Bees: Protect Your Pollinators

Native bees are essential to ensure a healthy, productive garden.

| August/September 2005

You’ll harvest more and bigger fruits and vegetables if you have enough pollinating bees visiting your garden. In some cases, better pollination even means faster maturity and better flavor.

Cornell University researchers have found that bee-assisted pollination of strawberries can increase fruit size up to 40 percent. Other crops that depend upon native bees for pollination include tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, pumpkins, squash and melons, plus most berries and tree fruits. But heavy reliance on pesticides, loss of habitat and monoculture crop systems have decimated pollinator populations.

“Monoculture makes it impossible for any bee — native or otherwise — to keep year-round populations sufficient for pollination,” says David Green, who maintains the native bee Web site “A modern orchard has such a flush of bloom in spring that the pollination task is overwhelming. The rest of the year, it’s starvation or even a toxic environment.”

Besides avoiding pesticides, you can support native bee populations by protecting natural areas on your property, leaving field and road borders un-mowed to provide habitat for ground-nesting bees, and planting or preserving stands of native flowering plants (that the bees use for food) in pastures and hedgerows. A diverse selection of flowering plants and food crops ensures that pollinators have a steady supply of nectar and pollen throughout the growing season.

Take a close look at the flowers in your garden and you will quickly see that honeybees, which are native to Europe, have plenty of company, including numerous native bee species with specialized talents. But while honeybees are commonly protected by a beekeeper, native bees have no human guardians. This is why it’s important to help build native bee populations in your own area.

Like honeybees, native bees feed on nectar while gathering pollen to take back to their nests as food for their young. In the process, they pollinate flowers, often doing a better job than honeybees on certain crops such as apples, berries, alfalfa and almonds. Bumblebees are the preferred pollinators for greenhouse-grown tomatoes, and pumpkin growers from Wisconsin to Alabama are recognizing the value of squash bees — short-lived native species that often outnumber honeybees visiting squash blossoms, even when honeybee hives are nearby. In areas where cool temperatures limit honeybee activity during the spring blooming of fruit trees, native mason bees do the job because they are better adapted to cool weather.

8/25/2017 5:36:05 PM

A fun and informative read. Thanks so much!

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