Image by Tim Kennelty

Seed Starting with Briana Davis, soils and house bees are the focus on this new episode

Episode 11: Seed Starting

Seed Starting is a very timely topic for this podcast episode. Briana Davis, from Greene Bee Greenhouse ltd. located in Cornwallville, NY, joins hosts Jean Thomas and Tim Kennelty, for a wonderful overview of the ‘behind-the-scenes’ process used to grow a wide variety of vegetable and perennials, including ~40 tomato cultivars. Then stay tuned for the Veggie Patch, with Teresa Golden, where she discusses how to determine and improve the quality of your soil to grow a healthy garden. Finally, stay tuned for The Hum of the Hive with Linda Aydlett where the focus shifts to the role of the House Bee. Fascinating indeed!

Hosts: Tim Kennelty and Jean Thomas

Guest: Briana Davis

Photo by Tim Kennelty 


Seed Starting (Briana Davis):;;

Soils (The Veggie Patch with Teresa Golden): Microsoft Word - Factsheet41.doc (; Bulletin #2283, Tips for Purchasing Soil for Gardens and Landscape Projects - Cooperative Extension Publications - University of Maine Cooperative Extension ( ; Should I Lime? Understanding the pH of Your Soil | North Carolina Cooperative Extension ( ; Cornell Cooperative Extension | Soil pH: Importance, Testing & Sampling ; Home - Soil | Soil Science Society of America

The House Bee (Hum of the Hive with Linda Aydlett):

Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium

INFORMATION SHEET 27: The Life of the Bee

The Buzz about Bees: Biology of a Superorganism , Jürgen Tautz (Springer; 2008)

ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture, Amos Ives Root (A I Root Co., 2007)


Welcome to Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley. Our team's goal is to present science based information about gardening and all things nature in New York's Hudson Valley. Hosts Jean and Tim, along with team members, Teresa and Linda, are Master Gardener Volunteers for New York's Columbia and Greene counties. So if you're interested in gardening or nature or nuggets of information about what's happening outside your door, settle in, enjoy the conversation. Whatever the season, we have something to say.

Musical segue

Tim: Hi, I'm Tim Kennelty.

Jean: And I'm Jean Thomas.

Tim: Hey, Jean, how you doing today?

Jean: We're doing great.

Tim: And this is Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley. Another edition. Great, huh? Who do we have today, Jean? Who's our special guest? A really special guest right?

Jean: Oh, yeah. Briana Davis from Greene Bee Nursery.

Tim: She's wonderful. We had such a good time talking to her, didn't we?

Jean: Yeah, she grows lots and lots of veggies.

Tim: Yeah, veggies. She's an expert seedling grower.

Jean: And she has her own system. She doesn't work like the big commercial outfits, because it's just her and two little apprentice helpers.

Tim: Yeah, she grows a huge number of different vegetable varieties and really healthy plants. I mean, I'm not a person who plants from seed, so I'm always dependent on people like Briana.

Jean: And she's always very careful about which varieties. She researches everything. She's got certain things she kept year after year.

Tim: And customers come in and ask her for specific varieties. And we asked her about tomato varieties which ones are most popular, and which one she grows. And she grows a lot of different tomatoes. It's a really good interview with her and they do a lot of good things in the community, too. She was really fun to talk with and we're anxious to actually go to the nursery.

Jean: Yep. And Teresa is talking to us today about her Veggie Patch.

Tim: Yeah, this actually syncs up but do we even plan this? That Teresa's gonna talk about soil. Soil's really important, right?

Jean: Soil is obviously the dirt that's underneath everything. But what soil contributes is way beyond anything we could even imagine.

Tim: Yeah, it's really important to make sure you have organic matter in the soil, it's really important to test your pH because some vegetables don't grow as well in different pHs.

Jean: There is so many variables, pH, the texture, the content, how much water the soil will retain - if it's too much or too little. But pH is the biggie, you want to get your chemical balances all sorted out. So you get your nutrients into your veggies.

Tim: And one of the most important things to do when you start a vegetable garden, is to have your soil tested. We do that as master gardeners, but there's also soil testing kits out there. You really want to know what the pH is.

Tim: So our finale today is the Hum of the Hive.

Jean: This is another fascinating episode but Linda's usual standard of excellence. And she talks about house bees.

