A beeswax candle and a small container of Minnesota honey were given as party favors during a recent university dinner that focused on Minnesota bees.
A beeswax candle and a small container of Minnesota honey were given as party favors during a recent university dinner that focused on Minnesota bees.
Honeybees were certainly on our list of topics this last week. Who would ever think that a whole evening, including a meal, could be about honeybees? The first hint we had about the topic for the event was when we walked in the door at the McNamara Alumni Center at the University of Minnesota campus. The big hall actually was reminiscent of a flower garden, decorated with huge blossoms on tablecloths, and napkins fanned out at each place, all in the bright colors of nature. The centerpieces were live flowers, all very colorful and which we later found out are from plants that attract honeybees.

We were escorted into a long side - and wide - hallway that had been converted into a garden for the evening. The walls were lined with live plants, each of which was recommended for our own gardens. And the aromas were wonderful, really just like being outdoors in a garden. Close to the end of the hall were two tables for tasting: one was filled with five different types of Minnesota honey, and the other was for tasting honey from countries around the world. Yum, while it was all delicious, I think I am partial to the Minnesota honey.

We went home with a lot of information about bees, first from the dinner speaker, Marla Spivak, who is a Distinguished McKnight Professor in the Department of Entomology. While it isn't always interesting to hear a scientist talk about her specialty, listening to her was great: she made the topic incredibly interesting. In fact, it was exciting to watch someone talk about something that is so obviously near and dear to her heart, and which is a lifetime interest. She was a great example that it certainly is fun to love your work.

We received a take-home pamphlet, "Bee Pollinators in Your Garden," which reinforced how important bees are to our food supply: "approximately one-third of our diet is dependent, either directly or indirectly, on bee pollination of garden and commercial crops." We now know there are 20,000 to 30,000 species of bees worldwide, with about 3,500 to 4,000 in America, north of Mexico.

A shorter handout from the M Bee Squad and the M Bee Lab at the U said there are hundreds of these different bee species just in Minnesota, even with our cold climate. Some of the bees are "specialists," meaning they can only raise their young with pollen from particular plants. Other bees are "generalists" and will collect pollen from a wide range of plants. Both of these publications included lists of recommended plants for our own gardens.

When we arrived at the event at the U, we had been offered the featured drink of the evening, which was a honey-based martini. While we didn't try that, every item on the dinner menu related in some way to honey. The salad dressing was honey-based and the salmon was topped with what I think was a honey-based salsa. The dessert was topped with a honey-based syrup. When we left the event, we were each given a small candle in the shape of the U's "M" made out of Minnesota beeswax and also a small container of Minnesota honey.

About two days later, an article in the Rochester Post Bulletin magazine "Radish" talked about "Backyard Bees" (by Lisa Young, June issue) and the Bee Shed, a great area source for beekeeping supplies and bee knowledge. Ed Simon, co-owner with Chris Schad, reported, "There are only about 150- to 200,000 beekeepers in the United States." That doesn't seem like many, considering how critical they are to our food supply. So people are encouraged to take it up!

After that honeybee-themed evening and the newspaper feature, I have become more aware of attracting them here at home. I am pleased that we do seem to have quite a few bees visiting our plants. My criteria for planting flowers was that they be perennial, would spread, and in most of the places not grow taller than 12 inches. Because I was going to have a purple or lavender outdoors, the blossoms had to be in those shades of creamy white. So I was happily surprised to see that of the three photos on the M Bee Squad/Lab flyer, all were of bees perched on lavender flowers.

From observing our yard's bees more carefully, they seem to most closely match the photos of the bumblebees and the honeybees. Of course I don't spend a lot of time up close to them so I could more positively identify the species; I don't want to test their ability or desire to sting humans. But from the charts, it looks as if they will hang around all summer.

I don't think I am ready to become a beekeeper, but at least now I am more prepared, and interested in, making sure the bees at least feel welcome at our place.