Friday, September 30, 2016

The Bees and Me

Unfortunately the best times for me to work in our sunflower gardens are the same periods in the day when the neighborhood bees decide to sop up their daily supply of nectar and pollen.

Luckily for me thus far, none of these members of the Apidae family have chosen to defend their dining areas by planting their powerful stings in any of the exposed parts of my body.

Mars has however not been that blessed.  We have three varieties of sunflowers, among them Maximilian (Helianthus maximiliani Schrad, aka michaelmas-daisy), which she and I surreptitiously spirited across country on Southwest Airlines from their original home in northern New Mexico.  According to “It was named for the naturalist Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied, Germany, who led an expedition into the American West in the 1830s.”  We do not actually know what the other two are.  If left to their own devices all three will grow to an elevation of about ten feet.  So when they get to about two-thirds of that height in early June we lop of the top three-quarters so that by season’s end the Maxes have maxed out at about my size – a few inches over six feet.

By then of course the yellow flowers are blooming and the bees are buzzing.  The nature of our work necessitates us getting into the midst of the plants, and the bees.  So, although Mars had on her hands protected by her pink leather garden gloves, she did not have any covering around her neck – on the back of which she “just felt a bite.”  Mars does not actually recall that part of the story but, either way, I remember seeing the aposematically coloured, orange and black pollen collector writhing on her nape and me saying,  “You’ve been stung.”

We both have been similarly pricked at prior times in our lives with no serious side effects (i.e. no anaphylaxis or death).  But still somehow even a non-lethal stinger lodged in the top of the spinal column didn’t seem like something to be ignored. Had we known then what we know now we would have bought a gross of Epipens, maybe used one or two, and saved the rest as a retirement investment – another case of woulda, coulda, shoulda.  Instead we put on some ice to reduce the potential swelling and went into a state of what the medical profession likes to call ‘watchful waiting” – with no negative results.  And Mars returned to her work with no further incidents.

My own gardening experiences with bee stings are twofold – neither involving sunflowers.

On one occasion I was home alone and decided to undertake my semi-annual task of pulling back the ivy from the foundation and siding of the house – something that I used to do without gloves in order to be able to better distinguish the roots of the groundcover from other objects such as stray cable connections, etc.  I stuck my right hand into a mass of ivy, felt the sharp piercing pain, saw the tiny black object in my finger and realized what had happened.  This was probably my first such occurrence since boyhood and being by myself I rushed into the house trying to remember if it was Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer, or Gravy Master, or what, that was the natural home remedy for bee stings.  We had neither.  I decided against driving to the nearest Chinese cookery and shouting “Yes MSG!” in favor of the same frozen water and calm patience that years later worked so well for Mars’ wound.  And it did then also.

My other bee adventure actually was a wasp attack, which I touched off by attempting to retrieve, for the first time that season, some of fermenting compost from by uncovered compost bin.  Before I could say “oh s***, I’m being attacked”, the ground wasps, which had happily adopted my rotting pile of vegetable scraps, grass and leaves as their subterranean condo were after me like the combat airships in Star Wars.   I like to think my lightning fast reflexes and Usain Bolt like speed outran them but I suspect in reality I simply had gotten myself out of their relatively small protective zone, at which point they lost all interest in the chase.

 Following the advice of a compost expert at a lecture I attended shorty thereafter I sealed the entire bin in plastic and let the vicious little varmints cook to death over the long, hot summer.  And next year my compost supply was once again good-to-go – and perhaps ever better thanks to its hothouse conditions.

Outside our family room window we have a small bed of phlox, each of which attract the largest, slowest, and most diligent bees either of us has ever seen.  These “hinden-bees” arrive early and stay late every day – beginning as large, becoming larger, and going home morbidly obese at eventide.

Neither Mars nor I have any interest in any kind of gardening involving the phlox.

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