Spotting a lone honeybee in the basil we have let flower brought to mind what a surprise to us has been how little our culinary herbs seem to interest our hives. The two pictures at left, taken earlier in the year, show nearly all the honeybees that we have seen visit our oregano. The vigorous patch has taken over almost half the herb bed and was very popular with the smaller pollinators that sometimes seemed to form a hazy cloud over it but not with our honeybees.
Our expectations were set at our former house by an anise hyssop that grew to be a six foot specimen. When in bloom it would be positively humming with bees. And this was before we kept bees of our own. That has been a happy, treasured image that we hope for with every plant that seems as if it should attract bees but we have yet to see its like again. The nearest has been our patches of milkweed and cup plants, neither qualifying as herbs nor quite as impressive as that old hyssop. We are growing another one but it is still too wee to have many blooms.
Having seen sage honey in stores we expected that our sage would be attractive to them but not that we noticed. Still our sage plant is young, was oppressed by the heat in spite of our regular watering, and did not bloom profusely. We may see differently next year.
And the lemon balm, which we planted around our first cup plant in its round bed, likewise has no apparent interest for our girls. We have since learned that the flowers are better suited for the longer tongued bumblebees. At least some pollinator is benefiting if not the ones in which we have the most personal interest.
The pictures also show differences in bee types. The top one has the orange and black stripes that most U.S. readers expect of a honeybee while the lower one is darker with no trace of orange. Our bees from Wolf Creek Apiaries have, according to their website, a mixed heritage: feral stock from the Duck River Basin derived from the original dark bees brought by European settlers bred with Italian, Carniolan, and Russian strains. Nearly all of our bees resemble the one in the first picture with the bright orange typical of the Italian(Ligurian) strain, which became overwhelmingly popular when introduced to the USA in 1859. A very few look like the grey bee in the second picture showing its Carniolan ancestry. Apparently Wolf Creek does not select for uniformity of color and that is certainly an unimportant trait. We welcome the diversity and merely hope that these Tennessee-bred bees will adapt well to Michigan. So far, so good.