One of the biggest complaints I hear each year is the reduced number of bees or no bees in the garden.
Bees are not the only pollinators in the garden, but they are the ones that come to mind first.
Pollinators are vital to agriculture. They play a significant role in the production of more than 150 food crops in the United States, including apples, alfalfa, almonds, blueberries, broccoli, cucumbers, peaches, soybeans, strawberries, kiwis, melons, onions, pears, plums and squash.
In fact, every third bite of food we eat comes from a plant that depends on insect pollinators. They are essential to the fibers we use, the medicines we take to keep us healthy and more than half of the fats and oils in our diet.
Healthy pollinator populations increase the amount and quality of the fruit produced. When a fruit is fully pollinated, the fruit will be larger. For farmers, this increases the production per acre.
Among insect pollinators, bees are especially efficient because they eat pollen and nectar and visit many flowers of the same species during a single trip. They have hairy bodies that easily pick up pollen grains, making pollen exchange or transfer possible.
There are more than 3,500 species of native ground-nesting and twig-nesting bees and wasps in the U.S. Also called pollen bees, these native bees are very efficient pollinators. Pollen bees are usually gentle and have only a mild sting or don't sting at all.
The bumblebee is another common, native ground-dwelling bee of the South. Bumblebees live in small colonies of up to 200 individual bees with a single queen. Only the queen lives through the winter, beginning the colony again in the spring. Bumblebees are good pollinators of blueberry, tomato, eggplant and pepper plants.
One of the more important bees, the honeybee, is native to northern Europe. Honeybees were brought to the United States for the honey and wax they make. A hive of honeybees can have more than 30,000 bees living together. The bees live through the winter and have the ability to keep the temperature of the hive at 63 degrees even in the coldest weather.
Honeybees are important pollinators because they can be kept in managed hives by beekeepers. Honeybee hives easily can be moved from one crop field or orchard to another, as needed for pollination. In the United States, the added value to agriculture from honey bee pollination is more than $15 billion annually. In Georgia, bee hives are rented to farmers to pollinate apples, blueberries, cucumbers and watermelons. Bee-pollinated forage and hay crops, such as alfalfa and clover, are used to feed the animals that supply meat and dairy products. In addition, colonies of wild honeybees can be found in most of the U.S.
Butterflies and moths also are effective pollinators. When a butterfly or moth visits a flower to eat nectar, tiny scales covering their bodies brush against the anthers and as a result pollen sticks to their scales. When the butterfly or moth visits the next flower, the pollen stuck to its scales brushes onto that flower's stigma. Since butterflies are attractive and interesting, we often create special gardens to attract them to our living spaces.
If you are one of the gardeners who are seeing fewer bees, there are some practices that you can use to attract more pollinators to your garden:
- Plant many types of flowers. The diversity of flowers will bring in many different pollinators.
- Provide shelter for these insects. If you leave an area of your garden more natural, the insects will have an area to nest in and get shelter from elements and predators.
- Provide water by placing a shallow dish in the garden.
- Limit the use of pesticides. Use them as a last resort or when the insect population becomes high. Apply pesticides late in the afternoon as close to dark as possible. Most of the pollinators are not active at this time, and the pesticide will be broken down by morning.
In the spring and early summer, hives of bees can split. The swarm that leaves the hive is looking for a new home and they can be gathered by beekeepers to start a new hive. I have a list of beekeepers who will be happy to come and get any swarm that you see.
Columbia County Extension Agent Charles Phillips can be reached at (706) 868-3413 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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