Tim: Yeah, I mean, I'm finding that so many people who don't even keep bees are really interested in Hum of the Hive. And this is about house bees, which I didn't even know existed. It's amazing. It's really fascinating, isn't it?

Jean: And they start out their lives as house maids. I think that is wicked cool.

Tim: Yeah, the youngest ones, the ones that are newly hatched, clean the cells and then they move on to the next task.

Jean: But they're not allowed to until they clean their cell properly.

Tim: That's right. They keep coming back. It sounds like my childhood. I don't know about you.

Jean: I still don't make my bed.

Tim: Yeah. Yeah, yeah well, you wouldn't ever graduate then you would never be a mortuary bee or a ...

Tim: Right. You'd never get to be a forager.

Jean: Forager!

Jean: No.

Tim: No, there's a whole progression and it takes it not just time, but they have to kind of build through all these different activities to get to the point where they can leave the hive and be a forager. The whole idea of these being communal and that they just have this whole way of allocating resources and jobs, it's just, it's amazing, really. Can't wait to hear about this.

Jean: We're gonna listen in right now.

Musical segue

Jean: Welcome back to Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley. This is Jean Thomas.

Jean: And Tim Kennelty.

Jean: Our conversation today is with Briana Davis, co-owner of Greene Bee Greenhouse, Limited in Cornwallville, New York. Green Bee is a nursery greenhouse and Briana is in charge of the greenhouse operation. Welcome, Brianna.

Briana: Thank you. I'm so happy to be here.

Jean: Great. We've already interviewed your partner Eli Joseph-Hunter about the nursery side of the business. Could you give us a brief history of how you and Eli came to be involved in this endeavor?

Briana: Sure. Well, I think you heard Eli's path. And I came to this from farming. I started off as a very small scale CSA farmer in Tivoli, and found that I really enjoyed the greenhouse work of seedlings in early spring. And so we took that home with us and started GreeneBee Greenhouse in 2010. Just as a seedling production company only. We were only wholesaling. And we didn't have the full nursery that we have today. When our daughter was born, we switched gears and just were doing the greenhouse full time instead of working at our previous jobs at the Phantom Gardener. That's really how Greene Bee came to be.

Tim: That's great. I did not know you had Tivoli background and Phantom Gardener background. Very cool. So we invited you to talk to us today, because you're greenhouse production of vegetable seedlings. And we're hoping you can tell our listeners some of the methods you use for starting plants from seed. Let's start at the beginning. Where do you get your seeds? Where do you source them? Do you have a few suppliers? Do you have many suppliers? Tell us about that.

Briana: Sure, I've mainly been with the same suppliers for many years now. Fedco is my favorite place to get seeds. It's something that many people have access to. Because we're growing on a much larger scale than home gardeners, we do obviously get the larger sizes. And that's really where the difference lies in terms of what people have access to for home growing. And I love Fedco because they really vet their seed suppliers so that I don't have to do that work. And they also do a lot of social justice work with their business. It's a, it's a cooperative in Maine. I also love Johnny's Seeds. They're very high quality and reliable, always and their germination rates. And I use Seed Savers Exchange for the more unusual heirlooms that I love to grow and that people love to grow in their gardens.

Jean: So do you save and recycle any of your own seed?

Briana: I wish that I had time in my life. And someday, maybe I will. But right now, no, I do not. I do sometimes save seed from the previous years, because I know how to do that while maintaining their germination rates. And so I do save seed over, so that I'm not wasting, but I do buy new seed of certain varieties that the seed doesn't really hold very well.

Tim: So it must be really complicated to organize all this because I assume that you have to start certain seed at certain times of the year. Do you have massive spreadsheets? Or how do you organize all of this?

Briana: Yeah, I do not have a massive spreadsheet, though I wish that I did. Our planting schedule is very time sensitive and it all lives in my brain. I don't have it written down anywhere and I am able to do it every year just by routine and instinct, really. I know exactly how long each variety of vegetable will take to go from a tiny little seed that I'm planting the greenhouse to a big, robust, sturdy seedling that's ready to get planted in someone's garden or my own. We start in just a few weeks, it's getting closer every day. But we start in the greenhouse around March 7th or so. And it's a very fast progression from one table of germinating seedlings to an entire greenhouse full of plants that rotates and gets pumped out every single day. So it goes very quickly once it starts.

