Ginny Allen ventures out into her garden twice a month, looking for bees and logging how many she sees. A participant in the Great Sunflower Project, Allen said it’s an easy way to participate in a national research project.
“I did not do anything special for this project since I already had a flower garden and use integrated pest management,” said Allen. “I try to limit pesticide use. I have some native flowers and something blooming most of the year.”
The Great Sunflower Project began in 2008 as a way to track the number of pollinators in specific areas. Participants record the number of bees on a single flower within a certain time frame. Information on the pollinators is logged on the Project Web site so that others can see how their area compares to other areas across the country.
Pollinators – or bees – are responsible for every third bite of food Americans eat, according to the Great Sunflower Project Web site. That means that without the bees pollinating fruit and vegetable plants, the farmers market and grocery store produce sections would offer slim pickings.
Allen initially became interested in the project when she came across a notice about a free packet of Lemon Queen Sunflowers. The flowers are the preferred ones to use when participating in the Great Sunflower Project, but are not the only ones.
“I think it is a helpful and well-designed project,” said Allen. “Other projects have spun off the original one and the database is useful to many researchers. It’s also a great way to learn more about bees.”
Allen must look at a flower in her garden that has pollen, count the number of bees that visit in a five-minute period – originally, participants had to count the number of bees that visited within a 15-minute period – and enter the data on a log sheet.
“You need to register your garden initially and provide some basic information about size, type of location, amount of sun and amount of flowers,” explained Allen. “To get started, go to www.greatsunflower.org.”
Allen notes that the project also has an informative newsletter and fact sheets and she encourages others to participate.
“The bees also like a water source and some protected areas,” said Allen. “Their favorite this year is light-blue salvia. Some bumblebees are on it most of the day and I find some resting on it when I go out early in the morning.”