OUR NATIVE BEES: THE LITTLE THINGS THAT RUN THE WORLD

Everyone has heard about the dark cloud over bee hives.  In 2006-07 beekeeping operations lost 45% of their hives, and 2008-09 was no better.

Everyone has also heard about the birds and the bees.  Pay more attention to the bees.  70 percent of the plants in the world need help from animal pollinators to reproduce.  Two thirds of our crops in the U.S. need insect pollination.  And most of those crops are the yummy ones – apples, almonds, citrus, and many vegetables.  O.K., you meat eaters, beef and dairy depend on insect pollinated alfalfa.

We are all counting on bees, the most important pollinators.  This is because bees are one of the few insects who provide for their young. They create and provision a nest for their little ones.  To that end, they must collect and transport pollen, and in the process – pollinate  the plant world.

INTERESTING FACT:  Bees are vegetarian.  While wasps feed their young on other insects, bees are feeding their young on pollen – just one more reason to love them.

Think a few bees here and there don’t matter?  Their decline will hit your pocket book.  According to Eric Mader, outreach coordinator for The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation,  who spoke yesterday at the Winter Enrichment Lecture Series of the UW Arboretum, 2 million honey bee hives move around this country pollinating one crop after another.  As these hives continue to fail, they are raising the price of food.  For example, almond growers in California used to pay about $45 per hive to have their almonds pollinated.  As of 2006 it was up to $200 a hive.

INTERESTING FACT:   Honey bees are not native to this continent.  They were originally imported in 1622 — not for their honey, but for their wax, which was highly valued.

Of course, honey bee hives are not trucked to every field and garden.  Native bees pollinate much of the plant kingdom, but native bees are also in decline.

You and I may not be able to do anything about all those poor little bees being hauled around by the truckload, but we can make a difference for the native pollinators.  They make a difference for us.

Native bees are active earlier in the season and in the day than honey bees.  They collect pollen and nectar.  They don’t charge rental fees.

We ignore their simple needs at our peril.

1.  KEEP IT BLOOMING. Bees need a succession of blooms throughout the year from maples and pussy willows in the early spring to asters and goldenrod in the late fall.  You can learn about what and were to plant at the Xerces website .  They have considerately broken it down by areas for you.

2.  LAY OFF THE PESTICIDES.  Mader marveled at how the same pesticides that are tightly controlled in agriculture and sold over the counter to home owners. Does this make sense to you?  Mader also says even those approved as organic can hit native pollinators hard.  Even if they say they are safe for honey bees, they can still hurt native bees, who may be smaller or more sensitive.

If bees could read, they would be cheering the 2008 Farm Bill.  For the first time, it is making pollinator conservation a priority.  Farmers will be able to get some assistance to create habitat friendlier to pollinators on their farms.  If you are a farmer, go to your USDA Service Center and learn about this.  If you are a home owner, you can make a difference too.  Check out the Xerces website while you are planning your plantings for the coming summer.

Let’s keep things humming.

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7 replies

  1. While you focus on bees, in fact there are many pollinators to be concerned about. Like you, I’m aware of the native bees but also many others. That’s partly why I have 3 prairie gardens on our property and plant flowers, e.g. Scarlet runners, in my gardens. Actually, I really enjoy spending a warm summer day standing in the midst of a prairie listening to the humming sounds all around me and watching the little critters going about their business. My next order of business may be to create and maintain several small ponds and mud holes next to or in the prairies and gardens.

  2. I love what you have to say about the local pollinators. Especially bees. It’s amazing how important these little creatures are in our ecosystem and local climates.

    • Thanks for your kind words. Yes, it makes my heart sing every time I see a local pollinator this spring. I have learned that our bumblebee numbers are really down because of the usual –human greed. The Dutch have figured out how to domesticate some of the wild bees, and offered to send us some of their domesticated bumble bees. We had enough sense to say no to non-natives, but they offered to take some U.S. bees, domesticate them and return them. They did that, but the bumblebees were exposed to a European bee disease, which they brought home with them. So the results were a disaster for local bumble bees.
      Every bumble bee I see (which I can number on the fingers of one hand so far this year) makes me cheer out loud and hope a little.

    • Thanks for your comment! your name is intriguing. Do you have goats and bees? I would love to know more about your connection to bees. Denise

      • Hi Denise,

        Yes, I have bees and I used to work at a goat dairy until the farm closed a few years ago. Now I have a friend who has a little dairy that she started after the haystack farm closed so I visit them and help her with the goats now and again.

        I write about my experience with life, goats, horses/hippotherapy and especially bees at http://www.goatsbeesplants.wordpress.com if you’re interested in checking it out.

        I have two top bar hives and I also help other people around Boulder with their hives a bit through backyard hive (www.backyardhive.com) If you are interested in learning more about bees, I’m also writing a bee blog that is all about honeybees (especially local swarms and local hive genetics) if you’re interested, the site is: http://www.backyardhive.wordpress.com

        Enjoy and happy blogging!
        Claire

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