Jean: You have no idea what a comfort that is to the rest of us who struggle along and think that you professionals are also tidy and organized. Can you tell us a little bit about your overall process and methods to get a seed from planning to potting up? I know you mentioned having a small space on a bench, to all of a sudden to full greenhouse. And I know growing is the operative word, they keep needing more space. So what's your general process and method?

Briana: Let's see. So to generalize, this is a very big generalization because every single vegetable and herb and flower needs its own set of parameters. But in general, I start most of my seeds on a heat mat on the very warm side of our greenhouse where the big furnace is and then once they germinate, they get potted up into either a cell pack or one of our large fiber pots. We try to reduce the amount of plastic that we use as much as possible. Their growth is regulated mostly by temperature in the greenhouse and there are some elements that we don't have control over, like if we have a really cloudy spring it's harder to regulate the growth and if we have a really bright sunny spring without a lot of cloudy days. And they once they are potted up and growing out, as the planting dates get closer we start hardening off our plants which I think is something that sets us aside from some of the larger box stores and nurseries that sell vegetable seedlings. What we do is If you've been to our nursery, you'll see that we have all of our vegetable seedlings on big tables that are on wheels. When we're hardening plants off, every single day, I wheel all of those big huge tables out of the greenhouse. And Eli picks them up with a tractor and then moves them into our retail area. We incrementally increase the amount of time they have outside so that by the time they are being brought home to your garden, they're really tough and sturdy, and their cells have built up a lot of resistance to the full sun and wind and cooler temperatures so that they're just ready to go.

Tim: So you do something different than the big commercial nurseries in terms of potting up. And I know there's this amazing video on your website that I watched and I know it's speeded up, can you talk about your potting up process in a little bit of detail?

Briana: Sure. Yeah, that video is pretty funny. Eli says that I plant like a robot. I like to set everything up around me so that I can be very, very efficient in my movement. So what I do is, I have germinated flat of seedlings that are very, very close together, tiny little seedlings with just the two cotyledon leaves, and I pick up a clump of them, I dunk them in water, so they're completely bare root, which is something that seems to scare a lot of people. But it's really okay, I don't coddle plants. And that's part of what makes our plants really strong. And then I use this very small little tool that was actually given to me by my grandmother, it's very dear to me. And I pop them into the soil and then put them in with all their neighbors and they move out into the bigger side of the greenhouse. So I'm not sure how things are done in in bigger commercial greenhouses that are automated. We do everything by hand. I don't have a seeding machine or soil machine or anything like that.

Tim: I bet they don't have a grandmother's tool, which is like so cool. That's, that's so neat that there's like history involved with that and something special.

Briana: Yeah, I lost it once and it was terrible. I found it in the mud, maybe a year later and I was very, very happy.

Jean: We've been talking about seeds in general, do you focus more on vegetables or do you do a lot of flowers, too.

Briana: I do plant some flowers every year. Some flowers, not sunflowers. I tend to only grow the flowers that I enjoy planting in my own garden. There are a lot of annuals out there and I know people get really excited about annuals, but that's just the one type of plant that you and I are not so passionate about. So the plants that I do grow for vegetable gardens are mainly either edible flowers or flowers that bring in a lot of pollinators. So we grow a lot of calendula and little tiny gem marigolds which are very small and they're edible. They're really pretty in salads. And then I grow some scabiosa which is an old fashioned cutting garden flower but I grow one called Black Knight which is the deepest darkest maroon with tiny little purple specks it's very pretty. And I grow a lot of Zinnias I tend to steer towards the more muted colors of the Zinnias like the Queen Lime series is really great. I enjoy seeing the pollinators in the garden. A lot of honeybees come down and they pollinate obviously the vegetable plants but they also really seem to enjoy these edible flowers that we have. Oh, I forgot, nasturtiums is another one. We grow a ton of nasturtiums.

Tim: Yeah, talking about this, you going to see Jean and I are going to be sitting in your parking lot probably the day you open. It's like I'm getting plant lust already.

Jean: Yeah it's a good thing there's no video here.

Tim: It's a really bad, it's really bad. So your website says you grow hundreds of vegetable varieties. How do you possibly decide which ones to grow? And do you grow the same ones year over year? How do you make those decisions?

