beekeepers Lois and Sid Tough who kept their hives behind the thick green walls of foliage lining old Card Sound Road in N. Key Largo. Tough kept his hives locally year round, at sites with names like “The Refrigerator” or “Broken Tree”, referring to landmarks in the area. He followed the blooms of the Keys mangroves, the Everglades palmetto, Florida holly and the Homestead farm crops and avocado groves. Tough moved his bees to different locations on Mondays, removed honey filled hives on Saturdays, and extracted the honey on Sundays, all while working five days a week at a Miami boat yard.
Taking life in stride is part of “Tough’s Law”, which states that some days working is hard and other days it’s even harder.
Tell that to the bees in my yard. Their hive rebounded after mosquito spraying, only to get whacked by hurricane Ian’s winds, which caused several “chambers” to fall to the ground. More bees died and the larvae contained within perished soon after.
Somehow I had an easier time reconciling the loss of bees from this natural disaster, than to the pesticide spraying event weeks earlier.
The Queen Lives!! At least in my bee hive in the Northernmost Territory of the Conch Republic. Thanks to Nelson Gordy whose passion for bees and the hobby of beekeeping is helping the likes of me and others who find themselves “keepers” of bees with great education and removal services.
Though I probably will not become an official “beekeeper”, I do hope the queen and her hive remain happy and thriving in my Florida friendly yard.
The Florida tree snail (Genus Liguus) range once extended from Pompano Beach to Key West and across the Everglades to Marco Island. It is hard to imagine a time when tropical forest trees were covered by their glistening shells. A tree snail was like an exquisite jewel.
Charles Torrey Simpson wrote, " Long before I began to collect (1882) man had wrought great destruction to the hammocks in which they live... they are on the verge of extinction. Great forrest areas have been cut.”
Construction of the canals in Fort Lauderdale began in 1920 by clearing the mangroves and creating the first “finger islands” that became the trademark of Fort Lauderdale, “The Venice of America.” It was a model repeated by developers along the coasts, who were in the business of “selling mangroves” as they dredged and filled the wet lands and leveled the hardwood hammocks.
On December 6th, 1947, the government set aside 1.5 million acres of protected land as Everglades National Park (ENP), one place where the bulldozers could not come.
Federally designated threatened Stock Island tree snails were moved to N. Key
Largo Hammocks as a part of mitigation for developers.
Post WWII, a new generation of homeowners were on their way to South Florida. Common were sales pitches, like this one in 1952, describing the proposed development of Key Largo Beach: “Slumbering, awaiting the advent of fresh water and the mechanical work of modern machinery to restore this natural setting for the comfort and enjoyment of man today, this great flat rock key, high above the sea, on which great trees have survived for centuries, and thick with vegetation, lies basking in the sun with its frost free climate but tempered by the ocean breezes is this potential paradise.”
Originally, every tree island, every plot of land had a different variety of liguus tree snail, with different bands and color variations based on their diet and conditions in their particular hammock. Conservationists were particularly worried about snails in the Keys, where U.S. 1 gave collectors easy access to the hammocks that were home to the snails. Collectors proposed that they transplant threatened snails to suitable hammocks in ENP. From the 1950's thru the mid 1960's, some 52 color varieties were relocated to 224 hammocks within the park.
“You build it and they will come,” an adage true, more now than ever before. Not long ago in Key Largo, there were still pockets of forest, and undeveloped waterfront; little by little all are being developed. There are regulatory things that have to be done when developers want to develop areas. Especially concerning the federally designated threatened Stock Island tree snails in the area. Mitigation goes on where park rangers have to go out and remove the snails, then the developers have to pay money and the question is what to do with the tree snails? They get put in suitable conservation lands in the refuges in N. Key Largo. This usually happened without a lot of people’s knowledge.
At the time, I did not understand the significance of what I was photographing. The accepted notion of moving and collecting has made science pause. Does conservation mean we must allocate a species to an area they were not native to, to forsake the environment of their origin?
Our nature is a consequence of man’s actions. It would have been more interesting to know the Keys before people did what they did.
Key Largo Beach city fathers predicted in 1969 the town would grow to 5000 by 1974
and 100,000 by 1990. Side-by side maps showing proposed development, and today’s
current designation of the area as botanical and wildlife refuges.
Native ~ Strong
“Plant materials should thrive, be non invasive, and require little maintenance. The design should conserve the natural features of the site to the greatest extent possible and provide for the continued ecological health of the area.” landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, (1822-1903) who was into sustainable design and environmental conservation long before it was in vogue.
