Day by Day: Gardeners can ‘bee friendly’ with little effort
By LIZ THOMPSON
This Week News
April 23, 2018
Robert Frost’s “A Prayer in Spring” reads in part: “And make us happy in the happy bees / The swarm dilating round the perfect trees / And make us happy in the darting bird / That suddenly above the bees is heard.”
We know honeybees produce the sticky, sweet nectar that we spread on toast or pour into recipes. More than 4,000 species of bees are native to North America.
Some consider bees pests. Some unwittingly kill the good bugs and bees while using broad methods to kill true pests. It’s important to know the difference and how and why to prevent extinction of the tiny things that matter.
Birds & Blooms magazine calls all bees unsung heroes that work hard to keep our food web functioning: “One in every three bites of food we eat is courtesy of pollination, and 85 percent of flowering plants and trees rely on pollinators for survival.”
Todd Amacker wrote of the pollinator experience at Great Smoky Mountains National Park: “Honeybees alone contribute over $14 billion to the value of U.S. crop production. It turns out that bees need to collect both pollen and nectar in order to stay alive.
“To do this, they frequently visit a wide variety of crops that can include peas, beans, melons, berries and various other fruits. By visiting these crops, and spreading pollen in the process, it allows for plants to reproduce. In turn, the honeybees use pollen to help develop their growing larvae and nectar to turn it into honey.”
Like all living things, stress plays a role in their health.
“All bee species face similar stressors — poor nutrition due to a lack of flowers or monocropping (the practice of growing only one type of agricultural product in a large area of land, year after year), pesticide exposure, parasites and diseases,” said Phyllis Stiles, director of Bee City USA, a certification program that helps pollinator populations.
Reed Johnson, assistant professor in entomology at Ohio State University, pointed to a survey by the University of Maryland: “Beekeepers across the United States lost 33 percent of their honeybee colonies during the year spanning April 2016 to April 2017, according to the latest preliminary results of an annual nationwide survey. Rates of both winter loss and summer loss — and consequently, total annual losses — improved compared with last year.”
What can the home gardener do to help?
He or she can go natural and create a yard that welcomes bees and butterflies.
“Insecticides that kill pest insects are likely to kill bees, too,” Johnson said.
We can eliminate pesticides or use safer ones, such as Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. We also can choose plants from local nurseries that don’t treat seedlings with neonicotinoid pesticides, which kill all insects and bees by attacking the central nervous system.
Johnson said one easy tactic is to mow less frequently.
“Letting clovers and dandelions bloom is probably the easiest strategy for providing bees with food,” he said.
Jerry Hinton of Hinton Apiaries in Grove City said heirloom plants, those that have not been altered to fit snugly into a garden, are more beneficial to pollinators.
“Ideally, one should plant so they will bloom at different times for a consistent food source,” he said. “Not all pollens are created equal. Bees target high-protein flowers. Ask garden experts at garden centers for the best flowers to plant for pollinators.”
Johnson said to read the label for warnings.
“It may be small print,” he said. “The EPA goes through intense scrutiny for approvals and the labels are required.”
Trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and herbs make our yards pretty and useful to us and pollinators. Information is available at u.osu.edu/beelab/gardening-for-bees, including: “Go native, bee showy, bee bountiful, bee diverse, bee patient, bee gentle (they only sting as a defense), bee chemical-free, bee a little messy (they like wood to nest in), bee aware, bee friendly, bee sunny and bee homey.”
Sounds like good advice for more than gardening.