Say “bee” and most people think of honey bees. There has been a lot of press devoted to the plight of honey bees in recent years as the number of hives declines and people worry about getting crops pollinated by traveling honey bee hives if there aren’t enough to go around.
Our Native Bees is about the “other” bees—the natives. Honey bees are not native to America—they come from Europe. There are over 4000 species of native bees in the U.S. and Canada. The author, in part, wrote this book to answer the question of whether the natives can fill in adequately to pollinate our plants if the honey bees disappear.
The first half of the book is devoted to the relationship of bees with agriculture and speaks to the question of whether natives can fill in for honey bees, and the second half is about the natives themselves, as well as ways to increase habitat for all bees. Along the way, every page is filled with interesting and captivating anecdotes of Paige’s quest to learn about bees and facts about bees that we wouldn’t ordinarily know. For example, ground nesting and being solitary is normal for native species. Many natives are small, even as small as a grain of rice. Most native bees don’t sting. And the majority of flowering plants rely on animal pollinators and the main pollinator is bees.
The book is filled with page after page of gorgeous photos of bees. The photography is absolutely spectacular and as fascinating as the narrative.
Both food (think flowers) and nesting sites are important to encouraging healthy native bee populations. When we think of creating a bee-friendly garden, we mainly think of the flowers we can plant. The author points out that providing nest opportunities is just as important (and sometimes can be “unsightly” to a tidy gardener). There is an important chapter devoted to making golf courses and lawns more bee-friendly in ways that support the bees and are still usable and enjoyable to the people. In the first part on bees and agriculture, she describes how large fields with monocrops, herbicide usage and machine tillage are hard on all kinds of bees and she describes a farm with smaller, more diverse operations and why this encourages diversity of bees as well.
The more we understand the natural world in and around our gardens, the better we can garden in ways that support that world, as well as grow food and provide beauty. Learning about our native bees is a good place to start.
When people think of pollinators they usually think of bees, but small mammals (including bats), birds, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, and even wasps all contribute to the web of life through pollination. These animals are part of this magnificent partnership with plants and we are too. Of course there would be no pollinators without plants to pollinate, so we can use our love of gardening to take an active role in this beautiful dance of life by learning as much as we can to understand how it all works and using this knowledge to increase not only the pleasures of gardening in our own back yards (and our front yards!) and beyond, but also to intentionally and actively play a role in contributing to their survival, and in turn, ours. Knowledge is power.
We could not survive without plants. Plants feed us, and the animals that feed us. Plants provide the oxygen we breath. They stabilize and enrich the soil in which they grow, help keep our waters clear and feed and shelter the wildlife all around us. Pollinators are crucial to the reproduction of most of those plants and are directly responsible for a third of our food. Flowering plants reproduce through the transfer of pollen from the male part of a flower (the stamen) to the female part (the stigma) which then produces seeds. More than 75% of all flowering plants rely on animals for pollination, and thus, their reproduction. Conversely, those same pollinators rely on plants for their survival.
We are all tied together in this intricate ecological community. The ways we can contribute are myriad, but do not have to be difficult. As Master Gardeners, we are uniquely positioned to consciously harness our knowledge and passion for gardening to protect our pollinators and improve the quality of our lives and our community. We can plant whole pollinator gardens (and register them with the Million Pollinator Gardener Challenge (http://millionpollinatorgardens.org/ ) like the Amend Park Community Garden did) or simply incorporate the types of plants that most benefit our local pollinators, bearing in mind that native animals evolved with and are most adapted to native plants. Remember too, that those nasty caterpillars eating our flowers and veggies (and feeding our birds) turn into beautiful butterflies, so try to share a little with them. I beg the caterpillars on my roses everyday not to eat too much! Use your valuable knowledge of Integrated Pest Management to limit your use of chemicals whenever possible. When planting for bees, remember to include plants that flower at different times during the growing season and try to plant in groupings of the same plant if possible. Experiment with plants that attract a variety of pollinators and always share what you’ve learned with your fellow master gardeners. Check your field guides, the library, the extension website, and the cornucopia of other websites on the topic for ideas and specifics.
We don’t have to re-landscape our yards to help our pollinators; the sum of the small changes we all make together in our approach to gardening can make a powerful difference in our quality of life now and the future.