The Grapevine Knox Cellars Honored
Humble Bumble Home The Pollination Crisis
Bees in the Bedroom More on Cedar
Fabres Threshold Bumblebees in Their Bedroom
Orchard Masons on Ice Northwest Flower and Garden Show
Knox Cellars has a Partner News From Canada
Humidity and the Orchard Mason Orchard Masons on Watermelons
Battleground Bees


The Grapevine

I told you this would be an occasional newsletter, but I didn’t really intend it to be this occasional. For those of you new to the mailing list I write one of these communications from time to time when I’m in the mood, or when I have accumulated lots of interesting stuff to pass along. Both those situations now apply plus it has been ten months since the last Urban Farmer. I will try to do better in the future. This has been a very busy time at Knox Cellars. The spring in Western Washington was very cold and very wet. For a long time I worried about getting enough Orchard Mason Bees to meet the growing demand. The season was the worst in my experience here at home. I essentially got one nesting cell for each one I set out. No increase. Fortunately just 90 miles south, in the Seattle area where I trap many of my bees, the season was late but adequate. I will have lots of bees to sell. We are out of stock of this season’s bees, but can take orders for next fall. We begin shipping next season’s bees about November 1st.


Knox Cellars Honored

I am thrilled to report that I am being flown to Tucson to attend the national kick-off of “The Forgotten Pollinators Campaign”, and with five other persons from around the nation, be recognized for my role in pollination education. The “Forgotten Pollinators Campaign” is a joint effort of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Bat Conservation International, The Sonoran Arthropod Studies Institute, The Xerxes Society, The center for Plant Conservation, and the National Wildflower Research Center. A keystone of the campaign is a fine book, “The Forgotten Pollinators” authored by Gary Paul Nabhan and Steve Buchman. The book relates in fascinating style the pollination crisis that currently threatens North America. It is a must read for environmentally concerned citizens. We have made arrangements to offer it to our customers in hard cover for $25.00. (see order form)


Humble Bumble Home

We are so excited to offer a national first, the Humble Bumble Home. To our knowledge the only bumblebee house ever offered for sale in North America. It all began with our growing interest in this gentle pollinator that does such a great job on our raspberry patch each year after our Orchard Masons have done their early spring job and died. Many of you will remember that we offered free bumblebee house plans in our last issue. Well, the more we learned about bumblebees, the more excited we got so we decided to manufacture them ourselves. In addition, I am now hard at work on a book about these amazing creatures. It should be available shortly after Christmas, in time for Spring. The Humble Bumble Home is a charming, stout box of first rate pine. Its’ two chambers contain the proper amount of upholsterers’ cotton to provide the nest that bumblesbees must have as well as an eight page instruction booklet explaining the life history of the bumblebee, and complete instructions on how to get them started in your Humble Bumble Home. An exciting option is the Observation Model which contains a clear plastic sub-lid which allows you to lift the wooden lid and watch the intriguing bumblebee society through the plastic roof. Also included is a bee passage tube and clear instructions on how to install your Humble Bumble Home indoors but connect it to the outdoors through a window. Either model is a must for your garden and a wonderful gift.


The Pollination Crisis Continues

More and more frequently we read about the shortage of honey bees and the lack of pollinators across our nation. Our customers continue to tell us of the crisis. Mildred Stephenson writes from Half Moon Bay, California ,”We did not see a single honey bee this year, we have very little fruit”; Marie Bailey wrote from Kentucky with her bee order, “Please don’t lose our bees! There is hardly anything here but a few bumble- bees”. We have had a similar experience at Knox Cellars with the lack of honey bees but thanks to the Orchard Masons who live in our back yard we have a huge apple crop. I have had to thin hundreds of apples. Let me know what your honey bee populations are like this year.


Bees in the Bedroom

Kip Johnson writes; “In March strange deposits appeared in our bedroom. My wife blamed me of course. Soon she discovered strange bugs. They looked like bees. Once again I was blamed as I had been given a straw of mason bees and may have left it in a pair of pants hanging in the closet. I had the last laugh when we finally figured what had happened. The wife has an old table that she leaves on the patio during the spring and summer. She brought it into the bedroom during the winter. You can guess the rest. It had over a dozen holes in it and every one was filled with bees. In the warmth of the bedroom they came out early.”


More on Cedar

In the last issue I wrote about using cedar to make Orchard Mason nesting blocks. As usual I suggested that cedar was the least favorable wood to use. Several of you have written to suggest I am wrong. Judy Koontz phoned to tell me that she had 107 of 110 holes filled by Orchard Masons in a cedar block. So much for that theory.


Fabres Threshold

When the Orchard Mason prepares its’ nesting cell and before it begins to victual the cell with pollen and nectar, the bee always places a narrow ring of mud around the hole at the place where the closing wall will be constructed. Like a mason or a carpenter chalking a mark to guide his labor. “This is where I will end the cell” she is saying to herself. The “chalk mark” was first observed by Henri Fabre well before the turn of the century, thus it is still called “Fabre’s Threshold”.


