Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Bee in Your Bonnet

This little guy has so much pollen on his back legs,
he looks like he has gold chaps.

People are finally sitting up and taking notice of the decline in bees and what affects it has upon produce.  I sometimes think it has been ignored because the ramifications are so enormous and dire it’s hard to get your thoughts around them.  How can one little honeybee and its wild bee cousins be responsible for the majority of our food supply?

Little black bee loving Bachelor Buttons
We can play the blame game but that won’t save one bee or keep one hive alive unless everyone takes an interest in saving these little fuzz balls.  What can the aver homeowner do?

Pollen gathering from a zinnia.
Supping the sticky sweet off 
the petals of an Oriental Lily.
Do not use chemical pesticides unless you are threatened with total crop failure.  A crop needed to sustain your family or as your income.  Home gardeners have the advantage of being able to care for their plot of land with natural methods or pesticides applied in a manner, time of day or on a specific area that will least come in contact with bees.

Don’t apply pesticides to the flowers of plants – only the areas where the insects are destroying.

Pick off insects that are damaging your plants.  Usually early morning before they warm up is the best time.  Drop them in a bucket or dishwashing soapy water or into a zip-lock baggie.

More pollen gathering from a daylily
Study insecticide labels and understand what will be killed before you spread it willy nilly over beneficial insects.  Spraying everything in your yard with insecticide is the true meaning of “overkill.”

Tolerate some damage.

Learn what plants naturally deter insects and plant them with your vegetables.

Buy plants bred to resist insects and disease.

Try natural insecticides or protection first.

Keep your beds clean of debris since it can be a great place for damaging insects to overwinter.

Bees need a water source.
If you would like a “live demo”, plant squash, pumpkins or gourds and see how the bloom last one day and if a bee has not pollinated it during that short bloom time, it will not produce a vegetable.  One flower, open just one day and must have at least one bee to have one vegetable.  Notice the number of blooms that don’t get pollinated.

Keep some areas of your yard mulch free.  Some bees dig nests in the soil.

Teach your children to respect bees.  Most will never sting you if you let them go about their work of gathering pollen, building their nests and flying their specific paths.

Ask your local bee keepers to give a talk to your club or school.  Support them by buying their locally gathered honey.  It really is the elixir of the gods!

Use town plots, abandoned lots and roadsides to grow bee friendly sustainable crops.

Bumble bees are pollenizers, too.
If you have some extra space or even if you have extra acres, plant alfalfa, clover or other plants appealing to both bees and livestock.  Any farm person of my era remembers pastures of both alfalfa and clover because we all had animals that grazed all summer.  We rotated the animals into fields to let them graze it down so far and moved them on to another field in time to let it come back.  With the decline in animal breeding, those pastures have all but gone away.

Native plant Liatris is a bee magnet
In your back yard gardens and flowerbeds, plant flowers bees love.  Choose a variety of flowers that bloom from early spring to frost.  Not just ornamental flowers, but, flowering bushes and trees.  Lean towards native plants because they thrive in this environment and they’ve been benefiting bees for centuries.

Study which plants are needed for what functions in a bee’s life; some may need specific plants for nesting as well as for pollen gathering.

Heritage Farms bee hives - photo from HF.

The USDA has a program for dairy farmers and ranchers in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas to fund a $3 million project to reseed pastures with alfalfa, clover and other specified plants.  The bill will include incentives for building fences, installing water tanks and efforts to help move their animals so the land doesn’t get worn down.  Whether you are a proponent of government farm subsidies or not, at least they have woke up to the need to strengthen our bee populations.

Commercial honeybees pollinate an estimated $25 billion worth of produce each year.  That doesn’t count the wild honeybees or it’s pollinating cousins.  If the population continues to die, it really could change the destiny of mankind.

If you would ljke more information, the University of Illinois, Purdue University and Michigan State University’s Department of Entomology will have additional facts and advice.  Most will have designs for increasing pollinator friendly yards.

No need to have a bee in your bonnet – just friendly yards or fields will do perfectly.

By clicking on the first picture, it will allow you to have larger views in a form to page through them.  Bees really are worth a closeup shot.

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