Briana: A lot of them I have been going for years and years. Since I was farming. A lot of those cultivars have stayed with me because I find them to be tried and true. And I don't want to grow seedlings that produce vegetables that don't taste good. Because what's the point in that. I want to grow what I want to eat from my own garden. And that's what I want to provide for all the people who are coming to our nursery. I do try some new varieties every year, but I tend to trial them out in my own garden for a year or two before I decide whether I'm going to grow them on a large scale to sell. And so a lot of them are just varieties that I've accrued over the years that I love and seem to be, you know, very popular. I can't tell you my favorite.

Tim: We're going to ask you that too. Of course, you're not going to tell us here.

Briana: But I can definitely tell you our most popular varieties, because there are some varieties that I have to grow hundreds of one cultivar, whereas there are others that I just grow 15 because there aren't very many people who want them, but that I do in my garden or people come back every single year for the same thing.

Jean: So we have to email you the list of what we want those limited varieties.

Briana: I mean, you can but people email me a lot and I as I was saying before, all this stuff mostly lives in my brain and so I don't have the ability to also hold people's special orders.

Tim: And you really don't want to encourage Jean, don't, don't, don't do that. Don't do that.

Jean: Where do you discover these new varieties that you do try out?

Briana: Sometimes I have friends and customers who bring them to me and asked me to grow them out. And then I save a few of those plants and try them in my own garden and find that I really think they're fantastic. And sometimes just, you know, looking through these seed catalogs that you all have access to as well I find something that catches my eye and I decided to give it a try. And some of those make the cut and some of them don't.

Tim: Kind of a two part question here. You said there's the varieties that you have to grow many, many, because they're the most popular. Could you share some of that with us. And also, we'd love to hear about tomato varieties that you grow, that are really popular.

Briana: Sure, the most popular tomato by far that we grow is Sungold cherry tomato, it is one that people ask for by name all the time, and everyone gets at least one or two plants.

Tim: That's the only one I grow actually, yeah.

Briana: They're reliable and productive and early. It's one of the earliest producing plants, and they're just delicious. They're sweet and juicy and addictive and great. And then as for larger varieties that I really love, some of my favorites are Black frutilla. It's kind of like a Black creme, but I find it to be more of a deep tomatoey flavor. It's a really dark maroon one that I've been going for a really long time. And then Aunt Ruby's German Green is phenomenal. It's a huge beefsteak. When it's ripe, it is greenish yellow with a little pink blossom tip. And it is sweet and juicy and kind of silky in it's texture. It's not very dense. It's just a fantastic tomato. And then some of our other popular ones. Let's see Juliet. The previous two that I mentioned are both heirloom tomatoes. Juliet and Sungold are both hybrids. I grow hybrids, heirlooms and open pollinated plants. Juliet is a small roma-shaped tomato, it's light red, it has a really great flavor. It's extremely productive. I have one friend and client has been coming for years and years and years, and this is his favorite tomato. And he raves about it every year. So I always make sure I have one of those. And what else I mean, there are just so many I love all of the ones that we grow. Oh, I'm going to try a new one this year. I couldn't resist it. It's called Green Bee. It has to become part of our roster. So I'm gonna do a trial on that and make sure that it tastes delicious before I put it out there full-scale.

Tim: What about cucumbers? There's tons of different varieties.

Jean: Cucumbers, is there any other cucumber on the planet than Straight Eight?

Briana: So I don't grow Straight Eight but the classic green regular cucumber that we do grow is called Marketmore. I've just been growing it for years and years and I find it to be productive and reliable and easy. But there are so many other exciting cucumbers. I love one called Shintokiwa, which is a Japanese variety and it's long and thin and crispy, has very thin skin. It's really sweet. Also, the last few years I started growing some very small cucumbers, cucumbers that are ready to eat when they're tiny because my kids eat them out of the garden so fast that they never have a chance to get to full-sized actually. So I grow one called Picolino, which is one of the smaller Persian types. And one of my favorite heirloom cucumbers that I've been growing for many years is called Boothby's Blond, and it has almost a white skin. It is tender and crispy and sweet and delicious and very productive and easy to find in the garden. And in that vein, there's another one called Little Leaf cucumber and that one is a pickling cucumber. So it's ready when it's a you know pickled size or a Kirby. But the leaves stay very small on purpose so that it's very easy to find the cucumbers in the garden. They're not hiding under huge canopy of green.