Bumblebees in Their Bedroom

On a shelf before a window here in Knox Cellars sits an observation model Humble Bumble Home. It has provided me months of fascination and learning. It is connected to the outdoors by a four inch piece of plastic pipe inserted into the bee house at one end and through a board held in place by the closed sash window at the other pipe end. The lovely black and yellow Californicus fervidus come and go at will with their forage of pollen and nectar and I am privileged to watch when they return home to fill their honey pots and feed their young, and make over their comb. Today as I write they are building a canopy over the comb near the entrance hole into the nesting chamber. We have had a few days of cooler weather and I am guessing that cool air is flowing through that hole and the bees don’t like it. They are fashioning a spherical dome with upholstery cotton on the outside and wax on the inside. Looks kind of like a piece of tennis ball at this point. They already have enough built to deflect the draft over the developing egg cells. Just fascinating to watch the construction and marvel at their decision to do this after all this time without a cover. At night bumblebees brood their pupal cells just like hen chickens, stretching their furry bodies over the cells and pumping warm blood through their abdomens to get the most heat to the growing babies.


Orchard Masons on Ice

Phil Torchio responds to my question about mortality with refrigerated bees as follows. “You can expect 10% mortality in the 12th month from when the egg was laid and 70% mortality on the 13th month.” If the egg was laid in April you had better get them out of the refrigerator by the end of the following April. The bees that Knox Cellars ships are laid in March, April, and May with the peak season being about March 15th in a normal year. Be warned, don’t refrigerate them too long. I think you are better off to put them out on the first of March and let them take their chances with Mother Nature.


Northwest Flower and Garden Show

The Northwest Flower and Garden Show has just accepted our application for our own booth in their February 1997 Seattle show. For five years we have sublet a tiny corner of a booth from our good friend Marcy at the Garden Spot. We are excited to have our own booth, but will miss the fun and excitement that was shared with Marcy and her crew all those years. Come and see us if your are in Seattle February 5th through 9th. We will be in booth 214.


Know Cellars has a Partner

If you thought I was using the imperial “We” in this Urban Farmer, please be advised it is the family “We”. My daughter Lisa Griffin Novich has joined me to help with this growing hobby run amok. Lisa bring great credentials as a University of Washington MBA with a number of management years with Weyerhaeuser. We can hope thing are going to get a little more organized. Lisa is a stay at home mom who now has her older two children in school and has some time for other activities. She has us on the internet and e-mail so you are welcome to contact us that way. Please contact either one of us with questions or service needs. We are having great fun working together and Lisa knows a lot about bees. The web site address is


News From Canada

I was delighted recently to receive a letter from my friend Sylvia Pincott of Abbotsford B.C. Sylvia is the founder and mainstay of the very successful BACKYARD HABITAT program in the Vancouver B.C. area and a recent recipient of a 1996 Minister’s Environmental Award from her provincial government. She is a great observer and I quote her “We are finding that 1/4 inch holes drilled in blocks of untrimmed maple are being very readily accepted by the later leaf cutting species. We have a dozen or so maple blocks on a post on our back porch, all have the bark intact (other species of wood are not their first choice) About 200 holes have been filled in the maple.” She also reported that pine siskins were working on the filled holes. ” “A very late species that used a resinous substance to plug its holes (convex finish rather than concave), in a weathered piece of cedar, have not yet emerged. I seem to recall that they happened out in late August last year. What a fascinating world you introduced us to, Thank you so much! Oh- another thing of interest. Last summer I filled a bird house with a mouse nest hoping to attract bumblebees. Didn’t work last year, but they arrived this spring – the little red bottomed species. Unfortunately we have seen no activity for two or three weeks now so I fear something unfortunate happened to the little colony”


Humidity and the Orchard Mason


Prompted by a question from a reader, I asked Phil Torchio about bees and humidity. His reply: All Osmia bees do very well with a great range of ambient humidity. Humidity is a non-issue with these bees however it does effect the bee when it is mixing the pollen and nectar into the food provision. The egg and the young larvae are stuck into the food provision. The surface tension of the food mass is what keeps them stuck. Were the food mass to increase its’ moisture content by drawing moisture from the air, the egg might fall out. Fortunately the mother bee mixes food to the proper consistency by altering the amount of nectar mixed with the pollen. Apple and most fruit pollens are very stable and don’t absorb moisture readily. Once the cell is sealed the interior humidity is self regulated by the respiration of the larva which keeps humidity at an optimum level.


Orchard Masons on Watermelons

Buford Southerland writes from Kentucky, “Brian, I have seen those bees on watermelon blooms, nice bees!” Has anyone else had this experience? It’s not watermelon country in Western Washington so this is news to me.


Battleground Bees

I got a frantic phone call from a lady in the little Washington town of Battleground down near Portland Oregon. Her new home was being attacked by little bees nesting in the shingled siding. They were also cutting little semicircles from her rose leaves. I sent a couple of specimens off to Phil Torchio in Logan. The Answer, the Alfalfa Leaf Cutting Bee, Nomia melanderi, somehow strayed down the Columbia river gorge from the dry land fields of Eastern Washington. These are hot weather bees, I’m surprised to find them in Western Washington.