We need the bees, please!

Story by Jay Carter
Photos by Bill Johnson

Pollination is one of nature’s most incredible processes. In fact, insects, birds, and animals – such as bats – pollinate over 75 percent of our flowering plants and 75 percent of our crops. Almonds are an exception to the rule: They are totally dependent on one pollinator – bees. 

Bee balm (Monarda spp.) attracts lots of different types of flies and bees. Here, a leaf-cutter bee checks out the nectar supply.

You have probably read about Colony Collapse Disorder, which is devastating bee populations. I love almonds and picture myself at some point in the future having to go out into the almond fields to manually pollinate the almond crops … wearing a bee costume. In fact, I have already started to work on my buzzing noise in anticipation – “Buzzz, buzzz, buzzz…”

By the way, the butterfly garden I wrote about a couple of months ago is absolutely flourishing. When we bought a milkweed plant (Asclepias spp.) to feed the little pollinators there were already 21 caterpillars munching away on its leaves. 

So what exactly is pollination? Pollination is simply the transfer of pollen grains from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma. Flowers are the tools utilized to attract the all-important pollinators.

Oligolectic bees specialize on certain plants for food for their larvae. This mining bee is one example, as it requires the pollen from goldenrod (Solidago spp.) flowers.

If you’re considering designing a pollinator garden, there is plenty of information out there to get you started. One article I read explains how to make a garden for your pollinators out of hollow bamboo stems bound together to form “little apartments.” Make sure the back end of each tiny tube is sealed. In fact, if bamboo is used, there are natural “knuckles” that can be used as the apartment back walls. Then again, you could just drill holes – 1/8-1/2 inch, but not all the way through – in a board to construct your pollinator hotel. If you make the holes no deeper than 3-8 inches, you have manufactured a perfect pollinator hotel. 

Regardless of what design you choose, it must be changed out every couple of years to prevent the spread of disease or parasites. If your target pollinators are bees, remember that bees rely on visual keys to get back home. One article I read suggested that you even paint symbols in different colors on your hotel to help the pollinators find it. Just do some research and don’t bumble around like I did.

It’s fun to watch bumblebees open the flowers of false indigo (Baptista australis). They’ll use their legs to separate the petals, so they can stick their tongues in for the nectar.

As you may know from past articles, I have an unreal resistance to insect toxins. However, I am highly allergic and reactive to plant toxins. The bees and the wasps collect poison ivy leaves (Toxicodendron radicans) and poison oak leaves (Toxicodendron diversilobum) and go out of their way to drop the toxins on me. I am sure that one day I will blow up like a Thanksgiving Day parade balloon.

I am sure this is very entertaining to any and all of my garden creatures. Maybe I should ask my youngest son to help with the installation. Surely, even bees and wasps are afraid of a 6-feet-tall human cop. My plethora of new butterflies and bees will just look at me and laugh.

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