Virtual beekeepers help save the honeybees
Great Plains Nature Center is holding its free Pollinator Party on Saturday with a solitary bee theme and the buzz will remain in the air in Wichita through October, as Botanica Wichita’s new Alexander Bee House continues its Busy Bee Wednesdays and other honeybee programming through the next month.
For about the past decade, the Great Plains Nature Center, 6232 E. 29th St. N., has celebrated all pollinators at its annual Pollinator Party but this year there’s a theme: Solitary bees are the sweetest.
“We want people to understand that solitary bees are as important if not more important than honeybees,” said Lyndzee Rhine, a naturalist at the urban nature center. “They are incredibly overlooked but they do a majority of the pollinating in the world.”
Honeybees get most of the attention as pollinators, Rhine said, so this year’s event will spotlight solitary bees and give attendees an opportunity to help these solo pollinators that are already buzzing around our backyards with a make-it-take-it bee hotel.
“We’ve had some mugs donated but we encourage anyone coming out to bring their own coffee mug if they have an extra,” Rhine said. “We’ll have a station set up where they can fill coffee mugs full of paper tubes to create a bee hotel. You set them up in your backyard and solitary bees will come and build a little house in there.”
Solitary bees do not live in hives. They are known to build nests in hollow wood, cracks in rocks or holes in the ground, said Rachel Roth, another naturalist at the center. Providing safe places for solitary bees is considered by some a gateway to beekeeping, she said.
“There are tons of bees out there already. If you just put up a home for them where there are lots of flowers, they’ll use them,” she said. “A bee hotel is low maintenance. There are no suits, you’re not getting stung. They lay their eggs, they die off and the new ones hatch in the spring. The most work you would have is if you take the tubes and put them in the fridge over the winter to protect them from woodpeckers.”
Attendees who don’t want to take a bee hotel home can help build a large bee hotel that will remain on the grounds at the nature center, which is a collaboration of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the city of Wichita’s Park and Recreation Department, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism and Friends of the Great Plains Nature Center.
The free party does not require registration and is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Most activities are scheduled to be outside on the main lawn. There will be a scavenger hunt and hands-on activity stations for all ages. Other pollinators won’t be ignored, Rhine said. Attendees can learn about creating a pollinator sanctuary and other actions to take to improve pollinator populations. You’ll also be able to meet a beekeeper, see Great Plains Nature Center’s on-site hive in action and taste honey.
Bee activities at Botanica
Botanica Wichita opened its Bee House earlier this year and will offer Busy Bee Wednesdays most weeks through October. It’s included with general admission but if you’re visiting for this activity specifically, call ahead to ensure the beekeeper will be on site.
Generally, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Wednesday Ramona McDowell of R&J Bee Rescue is there to talk about bee behaviors you can see inside the observation hive at the Bee House, answer questions about bees and beekeeping and explain the equipment she uses as a beekeeper. There are beekeeping jackets, veils and gloves for adults and kids to try on. You can also sample wildflower honey from hives that Ramona and her husband John keep.
For a more in-depth study of honey varietals, sign up for one of the two remaining Taste This events on Sunday, Sept. 29 and Saturday, Oct. 26. These are for adults and include a guided tour of the Bee House led by Janet Lyda, lead garden ambassador, followed by a tasting flight of four liquid honeys with food pairings and a floral themed beverage in the gardens’ Weidenbach Room. The 90-minute outings cost $20 per person and include admission to the gardens; registration is required and available at botanica.org.
“These events have been a popular way to introduce people to the nuance of honey tasting, which can be as complex and interesting as wine tasting,” said Laurel Nichols, Downing Children’s Garden and Education lead at Botanica Wichita. “A lot of people don’t realize that the color, consistency, aroma and flavor of honey depends on where the bees are getting their nectar. It’s a fun way to learn more about our bees.”
Botanica plans to offer more bee experiences when it can bring its hives back on site. The hives had to be relocated because construction of the Carousel Gardens project would agitate the bees. That project is scheduled to finish about the time temperatures will be dropping, so Nichols said to expect the additional experiences next spring. Botanica’s website provides a sneak peek: a monthly interactive bee encounter for ages 7 and older and a five-week Beekeeping 101 for those thinking of keeping a hive.
Regular admission to Botanica is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors and $6 for ages 3-12. The gardens are open year-round Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with extended seasonal hours until 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursday through September. They also are open on Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. from April through October.
Great Plains Nature Center
Where: 6232 E. 29th St. N.
When: Pollinator Party: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14
How much: Free, registration not required
More info: https://gpnc.org/programs/pollinator-party/
Where: 701 Amidon St.
When: Busy Bee Wednesdays, free with garden admission: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sept. 18, 25 and Oct. 2, 9, 16, 23, 30
Taste This Bee Tour & Honey Tasting Experience, $20 includes garden admission: 1-2:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 29 and 10-11:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 26
How much: Garden admission is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors and $6 for ages 3-12.
More info: https://botanica.org