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Native Pollinators


Bee Hive As you may or may not be aware, over the past 20 years, the American Honeybee population has been reduced; this is also true of other European bee-stocks around the world.   At least partly to blame is the Varroa mite.  Varroa mites can only replicate in a honey bee colony. The mites attach to the body of a bee and weaken it by sucking its internal juices and spreading viruses to the bees.  Ultimately, this will not only kill the individual bees, but it will also weaken the colony and can lead to the collapse and death of the colony.  Also of concern is colony collapse disorder (CCD);  a symptom of CCD finds worker bees simply flying away - leaving a few guardians, the queen and the hive's young to fend for themselves.  While the cause of CCD is unknown, the Varroa mite has been cited as a possible indicator and a potential contributor.  Additionally, nutritional stress, lack of forage food, pesticides and the practice of transporting hives large distances for commercial pollination are also being investigated as contributing factors.

Why do I care?  Why should you, you ask?  Bees are of integral importance to the human food chain; they are the principal pollinators of hundreds of fruits, vegetables, flowers and nuts.  In fact, a 2000 Cornell University study concluded that the direct value of honey bee pollination to U.S. agriculture is more than $14.6 billion.

What can actually be done to help the situation?  Actually, the help is all around us; it comes in the form of native pollinators.  The familiar honeybee is actually a European import to the United States, but the honeybee's native American cousins are still here; bumblebees are chief among them.  While Varroa mites have been found on bumblebees, the Varroa cannot reproduce in a bumblebee colony and, to date, no bumblebee colonies have exhibited CCD and none have been found to have been decimated by Varroa infestation.

Aren't bumblebees just fat and lazy?!  No!  Bumblebees are workhorses of the bee world; they pollinate crops and trees at rates up to 200 times faster than their European cousins.  Beyond that, there are other advantages offered by native pollinators; many are active early in the spring, before honeybee colonies reach large size.  Native bees tend to stay in a crop rather than fly between crops, providing more efficient pollination. Because they fly rapidly, native bees can pollinate more plants. Unlike honeybees, the native males also pollinate the crop. Native bees are usually gentle, with a milder sting. Additionally, there are certain North American crops that are only pollinated by native bees.  Check out my Bumblebee houses!

Another bee native to North America is the Mason Bee; these bees are extraordinary pollinators!  Mason Bees are solitary bees, meaning they don't live in a hive structure, preferring instead to nest and lay their eggs in holes.  They use mud as a kind of mortar to seal their eggs in chambers - thus their 'mason' name.  As a result of their solitary nature, these bees do not exhibit an aggressive hive defense behavior; this docile behavior makes them perfect for living close to humans.  Check out my Mason Bees!

Lastly - give feral honeybees a chance.  Those pretty, manicured lawns that look so attractive to many homeowners are not attractive to bees; bees take nectar from flowers and when we "weed" our lawns, we take away the clover and other "flowering weeds" that bees love.  So, keep some clover growing in your yard - just pick a spot and let it grow naturally.  It can be as out-of-the-way as you'd like - the bees will always find it.  Additionally, while mulch is an effective (and attractive) barrier for weeds - it's also a tough barrier for bees.  Many bees prefer to burrow rather than nest in a tree or bush, but they need access to exposed ground to be successful.  So, create a little "bee space" in your yard.

Keep in mind that you don't need to turn your lawn into an overgrown, tick-infested jungle...just arrange for a few strategic spots of bare earth and clover and the bees will take care of the rest.  Your flowers, plants and yard will look great.  Better fruits and vegetables from your garden, better flowers in front of your house.  Where's the downside in that?

 

Michael Sheppard | www.anisotropic.us

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