Once upon a time there was a little girl walking down Country Club Road when she saw a man with a paint sprayer applying green paint to a drought stricken lawn in an attempt to comply with ORCA regulations specifying that grass must remain green at all times. That little girl, now twenty something came up to me at a New Year’s Eve on the beach party some years back, and said that was a very memorable part of her early development. My mother-in-law Helen, an early conservationist, did not really wanted to expend precious natural resources for that use. In the 1960’s when Helen and Ed Ellis arrived, from Country Club Road you could actually see the ocean, and there was not much life living other than what nature provided. She planted tropical trees in her yard and allowed the native vegetation to flourish. As a result of that edict, in the late 1990’s I began planting native plants on the perimeter, adding mulch where there had been grass, and in general, provided a beautiful buffer to the outside world.
Fast forward another couple decades, my Florida garden, Helen’s yard, is my retreat, my refuge away from work and the computer; the place I go to make sense of it all. Olmsted believed and promoted the idea that environment would promote a sense of tranquility. And after IRMA, it is all still there, though a bit bruised and battered. I did not lose a tree; lots of limbs went down and I had to straighten a few trees that needed help, but all since have sprouted new bright green leaves.
My garden utilizes the basic principle of right plant right place, something to keep in mind when you're planning a garden. Native plants comprise most of my plantings, but also present are non-native plant species, which are historically adapted and suited to our climate, soil and wildlife. I plant small knowing that in time they will grow quickly and will be well anchored in our Keys rock and no soil “soil”.
These native trees and shrubs are planted in clusters, which serves as a wind buffer. My more vulnerable tropical fruit trees, located interior on the nearly one-acre property, all withstood the two days of battering salt wind and rain, and hardly lost a leaf. After the storm, it seemed like everywhere you looked around the Reef, there were lone Bismarckia fan palms toppled onto roofs and blocking roadways; I even have a Bismarckia and it is still standing clustered between my native Lignumvitae hedge.
Jeremy Dixon, Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge Manager wrote after the storm, “The forest itself looks bruised and battered, but please realize hurricanes are a natural part of the ecology of the Florida Keys. The trees will regrow and the wildlife that depends on these unique habitats can adapt to these changes. A forest of trees has a way of supporting each other and is more resilient. There is a message here for humanity, and during this time of need we should support each other.”
Another thing I noticed after IRMA was homes built in former hardwood forests, ended up with trees toppled onto the house. The equipment used to build the house ends up compromising the root system, by compacting the soil. Also removing trees to make way for the structure’s foot print makes a corridor where there was not one prior to.
Native plants have unique and distinct purposes. They provide food, water and cover to attract wildlife, and keep in place our shoreline, while at the same time provide protection for our homes. I cannot even begin to describe my feelings when I discovered in Key Largo, during the chaos after the storm, someone had cut down a forest of beautiful red mangrove trees, I guess with the intent of improving an ocean view. And I thought that all of the unemployed surfers with chainsaws had left Key Largo almost two decades ago!
And speaking of shoreline, we must keep intensive maintenance plants, which require lots of pesticides and fertilizers, away from shoreline. Come to think of it... the Key’s environment is rarely more than a mile away from the shoreline. Not to mention our porous coral rock substrate which lies a few inches below our soil, which leaches everything back into our ground water... our precious Reef. Most native plants are healthy without direct or indirect human actions.
And speaking of health, by growing these plants, I benefit from seeing the birds, listening to the songs of the wildlife that is attracted along their migrations. So too I have also gained a knowledge of plants health giving benefit for humanity. My soursop trees, I planted two because my photo assistant Ronnie told me he would be cured of cancer if he had the chance to partake in the fruit and the tea from the Soursop, except he didn’t survive the chemo; or the healing properties of lemongrass, an ornamental resembling the low grasses you see planted beneath the taller shrubs and trees that line the golf course, except this one deters pests and you can make a healthy tea, or wonderful vitamin-rich, lemon-y lemonade.
Butterflies and other pollinators are attracted to the milkweed, thistles, garlics, passion vine, pentas, sennas, spanish needle, grasses, vines, wild lime, and wild tamarind to name a few. The birds seek out insects in the shrubs, eat the fruit of the wild coffee, peppers, stoppers, rough strong bark, papaya and poisonwood trees. The papaya I planted to reduce white fly on my tomato plants, and it worked, plus it has amazing health benefits and it delicious too!
The Keys are unique in that many of the plants grown here do not grow any anywhere else in North America. Typically Caribbean or tropical in their origin, we all stand to benefit from learning about their usage. Much of my knowledge has come via my certification as Master Gardener, University of Florida IFAS program, but also from working with transplanted Cubans, Hondurans, Haitians and Conchs I have met in everyday life.
So think about it. Learn about here.
Be here, now.
This photographic website provides me the opportunity for self-expression, for sharing