Tim: So again, not only are you making us hungry, but also we want to start planting and it's way, way too early to do that. When do you usually tell people that they can plant cucumbers and tomatoes, like the hot weather crops? Is there any rule of thumb like Memorial Day or first of June or ... ? And I know differs from Greene County and Columbia County, but like what's your rule of thumb?

Briana: Yeah, definitely. It differs depending on where you live. We're about 10 days behind Dutchess County, for example, we're about 10 days behind up here. So it depends on where you live, but I recommend waiting for things like cucumbers and zucchini and eggplant peppers until at least May 15, if not May 30. And it also depends on whether or not you use row covers in the garden. That is something that I learned about when I was farming and I pulled it into vegetable gardening. And in recent years, it's become more popular and easier to find this material, but it's something that we reuse every year in our own garden. And it really helps extend the season because you can plant some of these crops closer to May 15th without being too worried about a late frost, depending on where you live. And it depends on the year, too.

Jean: I understand you have some special events during the season at the greenhouse in the nursery. What should we be looking for this year now that people are a little bit more mobile?

Briana: we will be this year going to Trade Secrets, which is a rare plants and antique sale in Connecticut. It is on May 14th. And I think tickets go on sale April 1st, that is a benefit for a nonprofit called women's support services. It's a fantastic cause and it's a fantastic event. There are so many incredible plant vendors there. It is very hard for Eli and I to go and not come home with plants. But we didn't.

Tim: It's the plant lust place, right? I've seen Martha Stewart driving around in a truck there just piling up plants. So it's a very cool thing to do. Yeah, that's great that you this is the first time you're going to be there?

Briana: No, this will be, well the last two years they canceled becasue of the pandemic but we were there for the two years prior. So this will be our third year. Yeah, it's a great event. It's really fun. And there are fantastic vendors there. We also have the Garden Conservancy lined up for doing a nursery tour and a garden tour on May 8th at the nursery so that I believe that is Mother's Day. We will be open as usual, but we will also have garden tours happening that day.

Tim: When do you open? What's your first day that you're open? And of course, you know, Jean and I again, parked in your parking lot. Do you have an official opening day?

Briana: April 14th this year. We are always open Thursday through Sunday, nine to four April through the end of June. And then we are open by appointment after that which we welcome some people here I say open by appointment. And they think that we don't want people to come, but we do. Because it's just the two of us and we don't have any employees, starting late June and going into July and the rest of the season we are out gardening and planting gardens for people. And so we're not at the nursery all the time. So we're happy to set up appointments for people to come shopping whenever they want to. We just have to know ahead of time.

Tim: Yeah, I came by appointment and Eli gave me personal service, we had such a conversation about trees and shrubs. That was great. And I know you all do something very cool. You donate seedlings to community groups and not-for-profits. And that is so neat. So tell us a little bit about that.

Briana: Yeah, so we've been doing that for many years. I think as long as we've been growing in the greenhouse, we've been donating vegetable seedlings that we have extras of and in the last few years we've honed it in and we've started growing extra sometimes so that we can donate these seedlings when they're at their prime to groups. There are three in particular that we've been working with the last two years very consistently, which are Grow Black Hudson, Long Table Harvest and Kites Nest. And we've worked with Kites Nest for many, many years. And then the other two kind of popped up in the last few years. It feels really good to have the seedlings going to get planted in gardens when we have extras.

Jean: Brianna, it's been wonderful talking to you. Thank you so much. Now I'm even more anxious for spring to come so we can visit your nursery. We'll include a link to your website in the notes to this episode. Do I need to give you Tim's and my license plate numbers?

Tim: Yeah, totally. We'll be sitting there.

Jean: Thank you so much for joining us today, you were a treat and thank you to all our listeners.

Briana: Thank you so much for having me. It was really a pleasure to speak with both of you.

You're listening to Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley.

Stay tuned for The Veggie Patch

Teresa: This is Teresa Golden and welcome back to The Veggie Patch. So if you've been following along with the previous segments, you may have already picked a spot where you plan to place your garden in what you want to plant. So your thoughts may being now be shifting to how to prepare the soil for your vegetable patch.

