- Author: Betty Homer
On January 26, 2013, Rush Ranch hosted Dr. Robbin Thorp, a native pollinator expert and emeritus professor in the Department of Entomology at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Thorp gave a lecture entitled "Buzzed for Bees," where his presentation focused primarily on the topic of native bees (as opposed to honeybees).
Dr. Thorp explained that bees share a common ancestry with wasps. Some of the differences between bees and wasps include, but are not limited to, how bees use nectar as "flight fuel" and that there are branched hairs on bees not found on wasps. There are apparently 19,500 species of bees around the world, which are more than all the species of reptiles, mammals, and amphibians combined. Of the 4,000 species of bees found in the United States, 1,600 species are located in California, with 75 species found in the Haagan-Daz bee garden on the UC Davis campus alone. Fun fact for trivia enthusiasts--there are no native bumble bees in Australia.
In contrast to honeybees, only 10% of native bees are social. Most native bees are solitary, nest in the ground, and do not store much honey.
Farmers and gardeners are especially interested in the well-being of their bees, as 15 - 40% of all crops and edible plants are pollinated by bees. According to Dr. Thorp, one acre can support two bee hives, and native bees such as the Mason bee, are more efficient at pollinating than the honeybee.
Dr. Thorp discussed how gardeners and farmers can help enhance the native bee population by creating an environment appropriate for them. Such strategies, include, but are not limited to, allowing weeds and cover crops to go to flower, multi-cropping, and growing hedgerows. Since native bees are seeking both pollen and nectar, in order to attract them, one must plant a diversity of flowers in 3' x 3' blocks/sections and create a nesting area for them, which may be as simple as leaving some bare soil and/or creating tubular cavities for nesting.
Summer: Sunflowers and their relatives.
End of Summer/Late Fall: Cosmos, Coyote Bush, and Asters.
Dr. Thorp said that wild bees are not abundant, and springtime is the best time to view them. He suggested checking out Manzanita trees while they are blooming, as they are most likely to attract solitary bees, like the digger bee.
For additional information on native bees, Dr. Thorp suggested the following resources, in no particular order:
Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
UC Berkeley Urban Bee garden
UC Davis - Haagen Daz Honey Bee Haven
UC Davis Arboretum All stars
NAPPC planting guides
National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)
- Author: Sharon L. Rico
It’s such a pleasure spending time in the garden, especially this time of year. Even with our erratic weather, we have color and life everywhere. The garden is abundant with vegetables and flowers. We have been busy the past 2 months harvesting cherries, followed by peaches. A couple of days ago, I pulled the yellow onions, cleaned and trimmed them for storage. The ‘Big Boy’ and ‘Juliet’ tomatoes are providing us with tomato sandwiches and salads. The zucchini is trying it’s best to hide from our searching eyes. The last one was about a foot long (oops). Eating outdoors just about daily is the best summertime treat and a relaxing way to catch up on our daily activities. Listening to the splashing of our water features, watching the bees and hummingbirds-zipping back and forth. What a treat. The dahlias are blooming in several corners of the yard and these blooms have been cut and placed in a vase gracing our kitchen island. The begonias, in pots and hanging baskets are glorious. As busy as we are each day, enjoying the fruits of our labor, is the best feeling. There is no better time than “the good ole summertime” and right now we’re enjoying every minute of it before it’s over.
- Author: Jennifer Baumbach
This summer, the Master Gardeners have taken on the theme of Pollinators for their farmers market booths. They will talk about a host of other gardening topics, but the focus is going to be pollinators, and what you can do in your yard to host, attract, and maintain pollinators locally.
Pollinators are very important to the local crops and pollinating the various fruit, nut and vegetable crops we grow here in Solano County. Without the pollinators, we'd be without the bounty. I'm not just talking about the European honey bee, I'm talking about the host of other insects out there (and birds and bats too!). Solitary insects like the leaf-cutter bee, you know this little bee by the half-circular cuts it makes in your plants. Most people are troubled by this, but seeing this phenomenon in your yard should make you excited about having solitary bees in your garden...pollinating away. Other insects like the huge carpenter bee always get my attention as they lumber by. They are huge bees! I sometimes mistake them for hummingbirds out the corner of my eye.
It is important to get out there and have a look at your garden and see what insects are there. You'd be surprised by the variety and number of insects you can find, and most are beneficial insects. You just have to become knowledgeable about what you're looking at.
The Xerces Society is a great place to start learning more. They have a ton of free materials to get you started. Here is the link to their website http://www.xerces.org/. I recommend looking at their publications and then fact sheets, many are free. The Master Gardeners are utilizing several in their 'bee binders' they take to the farmers markets.
Get out there and learn more about your native bees.
- Author: Marime Burton
After a couple of lackluster years in my vegetable garden I have high hopes for this summer’s effort. For the first time in far too long, bees are working busily in my garden.
The combination of cooler than usual summers the past two years, along with a dwindling bee population has made its mark in my back yard. Tomatoes, zucchini, cantaloupe and beans that grew effortlessly have required hand pollination which has been only marginally successful. Even with that extra effort, the relatively cool temperatures of the past two summers have not spurred the tomatoes into their usual fruiting frenzy.
The bees made themselves known in March when the ceanothus began to bloom. We could hear the frenetic buzzing from inside the house. By the time the ceanothus quieted down, bees were busy in the potato vine and beginning to visit the bright yellow blooms on the tomato plants. I’m hopeful pollination will proceed accordingly
As for the hot summer, it’s more of a double-edged sword. Those cooler summers may not have encouraged vegetables but they sure made the season easier to enjoy. I know we can’t have both, and now while it’s cool, tomatoes have the edge over 100 degree days. You have to be careful what you wish for though, and the outcome probably depends on whether I begin to delight in the vegetables before the heat hits us.
- Author: Kathy Thomas-Rico
I was lucky enough to attend the recent “Pollinator Gardening” workshop hosted by the California Center for Urban Horticulture at UC Davis. Part of CCUH’s Your Sustainable Backyard series, the day devoted to pollinators was fascinating. I learned a lot, which was the point:
- Bees are basically wasps that have changed their diets. Wasps = carnivores. Bees = vegans. Nectar is their flight fuel, and they use plant protein (pollen) to feed their young.
- Boy bees do not sting.
- Not all bees are social, like European honey bees. Many native bees are solitary, nesting in soil or fallen trees. Very few bees make honey.
- There are 20,000 species of bees, on a world scale. This is more diversity than all mammals and birds combined.
- In North America there are 4,000 species of bees.
- In California there are 1,600 species of bees.
- In Yolo County, there are 1,300 species of bees.
- The value of pollination is $220 billion a year in the U.S. European honey bees’ pollination value is $14.6 billion a year. Wild bees? $13 billion a year.
So, I got it! Wild bees are quite helpful pollinators after all. But they are under threat from habitat loss, the intensification of agriculture, new and persistent diseases, and pesticides. It was made plain during the workshop that we, as urban gardeners, should to do our part to provide bee-friendly areas in our yards. How do we do that?
We were told that bees need habitat, not just flowers. They need bare soil, so don’t use too much mulch. They also need sun, plenty of water, rocks and a diverse selection of pollinator plants (native plants work best). You can even make your own bee houses out of reed cane bundles. If you build it, they just may come. (To see a bee-friendly garden, head to UC Davis’ Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven.)