Curt Swift, Ph.D.
Grand Junction Free Press Gardening Columnist

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March 7, 2013
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SWIFT: From honeybees to owls to weeds

So what are those honeybees doing in the chicken feed? They must be really hungry. Bruce Canady tells me every day the crack corn he prepares for the chickens is swarmed with honeybees. The bees pack their pollen sacks full to carry back to the hive. Interestingly, the bees seem to like the corn better than the honey Bruce has set out for them.

Honeybees are flying to find anything to eat and even though they might confuse the powdered corn with pollen the corn might provide them some nutrition. The bees not only gather up the fine dust-like corn powder but roll and tumble around in it and get covered. They use the rakes and combs on their legs to gather the dust and then mix it with honey from their honey gut to form pollen balls. When they get this back to the hive and other workers discover what it is, these pellets of honeyed corn dust most likely get swept out with the rest of the garbage.

I'm basing the last thought on my search through Colorado State University's library which revealed no information on the nutritional value of corn dust for honeybees. These bees either are confused in thinking the corn dust is pollen or they think they are chickens.

The only flowers I see in bloom where honeybees can collect pollen to carry back to their hives are the few crocus and snow drops (Galanthus) in neighborhood yards and shrub beds. Paula Bachman mentioned at the Lavender Association meeting last Saturday she was going home after the meeting to feed her bees. Many lavender farmers also raise bees. The bees are not necessary for the lavender but the honey produced does have a fantastic flavor. Honey can also be infused with buds or essential oil of lavender to add a more distinctive flavor.

If you want to assist the honeybees in finding food, why not set out shallow trays of honey with sticks, stones, or other devices for the bees to land on so they don't get stuck in the honey. Some beekeepers recommend a 1:1 water to sugar solution. I'm sure Bob Hammon the entomologist at the CSU Extension office (970-244-1835) at the fairgrounds can provide you a lot more information on this than I can. I'd suggest you give him a call if you are interested in feeding honeybees.

While Bruce and I were admiring the industry of the bees, he mentioned another purpose of Valentine's Day. It is well past Feb. 14, but I hadn't seen Bruce for a while. He mentioned Valentine's Day as a day for the birds!

For the past three years on Feb. 14, and this year was no exception, a pair of great horned owls has appeared. They raise a brood of blond babies in the crotch of one of the large cottonwoods on the property. He pointed out one of these owls sitting in a crotch keeping watch on the flock of chickens below. I feel one of the reasons the owls return like clockwork every year are the chickens Bruce provides them every time one of his laying flock dies. I won't go into detail on how he prepares the deceased for the owls, but his efforts are obviously appreciated. They have raised a brood of three for the last two years due to the abundance of food Bruce provides. They also feed on mice, skunks and other critters. Someone needs to train them to eat weeds.

As with any crop, and lavender is no exception, the abundance of weeds you have to contend with is often overwhelming. Purple mustard, flixweed, and cheatgrass are three winter annuals that always appear in the lavender. I could have applied a pre-emergent herbicide last fall before these three weeds germinated but since most people prefer pesticide-free lavender buds and essential oil, I made the decision to hoe these weeds instead of using a chemical.

I could have applied corn gluten as a pre-emergent but it usually takes three years to obtain the full weed-control effect of this product. Not all corn gluten is organic approved as some are produced from GMO corn and that is not permissible in organic production. In addition, corn gluten is 10 percent nitrogen and I certainly didn't want to stimulate growth just as the lavender plants were going into the winter. I could cover the area with a landscape fabric, but as soon as the product starts to breakdown, I would have to remove it or the field would no longer be considered organic. Some landscape fabrics are made from plastics that are not permitted with organic production.

I guess it is back to the lavender patch. This time I won't be dragging hoses but wielding a hoe.



Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the CSU Extension. Reach him at or check out his blog at He owns Swift Horticultural Consulting and High Altitude Lavender.

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The Post Independent Updated Mar 7, 2013 12:33PM Published Mar 7, 2013 12:31PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.