Pollinator Week

Sunflower painting by Redenta Soprano
Sunflower painting by Redenta Soprano

White House wants to save the bees! That was music to my ears when I got The Great Sunflower Project newsletter in my inbox. A task force has been created by this Presidental decree that is trying to answer particular questions about the role of pollinators in relation to specific species of plants. Pollinators refers to both native and non-native honeybees, as well as all the other insect pollinators.

sunflower

I have posted before about The Great Sunflower Project and how it is utilizing citizen science to gather information about pollinators to assist scientists in analyzing information from all parts of the country to determine the health and ways to help pollinators.

sunflowerproject-seeds-mountain-1

All you need is five minutes per plant. Simply identify the plant and count the pollinators that visit. It is that simple!

Fibonacci spiral
Fibonacci spiral

If you want to read some amazing information about sunflowers, go to Magical Sunflowers.

Bee Skep poster, go to https://www.etsy.com/listing/182225449/18-x-24-pollination-poster-plant-these?
Bee Skep poster, go to https://www.etsy.com/listing/182225449/18-x-24-pollination-poster-plant-these?

 Mark your calendars for June 15-21, 2015 and go to https://www.greatsunflower.org/ to register and read all the great information that has been collected already by people in their backyards. And participate and help the bees!

The Great Sunflower Project – The Backyard Bee Count

Lemon Queen Sunflowers in my backyard

The Great Bee Count

Within the past couple of years, you might have heard that bees are in trouble, growing scarcer, and suffering from a mysterious ailment called Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD. A variety of culprits have been fingered in causing this syndrome, including pesticide use, parasites, loss of habitat, and diseases. To study bees, both native and the non-native honeybee, scientists decided that they needed a method to determine the numbers and spread of different pollinators. To accomplish this, in 2008 a survey was launched enlisting and empowering local citizens in reporting observations about bees in their own backyard or deck called The Great Bee Count.

Citizen Science

047

 

The Great Bee Count, recruits citizens across the United States and Canada to plant sunflowers and observe all types of bees visiting the flower in a 15 minute time period daily for a week and record their findings on-line.  The first Great Bee Count took place about 7 years ago and countless volunteers recorded their findings to help scientists to check on the prevalence of our tiny pollinators in North America.

Sunflowers are bee magnets
Sunflowers are bee magnets

By creating a map of bee visits, scientists will be able to direct conservation efforts exactly where they are needed.

bee (2)

The data is called ‘trend data’ and showed that in some parts of the country the bees are doing very well, but in other parts like Florida where pesticide use is widespread, the bees are not nearly as numerous. I participated last year and counted at least a dozen bees on my sunflowers in a 15 minute period daily in my backyard in Maryland which shows that this part of the country is above average ‘bee friendly’!

Aug 2010 047
Each of the many seeds of a sunflower has been pollinated

 

For an interactive map of the country go to https://www.greatsunflower.org/Map

Now is the time to order those seeds and get your garden ready to plant your sunflowers. Lemon Queen is the preferred variety of sunflower seeds. It is important to check to make sure that the seeds did not receive a neonicotinoid seed treatment or even better, are organic.  The Great Sunflower Project recommends that people look for Renee’s Garden Seeds because they have partnered with Renee for a number of years and she has offered to pass along 25% of her proceeds from seeds bought at her website to the Great Sunflower Project.

Lemon Queen are the best ones for this project because they have visible pollen
Lemon Queen are the best ones for this project because they have visible pollen

The typical observer saw 2.6 bees every 15 minutes on their sunflowers. Up to 20% of the volunteers observed no bees at all which is very disheartening. Sunflowers were chosen as the standardized plant because they are ‘bee magnets’ and are easy to grow in every state. ‘Lemon Queen’ is the preferred variety because some sunflowers have been developed that have no pollen, but ‘Lemon Queen’ has visible pollen. Even if the grower did not observe bees during the 15 minute interval, that information is valuable also in informing scientists. Keeping tabs on our bees has become an important tool in studying this essential aid to our food supply. Up to one-third of our food supply relies exclusively on bee pollination.

Sunflowers attract many pollinators besides bees
Sunflowers attract many pollinators besides bees

Anyone in North America can participate in The Great Bee Count even if you just have a single container planted outside on a balcony or deck. To find out how to sign up, go to http://www.greatsunflower.org/, register, and plant your sunflower seeds so you can start counting this summer! This is a great project for an ordinary person to have help out the scientific community to study our local bee populations.

032

I would love to hear from people who are not in North America to see if there are any similar projects in their country.  Please let me know if you have heard of any or participated.

Go to https://www.etsy.com/shop/TheGardenDiaries
Go to https://www.etsy.com/shop/TheGardenDiaries

Don’t forget that there are many plants that you can plant to encourage bee visits. Go to Plant For the Bees post to see more suggestions.

 

Sex in the Garden

 

Flowers for pollination poster available at https://www.etsy.com/listing/182225449/18-x-24-pollination-poster-plant-these?
Flowers for pollination poster available at https://www.etsy.com/listing/182225449/18-x-24-pollination-poster-plant-these?

