In many parts of the US, the Bees are beginning to emerge from hibernation. Most of our ideas about bees are based on one species, the honeybee (Apis mellifera). While honeybees are indeed a valuable beneficial insect, there are more than 20,000 species of bee. Bees come in a wide range of sizes, from the 2mm bee in Australia to a 4cm bee in Indonesia. They also come in a wide range of colors, too. The relationship between bees and flowers goes back more than 100 million years. As flowers began to flourish, the bees began to buzz.
When a bee forages, it leaves behind a chemical scent, like a sticky note, that tells other bees that the flower's pollen has already been harvested. Today the honey bee is the third most important working animal, after cows and pigs. According to research, 100 plant species provide more than 90 percent of our food. Of those plants, 71 are pollinated by bees—from strawberries to clover. Its pollination activities ensure we have a wide range of foods. However, there are several factors leading to a decline of the honeybee from a lack of beekeepers to the spraying of chemicals, like glyphosate. However, wild bees are rarely included in the decline, it creates a mixed message and incomplete picture. We are losing our wild bee species as well.
In general, pollinator decline is attributed primarily to loss of habitat, use of pesticides, and the Varroa mite (in the case of bees). Habitat loss is due not only to the conversion of prairie and meadow to cropland, but also to the use of herbicides that eradicate wildflowers in the landscape, including milkweed and chicory. These "weeds" provided food and habitat for bees and butterflies and are now being eradicated by broadcast spraying. Neonicotinoids (a pesticide) are applied as a coating to seeds, resulting in pollinators being exposed to the dust and residue in nectar and pollen. These kill not only pests, but beneficial insects as well. Neonicotinoids are highly soluble in water, so the potential for this pesticide to spread off-site is really high.
One of our spring pollinators is the Mason Bee. These solitary bees are easy to raise, while also being gentle and amazing pollinators. Mason bees nest in pre-made holes. We can increase mason bee populations by raising them in our backyards and gardens, which is a great way to supplement the stressed honeybee, sustain our future food supply, and provide nesting sites for other native bees, too.
The blue orchard mason bee (Osmia lignaria) is a beautiful pollinator for spring flowering fruit trees and spring berry plants. A female mason bee carries pollen on the underside of her abdomen and scrapes the pollen off within her nesting hole. As she carries the dry pollen on her belly, it falls off and easily pollinates a wide variety of flowers. Mason bees are an awesome cross-pollinator because they flit back and forth between gardens, instead of focusing on stripping pollen and nectar from one location. Female Mason bees build their own nests, gather their own food, and lay their own eggs. With all this work to do, Mason bees are far too busy to sting you, and if they do, the venom is very mild.
Mason bees spend the winter hibernating in their own waterproof cocoons.
Plant for the pollinators
One of the best things we can do for all pollinators is plant a flower garden—a welcoming environment for butterflies, birds, and bees. Remember that native pollinators are four times more like to be attracted to native plants than any other blossom. Pollinators need blooms during their active season, so try to grow a variety of plants with different blooming times—Spring, Summer, and Fall. Bees work with some flowers as natural remedies to keep themselves healthy. So do your research and don’t limit yourself to one or two kinds of flowers. For many reasons that I'm sure I don't have to explain, avoid harsh chemicals. Bees rely on their sense of smell to navigate and strong chemicals confuse them.
Keep biodiversity in mind, not only for the plant species, but for bringing in a wide variety of pollinators, too. Research what wildflowers grow best in your climate. Look at the pollinator-friendly plants for your area.
Follow these steps to create a pollinator garden:
Create a pollinator garden in raised beds, borders, or containers.
Continue to create healthy soil, because the soil is the foundation for all life.
Choose a sunny location with protection from the wind.
Create a wishlist of plants and research which ones will work best in your location.
Provide plants that are food, shelter, and water for the different pollinator stages.
Plant your pollinator garden with a variety of plant species that bloom in different seasons and appeal to many different kinds of pollinators. Stack the plants so you have some tall and some shorter varieties.
Mulch the garden so the soil is not bare and retains moisture for the plants. As the mulch decomposes, you’ll begin to build healthy soil. Win-Win!
Nearly 40 percent of insect pollinators are in danger of becoming extinct in the not so distant future. This could have drastic consequences on plant and animal life, as well as our food supply. Wild bees, and other pollinators need our help to survive and thrive. If each of us does a little bit in the way of providing shelter and food for these wild beneficial beauties, perhaps we can save them.