Honeybees Aren't Our Only Helpers
Domesticated European honeybees are widely recognized visitors to our
gardens. Most of us are somewhat familiar with their complex social
structure and their amazing ability to communicate with their fellow
hive members. We also tend to give them all of the credit for
pollinating our garden crops. However, the reality of the situation is
that we are not giving credit where it is due: much of the necessary
task of pollinating our garden crops is actually completed by the
thousands of different species of wild, hard-working bees that are
native to our continent.
According to studies done by USDA researchers, native bees are faster
and more efficient pollinators than European honeybees. They are also
active much earlier in the spring than honeybees are. This is important
because apple trees, strawberries and many other crops bloom very early
in the spring, while the weather is still cold and most honeybees are
still lazing about in their hives. Thus, these solitary native bees are
the unsung heroes of farms, gardens and orchards everywhere.
Many Garden Crops Won't Grow Well Without Bees
Strawberries, cucumbers, melons and sunflowers are just a few examples
of garden crops that need insect pollination in order to grow. Berry
bushes and fruit trees also rely heavily on bees for pollination. Home
gardeners and commercial farmers alike depend on bees to get their job
done: without the bees, there wouldn't be much of a crop to harvest.
Usually, there are enough bees to help the plants produce fruits and
vegetables but often, there aren't quite enough bees to get the job done
right: misshapen or unhealthy looking fruits and vegetables are often
the result of incomplete pollination, not diseased plants.
Bees Need Our Help Too
In recent years, there has been a decline in the domesticated honeybee
population because of a nationwide infestation of parasitic mites that
prey on and weaken the bees. Populations of wild, native bees such as
bumblebees have also declined, primarily due to loss of habitat and the
widespread use of insecticides. There are several things that we can do
to help native bees maintain their population.
- Provide nesting areas for them. Most bees like to live in dry, sunny,
brushy areas near the crops or plants that provide their food. Some
native bees need a source of mud and water to build their nests, others
live in the ground and still others like to live in hollowed out reeds,
branches and stems or in bee houses provided for them by their human
friends. (It's easy to make a bee house. All you need is a block of
untreated wood, a drill and some know-how. For bee house building
instructions, see the link at the end of this article).
- Discontinue the use of insecticides around our homes and in our
gardens. Organic gardening is healthier for you and for the bees!
- Provide food for them. Most crops don't bloom continuously, so in
order to attract bees, you'll have to make sure that they have good
variety of plants to feed from, so that there is always something in
bloom for them. You can grow plants for them in your garden or you can
rely on a variety of wild or landscaping plants such as willow, clover
and honeysuckle to provide food for them.
Enjoy Their Company
Once you have provided the bees with a good home, they will repay you
with well-pollinated garden crops and with the pleasure of their
company. Bee watching is every bit as enjoyable and fascinating as bird
watching. Since native bees are gentle and hard-working, they are
extremely unlikely to sting or bother people, pets or other wildlife,
including other insects--it's not in their nature and they're just too
busy to waste precious time and energy on activities other than foraging
and making homes for themselves and their brood.