Pollination is all about plant sex. Yes, there is sex in the garden, be it plant sex, bee sex, bat sex, bird sex, and yes, sometimes human sex. The transfer of sticky powder (pollen) from the male stamen to the female stigma, has developed over thousands of years by plants rooted to the ground. Plants are unique in that they need this transfer done by other agents, since they are stationary and have developed some ingenious strategies to get this essential service done.

Plants are chemical factories, attracting pollinators with color combinations and chemically produced scents. When animals such as bees, butterflies, moths, flies, and hummingbirds pollinate plants, it is accidental. They are not trying to pollinate the plant. Usually they visit the plant to obtain food, the sticky pollen or a sweet nectar made at the base of the petals. When feeding, the animals or insects, accidentally rub against the stamens and cover themselves with pollen, kind of like a tar baby rolling in feathers. When the pollinators move to another flower to feed, some of the pollen rubs onto this new plant’s stigma.  Most plants depend on animals to do this, or sometimes wind for their reproduction and ultimately their survival. 045 I am starting a series of posts on attracting native pollinators, since as a beekeeper for over 15 years, I am very concerned with the decline of the social honey bee, and want to learn more about the solitary mason bee and other solitary native bees, as well as the vast array of other pollinators – bats, butterflies, beetles, flies, voles, mice, small mammals, and various insects. I will be posting on:

  • How to ensure pollination in your garden

  • How to identify the flower-visiting insects in your area

  • Which host plants and nesting sites are best for bees and butterflies, and all pollinators

  • Ways to  create a beautiful, diverse, and pollinator friendly landscape

Honey bees pollinating butterfly weed
Honey bees pollinating butterfly weed

 Why are Pollinators Important?

Why should we care? Here are just a few reasons why we should be concerned, even if you aren’t a gardener.

Butterfly on coneflower
Butterfly on coneflower
  1. Pollinators play a critical role in the production of many fruits, vegetables, and forage crops, more than 1/3 of the farmed products in the US.  Native bees, including the blue orchard bee and numerous bumble bees and other native bees, are significant pollinators, and on a bee-per-bee basis are more effective than honey bees.
  2. Pollinators are essential to plant reproduction,yes- plant sex!
    Honeybee pollinating a hellebore
    Honeybee pollinating a hellebore
  3. Pollinators support plant communities that in turn stabilize the soil, preventing erosion, and keep our waterways clean.
  4. Mammals depend on insect-pollinated plants for fruits and seeds to survive.
  5. Pollinating insects are food for birds, lizards, and spiders, which is part of the overall food web. The food web which you probably heard about in basic biology is very important! and also key to our survival at the top of the food chain.
Giant bee made out of dried flowers
Giant bee made out of dried flowers

Pollinators are a keystone species group which means that the survival of many of other species depends on them. It is like the “falling domino” effect. Remove one piece and the entire system collapses. In China, in one of the largest pear producing regions in the world, farmers perch on ladders in trees to pollinate the blossoms by hand, because native species have disappeared. Honey beekeepers refuse to bring in their hives because of the prevalence of pesticides in the fields, and the Chinese have adjusted to this, but at what cost? I don’t see people in the U.S. getting up in trees to hand pollinate each and every blossom.

Fertile Honeybee Queen ready to be released to start laying eggs
Fertile Honeybee Queen ready to be released to start laying eggs

From Wikipedia, ” Pears grown in Hanyuan County, of China have been hand-pollinated since regional bees were wiped out by pesticides in the 1980s (though the pears were pollinated by hand, in order to produce better fruit, even before the bees were destroyed). If humans were to replace bees as pollinators in the United States, the annual cost is estimated at $90,000,000,000.”

Bumblebee pollinating flower from Wikipedia
Bumblebee pollinating flower from Wikipedia

Reasons for Decline

There are four reasons that the native populations are declining and disappearing;

  1. Loss of habitat; also habitats that remain are fragmented

  2. Degradation of remaining habitat

    Bee sticking out its tongue showing a reaction to a toxic chemical
    Bee sticking out its tongue showing a reaction to a toxic chemical
  3. Pesticide poisoning

  4. Spread of diseases and parasites; there is evidence that these are spreading from the non-native honey bee to the native bee

What Can We Do?

Bee pollinating sunflower
Bumblebee pollinating sunflower

To reverse this disastrous trend, there are many practical things that we can do. By learning about the native life cycles and understanding how our actions can impact their environment, I hope that we can stem the tide before it is too late.

pol·li·na·tion [pol-uhney-shuhn]

pollinator is the biotic agent (vector) that moves pollen from the male anthers of a flower to the female stigma of a flower to accomplish fertilization or syngamy“. Pollinators can refer to bees, both solitary and social, flies, butterflies, bats, hummingbirds, moths, lizards, monkeys, lemurs, possums, rodents, beetles, ants, and other birds. Humans also can pollinate, as I mentioned they do in China. To increase populations of these helpful pollinators, we must provide  some basic materials for their survival.
Sphinx moth is often confused with hummingbirds by Wikipedia
Sphinx moth is often confused with hummingbirds by Wikipedia

Action Plan

These steps are easy for anyone who has a yard or just a balcony.