Teresa: Let's start with the soil. Soil is often an afterthought, but it supports all plant life which thus supports both animals and humans. Every gardener has a piece of the earth to begin with. The quality of this piece of Earth varies enormously. It often gets compacted when walked on, or overwatered. It may be too sandy, or have too much clay. It may be depleted from previous years of gardening. The reality is that most gardeners don't have ideal soil. Fortunately, almost any soil can be improved. Garden soils should be crumbly, well drained and high in organic matter. Gardens benefit from regular additions of organic manner to improve soil structure and to create a reservoir of slow release nutrients. Organic sources can range from manure, compost, shredded leaves, grass clippings, organic mulches, plant roots, cover crops, buried kitchen scraps, etc. If using tree leaves, please realize that maple leaves break down quickly while oak leaves decompose much more slowly and really should be chopped up. Do your best to use local sources and remember that diverse sources equal and diverse nutrients. New gardens may need four to eight inches of organic matter the first year or two. Older gardens only need about an inch or two a year. Note that it takes three cubic yards of compost to cover 1,000 square feet to the depth of one inch. So measure the size of your garden to calculate how much you might need. The importance of compost is often enough to convince the gardener to create their own compost pile and make their own organic matter. In a vegetable garden, ideal soil has by volume, half solid matter and half pore space with half of those pores filled with water. So mixed organic matter plays an important role by gluing together small minerals and acting like a sponge to hold water. Depending on the quality of your soil. Large amounts of organic matter may be needed for several years.

Teresa: So how do you know the quality of your soil and your veggie patch. You can check soil fertility and pH by having your soil analyzed at least once every three years. If you think back to your science classes, pH is a measure of acidity and alkalinity of soil. It affects many chemical processes that impact nutrient availability. The optimum pH range for most plants is between 5.5 and 7.5. And most vegetable crops will grow well with a soil pH of five five to 7.0. That said, the optimum pH for a vegetable garden is 6.0 to 6.8. Most Cooperative Extension locations can test a soils pH for a nominal fee. The pH of alkaline soil can be reduced by adding acidic organic materials such as peat or spaghnum peat moss, or elemental sulfur. Many areas of the Hudson Valley however, tend to have more acidic soils. To increase soil pH, lime or wood ash can be added in the fall. Note that it takes time for these additives to adjust the pH of the soil. Your local cooperative extension can provide more information about how to do this. So testing your soil and adding organic matter are proven ways to enhance the richness of your soil. Keeping weeds to a minimum and increasing the effective reading depth of the soil are also proven ways that work. I hope some of these ideas will help to improve your personal veggie patch. Until next time.

You're listening to Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley.

Stay tuned for Hum of the Hive.

Linda: Welcome back to Hum of the Hive, a recurring segment of Nature Calls that follows the honeybee through the four seasons. I'm your host Linda Aydlett, a Master Gardener volunteer with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene Counties and a Cornell University Master Beekeeper. In this episode we'll talk a bit about the roles of the worker caste whose population within the colony can range anywhere from 30 to 90,000 bees, depending on the time of the year. Each and every worker has a specialized role, mostly based on approximate age as well as the needs of the colony. While the other two castes, the queen and the drone, are focused on reproduction,worker bees pretty much do as their name implies. They get all the rest of the work done that's needed to support the colony. The lifespan of a worker bee is actually quite short, typically six to eight weeks during honey production season which is spring into summer. Her lifespan could be divided into three general phases. The first she's developing from an egg to a larva to pupa to adult. In the next phase, she's living pretty much entirely inside the hive as a house bee, caring for brood, processing food and maintaining the nest. And for the final third of our worker bee's life, she's venturing outside as a field be gathering critical resources for the colony.

