Grow a pollinator garden or hedgerow if you want to improve the amount of fruit or vegetables produced from your land. You are also improving the beneficial insect population, attracting the beautiful butterflies, providing better habitat for song birds and supporting other wildlife by improving the pollination in your garden or orchard. Most people would also prefer some deer resistant plants in their yard; a topic for a future post. This week we will talk about native bees, of which many species are diminishing. Honeybees are not native but are also suffering terrible declines.
Native bees improve pollination on flowering crops. If you have fruit trees, they mostly bloom early in the year, before temperatures are warm enough for honeybees to come around. Blue orchard bees (BOBs) are one of the earliest native bees to appear on flowering crops. They visit thousands of flowers a day. Called mason bees, these gentle insects “cement” their 6 to 8 individually laid eggs into a single hollow reed or tube for safe-keeping until the next year.
If you want to enhance your mason bee population to improve early pollination, these bees can be purchased as cocoons. You keep them chilled until the temperature is consistently in the 50’s and fruit flowers appear and then set them out to hatch naturally. Various versions of mason bee and other bee houses can be purchased or you can obtain plans and make your own although a certain amount of cleaning and maintenance is required annually. About seventy percent of native bees live underground. Not needing to protect a hive, most of these bees are not the stinging variety. Those that can sting are unlikely to do so unless threatened, such as being caught underfoot.
Bees are not the same as wasps such as yellowjackets which also often live underground. Wasps are carnivorous and can be distinguished from bees by their lack of the fuzziness which is a built-in pollen catcher for the pollinator species. Most bees are so busy working their flowers that they are not a bother to onlookers. If a bumblebee is flying circles around you, it is likely a queen and you are very close to her nest. This is her way of trying to warn you off.
In order to improve your habitat and keep the bees from going to “greener pastures”, it is recommended that you make diverse plantings of the flowers on which they need to forage. Planting annuals, perennials, shrubs or trees that bloom early, middle and late in the year stretches the season for the bees. A wide variety of flower shapes, colors and sizes also offers habitat to a wider variety of bees. Native plants tend to have superior nectar and pollen sources because they co-evolved with the native bees of each locale. Well-developed nectary glands and accessible pollen are guaranteed from native plant species. Gardens, planting strips, hedgerows or flower pots all offer different styles of feeding the bees.
Try planting a little patch for the bees and other pollinators. You might discover that you create one to enhance your garden or crops but find yourself enjoying it for various other reasons. We all feel a little better when we connect with the natural world, right?