When we talk about pollinators we automatically think of honey bees. Honey bees are domesticated wild bees that have been bred to produce a lot of honey. They’ve had aggressiveness bred out of them unlike their wild African cousins. Because they are so inbred they are prone to a number of diseases and prone to suffer from parasites like mites.. They start out later in the day and stop earlier in the evening than our native bees. Honey bees don’t fly in the rain. There are 4,000 species of wild bees in North America. They go from tiny to huge. The smallest at 2 mm is the genus Perdita. The largest is the carpenter bee in North America genus Xylocopa is about 2.5 cm or about 1 inch.
For the past three years I have grown a pollinator garden. I was moved by the reports of colony collapse and my belief that it is imperative that we try to return some of bounty given to us back to the other creatures we share this planet with. My experience with bees has been fun and enlightening. I used to find bees sleeping on the flowers when I went out in the mornings. I figured they were caught when the sun went down away from their hives and slept on the flowers until the sun came up and they could find their way home. This is true for some bees but not all bees you find slumbering among the petals. Male bees aren’t allowed into the nests of wild bees. They are only there for mating. When the solitary bees like the miner bees or the leafcutters lay their eggs in the summer and fall. they put each egg into a walled off cell with pollen that’s been chewed and shaped into a little ball called bee bread.The bees often use abandoned tunnels or hollow stems to lay their eggs in. The last few eggs in a stem or tunnel, where a bird might possibly snag a juicy snack are usually male- not much of a loss to the energetic daughters, who will establish their own nests and won’t need males except for mating. The males don’t have stingers. With a little practice you can pick out the males easily. Males don’t collect pollen in “pollen baskets” on their legs. I have also done “high-5's” with bees. It seems to be a natural reflex if you push your finger gently against a male’s foreleg, they will extend that leg and push back at your finger.
Bees asleep on the cosmos. We find them in groups sometimes. They mostly curl themselves around the flower stamens and hold on tight. You can see by their antennae that these are long horned bees.
Longhorn bee asleep on a coreopsis stem 2015.
Here’s a yellow faced bumble bee asleep on one of my zinnias.
Here are some of the wildflowers from my 2015 garden. The cosmos are originally from Mexico and the bees love them. They love the plains coreopsis-the small yellow and red flower-as well as the lance leaf and thread leaf coreopsis. Sunflowers are huge with bees. You want the type that isn’t pollen free. Apparently some people don’t like the yellow dusting of pollen that falls off the sunflowers in a bouquet. So they did the bees a huge disservice and bred the pollen out. The sunflower pollen is so popular with bees that they actually push their way past the green guard leaves that surround the flower and retrieve pollen before the flower opened. When the sunflowers opened in August they were already pollinated. How did I know that? The sunflower was full of seeds. If you want to increase your crop yields plant rows of wildflowers near your food crops. Most wild bees don’t travel very far. They will want to live near where they have flowering plants all summer long. They prefer the wildflowers that are native to the same area as the bees. It makes sense, after all they’ve evolved together.
I got this sign from the Xerxes foundation. I put it at the front of the garden to encourage passersby to learn more about native bees.
Did you know that planting rows of wildflowers with your crops increases the numbers and types of beneficial insects in your garden? We have 5 different types of ladybugs in our garden this year. We have assassin bugs, predatory and parasitic wasps, green and brown lacewings, shield bugs, and so on. I don’t use any pesticides or herbicides in the garden so I depend on the beneficials to keep my garden plants healthy.
The Xerxes Society has lots of free and low cost educational materials for the farmer, gardener, and teacher. We got these great pocket sized fold out bumble bee identifiers last year and gave them to the neighborhood kids last summer. They had a blast with them harassing bees up and down the street. The intrepid kids are now identifying male bees and trying to make pets of them. I’ll have more on the wonders of our bee brethren later today.