Linda: In this episode, we'll take a closer look at the middle phase and follow her as she transitions from a young house bee to a field bee. As a newly emerged house be the first thing she does is literally clean up a room. She turns right around pulls out the cocoon casing from her incubation cell, it's no longer needed. Then she cleans and polishes the cell for the queen to lay another egg. She'll hone her skills cleaning and polishing surrounding cells for a few days, then graduate to other young bee roles depending on the needs of the colony. For instance, as a nurse bee, she'll tend to uncapped larva. Uncapped larva is a stage that all bees go through from about three to eight days in their development, regardless of caste. Our young worker will be found checking in on these larva oftentimes up to 1000 times a day to ensure they have enough food. When they do need feeding, the young nurse bees produce the food herself. She uses a special gland in her head that converts nutritious fats and proteins from the pollen she's consumed into bee bread (which is fed to the worker brood), and will jelly which is fed to the queen and worker larva up to three days old in case the colony needs a new queen. When our young worker bee is about a week old, she may move into the role of an attendant feeding and grooming the queen. As she uses her body parts to feed and groom the queen the young attendant is also helping to keep the colony cohesive by unintentionally picking up and spreading a special pheromone the queen emits as she moves to the hive is part of the queen's retinue. This pheromone is called the Queen Mandibular Pheromone, or QMP, and it's unique to each queen. It's also a critical substance the colony depends upon to signal to each and every bee in the hive that they still have a viable queen. This unique odor signal can fade in as little as 15 minutes from when the queen is no longer present, for instance, if she should die, is killed or leaves in a swarm. After a couple of weeks are young worker bee is ready to take on a variety of roles to help with processing food, which is stored in the hexagonal cells of wax that make up the comb structure within the nest. One of the most amazing feats of a worker bee at this age is the ability to literally manufacture bees wax. Using glands underneath her abdomen that converts sugar from the honey she's eaten, she extrudes wax to produce a thin tiny flake that looks very much like a fish scale. A single young wax maker can only produce eight of these tiny flakes each day. It's estimated to takes about 500,000 or more -- that's half a million -- to produce a pound of wax. If she's not exuding wax, or young workers building new comb or repairing old cells and helping to store food resources brought in by field bees. Food for honey bees consists of nectar and pollen. Nectar provides carbohydrates for adults, pollen provides protein for brood. However, both nectar and pollen must be processed so they don't spoil over long periods of storage. For instance, over winter when no forage is available to the colony. When pollen is brought in by a field bee, the field bee depends on waiting house bees to meet her so they can pull the pollen packets off her legs, freeing her to fly right back out to continue foraging. The young house bee deposits the pollen into a cell, then rams it with her head to pack it down so that there's room for more pollen to be stored in the same cell. As she does this, she mixes in a small amount of honey to help prevent spoilage from bacteria over time. As for nectar, it's mostly water and could spoil with mold over time. Our young workers remedy this by fanning the open cells of nectar with their wings, evaporating off huge amounts of moisture until the resulting substance is the thick, gooey substance we recognize as honey. Beekeepers call this ripening the honey. When about 82% or more of the moisture is evaporated, the cell's capped with a thin layer of wax that keeps debris out and prevents absorption of moisture from the air. As long as the honey is capped, it can last pretty much forever.

Linda: Our worker bee is now several weeks old quickly transitioning from a house to field bee by taking on tasks that move her closer to the entrance. For instance, fanning for ventilation on a hot summer day, or accepting or offloading nectar from an incoming forger in a process called tprophylaxis, which saves the forger from having to crawl throughout the comb to find an open cell to deposit her load. The next couple of roles we'll talk about actually start taking our young worker bee outside the hive, but only briefly. Keep in mind that worker bees have short lifespans. Bees are dying all the time, both out in the field and inside the hive. Mortuary bees do literally what the name implies. They pull out their dead sisters and fly off a short distance. Then they drop the body and fly back inside to remove another that has died. And the final role we'll mention in this segment are the guard bees sitting at the entrance on high alert, wings folded back like little fighter jets, ready to take off at an instant to meet whatever threat that they feel they need to defend against. The threat could be honeybees from another colony trying to steal their food stores. Or it could be wasps and yellow jackets trying to steal their brood for protein. It could also be hairy mammals like bears and skunks, trying to steal both. And it can be beekeepers that are too rough and clumsy.

Linda: So our worker bee is now middle aged at two months or so ready to start foraging for the final phase of her life. But we've run out of time for now, so join me for the next episode of the Hum of the Hive when we'll talk in depth about life as a field bee. Thanks again for listening.

That concludes another episode of Nature Calls: Conversations from a Hudson Valley. We would like to thank Sandra Linnell and Devin Connolly from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene counties for production support. And a special thank you to our listeners for joining us on this episode of Nature Calls: Conversations from a Hudson Valley. You can find links to any of the topics mentioned in this episode at our website at Comments and suggestions for future topics may be directed to us at or on the CCE Master Gardener Volunteers of Columbia and Greene County's Facebook page. For more information about Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene counties, visit our website at Or visit us in Hudson or in Acra. Cornell Cooperative Extension provides equal programming and employment opportunities

Last updated May 3, 2023