A Year in the Apiary:

The Battle at Whiskey Barrel Pond

by Claire Condra

pond with water lily
It’s amazing how a pond livens things up in the garden.

A half whiskey barrel pond with a few plants, a solar fountain, and some mosquito fish makes an ideal water source for bees. If you already have a pond or pool in your yard for people to enjoy, a strategically placed whiskey barrel pond will keep the bees out of everybody’s way.

Stringy green algae (Claudophora spirogyra), otherwise known as pond scum — and not to be confused with the smooth jazz group Spyro Gyra — grows into a bubbling floating carpet that bees can easily land on. That, combined with a forest of dwarf horsetail makes an irresistably cool retreat on a hot day.

Bees snack on algae and stick their long, straw-like tongues through the algae to fill their tanks with nutrient-rich pond water. Then they climb up the reeds and fly back to the hive.

Spirolina, a distant cousin of spirogyra, is a blue-green bacteria (Arthrospira platensis) with a nutritional profile that is similar to pollen. This is the same stuff the Aztecs made into energy bars for their long distance runners, and is being investigated as a nutritional supplement for bees.

On the downside, green algae is invasive and if not controlled, clogs the fountain and depletes the water of oxygen, which kills the fish and transforms what remains into a breeding ground for mosquitos. The best time to prevent green algae from taking over is before it gets out of hand.

A simple way to keep the water clear is to put a generous handful of barley straw into a nylon stocking, along with a rock to weigh it down. And if the water still turns brackish, you can always dump it into your vegetable garden and start over.

A closeup of bees drinking from the pond.

Water bee territory

Sometime around the middle of summer, my bees’ private oasis was discovered by bees from a wild colony that lives in a California pepper tree (schinus mole) a couple of doors away.

The first sign that a territorial battle was brewing was a minor skirmish on a horsetail reed. Then, one bee jumped on the back of another and held her down before throwing her off the algae pad.

Girl fight!

I couldn’t tell if my bees were defending their territory or being pushed around by the other bees.

These minor skirmishes soon escalated into a full-scale invasion by the bees from the pepper tree. Eventually, both sides settled into an uneasy truce.

I could tell who was who from the direction they flew away from the pond. The pepper tree bees were more aggressive than my Italian bees, and there was a difference in the air when they were around.

It was time to batten down the hatches!

The first incident is about 10 seconds in on the left where a bee gets chased off the reeds.  Then on the right, one bee jumps on the back on another and holds her down before kicking her off the algae pad.

I closed the corner front flap of the enclosed apiary, which had been left open a notch, so the pepper tree bees wouldn’t find the hive. Fortunately, they were on a water-gathering assignment and were interested in only one thing.

Do bees like music?

So I was chillin’ in the shed one afternoon with a glass of wine and listening to BB King’s Bluesville while going over the instructions for my new Flow Hive when I began to wonder how bees respond to music.

I had been reading The Sacred Bee in Ancient Times and Folklore about how people used to sing to bees and play cymbals to summon them. Although bees don’t have ears, they hear vibrations through their antennae.

While searching online, I came across a playlist of bee friendly music with buzzy baselines like So What and Uptown Funk that fall within the 250-500 Hz frequency range that bees might hear in the hive.

Then I came across Layne Redmond’s Sacred Tools of the Bee Priestess: Sound Purification, which I suspect is outside of that frequency range, and decided to conduct an experiment. So I set up my little Bose speaker on a chair next to the pond and cranked it up just a bit.

Busy bees! They fill up on water, climb the reeds, and fly back to the hive.

With all that clanging and chiming going on, the bees beat a hasty retreat and one gave me a buzz on her way back to the pepper tree. The next day my bees were back busy at work on the pond, but the pepper tree bees were nowhere in sight. In fact, I haven’t seen them since.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


© 2024 Condra Media Group LLC