  1. Mud/Water – Provide some water with a bird bath, or just create a damp spot in your garden. Make a bee mud puddle. An easy way to do this is to take a one gallon plastic milk jug and put a pin hole in the bottom.  Put the jug on the ground the water leaks out slowly and creates a mini mud puddle. Wood ash added to mud or sand and will sometimes attract puddling male butterflies.
  2. Give up the mulch! Keep some bare dirt exposed. Most native ground-nesting bees, need patches of bare ground to nest. Some hide their nest entrances under leaves. Sand piles and ditch banks are also important as potential nest sites for bees.
  3. Leave some dead wood in your backyard. Dead wood provides shelter and nesting space for many beneficial insects, including leaf cutter bees and mason bees.  Entire trees or even branches will suit this purpose.  Birds will also appreciate these. These are important for wintering over larvae.
  4. Provide artificial nesting sites for native bees.  Something as simple as a length of untreated 4×4 or 2×8 drilled with holes for nest tunnels.  Artificial nesting habitats can also be made with bundles of reeds and bamboo bound together.  I will be posting an example of a home-made mason bee habitat in the next installment.

    Hand Made house from Wildbienen, a German web site about wild bees at http://www.wildbienen.de/
  5. Put out a small plate of freshly cut pieces of banana, oranges, apples and other fruit.  If you can, place this in the shade so it does not dry out and keep it fresh.
  6. Reduce or eliminate fertilizer and pesticide use. This is probably the most important thing that you as a homeowner can do that will have lasting impact.
  7. Learn how to identify beneficial insects that eat bugs and other pests you don’t want in the garden.  This will help you to find a balanced population of spiders, ladybugs, bees, and other beneficial insects to fight against pests in your yard. For an excellent post on attracting beneficial insects, go to Attracting Beneficial Insects.
  8. Plant nectar and pollen rich flowers in blocks of at least 4′ x 4 ‘. Providing a visible target for pollinators, is much more efficient because it takes greater energy to find single plants to pollinate. Look for my next post on the best plants to add to your garden.
pollination habitat
Hand Made house from Wildbienen, a German web site about wild bees at http://www.wildbienen.de/

 Next up- Planting the right kind of plants, and providing custom made housing for pollinators. 

Bee Swarm, the natural reproduction of a honey bee hive
Bee Swarm, the natural reproduction of a honey bee hive
   
 

The Great Sunflower Project – The Backyard Bee Count

Lemon Queen Sunflowers in my backyard

The Great Bee Count

Within the past couple of years, you might have heard that bees are in trouble, growing scarcer, and suffering from a mysterious ailment called Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD. A variety of culprits have been fingered in causing this syndrome, including pesticide use, parasites, and diseases. To study bees, scientists decided that they needed a method to determine the numbers and spread of different pollinators. To accomplish this, a new survey was launched enlisting and empowering local citizens in reporting observations about bees in their own backyard or deck called The Great Bee Count.

Low temperature scanning electron micrograph (...
Low temperature scanning electron micrograph (LTSEM) of Varroa destructor on a honey bee host (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Citizen Science

The Great Bee Count, recruits citizens across the United States and Canada to plant sunflowers and observe bees visiting the flower in a 15 minute time period daily and record their findings on-line.  The first Great Bee Count took place about 4 years ago and countless volunteers recorded their findings to help scientists to check on the prevalence of our tiny pollinators in North America.

By creating a map of bee visits, scientists will be able to direct conservation efforts exactly where they are needed.

The data is called ‘trend data’ and showed that in some parts of the country the bees are doing very well, but in other parts like Florida where pesticide use is widespread, the bees are not nearly as numerous. I participated last year and counted at least a dozen bees on my sunflowers daily in my backyard in MD which shows that this part of the country is above average ‘bee friendly’!

Sonnenblume mit Bienen, Sunflower with bees
Sunflower with bees from Wikipedia

The typical observer saw 2.6 bees every 15 minutes on their sunflowers. Up to 20% of the volunteers observed no bees at all which is very disheartening. Sunflowers were chosen as the standardized plant because they are ‘bee magnets’ and are easy to grow in every state. ‘Lemon Queen’ is the preferred variety because some sunflowers have been developed that have no pollen, but ‘Lemon Queen’ has visible pollen. Even if the grower did not observe bees during the 15 minute interval, that information is valuable also in informing scientists. Keeping tabs on our bees has become an important tool in studying this essential aid to our food supply. Up to one-third of our food supply relies exclusively on bee pollination.

Abelha no girassol / Bee at sunflower
Bee at sunflower (Photo credit: Marcio Cabral de Moura)
Queen bee 1
Queen bee 1 (Photo credit: quisnovus)

Anyone in North America can participate in The Great Bee Count even if you just have a single container planted outside on a balcony or deck. To find out how to sign up, go to http://www.greatsunflower.org/, register, and plant your sunflower seeds so you can start counting this summer! This is a great project for an ordinary person to have help out the scientific community to study our local bee populations.

I would love to hear from people who are not in North America to see if there are any similar projects in their country.  Please let me know if you have heard of any.

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