National Pollinator Week & Pollinator Contest

Eight years ago, the U.S. Senate in a rare unanimous approval vote, designated one week in June as “National Pollinator Week”  which addressed the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Last week was the official kick off of Pollinator Week, and the event has now grown to be an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles.  A proclamation signed by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture every year designates a week in June to raise pollinator awareness. Pollinator Week was initiated and continues to be managed by the Pollinator Partnership, the largest non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to the protection and promotion of pollinators and their ecosystems.

The USDA holds a mini festival on pollinators in front of their headquarters in D.C.

Attending the festival in D.C. on a hot and humid day last Friday, I was impressed with the enthusiasm on display by volunteers and employees of the federal agencies to get the word out. Mason bee houses, giving out free pollinator plants and posters, and a giveaway of Haagen-Dazs ice cream were all on the agenda for the day. Haagen-Dazs is at the forefront of putting their money where there mouth is.

Cone Flowers are a great plant to attract pollinators

Honey bees pollinate one-third of the foods we eat, including many of the ingredients they use to make their delicious ice cream and they are concerned with the decline of bees. Quickly scooping out the ice cream in 95 degree heat before it melted, I appreciated the volunteers who braved the brutal heat.

Handing out free samples of Haagen Dazs
Educating the public about mason bee houses

On their website Haagen-Dazs loves honeybees, I read that they have donated more than $1,000,000 to honey bee research. Also teaming up with Xerces Society, Haagen-Dazs has installed the largest, privately funded pollinator habitat on the farmland of an almond supplier in California’s Central Valley. The newly-planted habitat consists of six and a half miles of hedgerow and 11,000 native drought-tolerant shrubs and flowering plants, impacting 840 acres of farmland.

This year’s poster for Pollinator Week
Trees-For-Bees-2016-Poster_800x1260
2016 Poster

The creation of beautiful posters commemorates Pollinator Week and this years poster illustrates the annual migration of the monarch butterfly. It is available by going to Pollinator Partnership. The 2016 poster puts the spotlight on trees that are important food sources for pollinators. Go to Honeybee NectarFlow-Black Locust Trees to see my recent post on the importance of this local tree for my hives. Most people don’t think of trees as a valuable pollinator source, like they would with annuals and perennials, so I was happy to see the subject of the poster.  Because trees hold their blooms up high where you can’t see them, you don’t see the pollinator activity that you would down below with smaller plants. According to Doug Tallamy, who wrote Bringing Nature Home, Oak trees rank number one as supporting at least 557 species of caterpillars as a host plant, and Cherry trees as number two attracting and supporting 456 species of caterpillars. And to have butterflies and other pollinators like birds who feed their young ones butterfly larvae, you need caterpillars.

Oaks are top of the list for habitat

To make it easy to figure out what to plant, you can ask at native plant sales, visit nature centers, and go to websites like plants.usda.gov. This website has  regional and state lists of native plants that you can plant in your area which includes trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous plants.

BEE The Change Giveaway

Anyone who has or wants to teach kids (K-12) about pollinators through gardening, either a teacher, parent, community, or other organization is eligible to win pollinator plants and seeds to be awarded to 31 lucky winners. According to the KidsGardening website, “KidsGardening, American Meadows, and High Country Gardens want to thank educators and parents teaching children about Pollinators with the BEE the Change Summer Pollinator Garden Giveaway. The Grand Prize is a pollinator garden—up to 80 plants to cover an area of 1,000 sq. ft—designed by High Country Gardens Chief Horticulturist Dave Salman or American Meadows pollinator plant expert Mike Lizotte”. Sounds like a great contest and you just have to be teaching kids in the school or at home about these essential helpers. You can enter now until August 31, 2017 at KidsGardening.

Native bee house is a great project for kids, seen at the Ripley Garden in D.C.

 

My own poster Plant These For the Bees

 

 

Three For the Bees

Congregating on the front porch, my bees are hungry!
Pollinator container for early spring

#1

Pollinators are flying and searching for nectar and pollen to take back to their colony and the pickings are slim until the rest of the spring flowers open. Help them out with container plantings to supplement their foraging efforts.

Everything here I picked up at my local Lowes and/or Home Depot. Pick a large wide mouthed container  (18″ at least) and plant snapdragons, lavender, foxglove (digitalis), violas, and dianthus. I noticed once I potted this all up, that lots of bees, flies, and other insects started to visit immediately.

This container will remain on my patio all spring and once the foxglove, snapdragons,and violas are kaput, I will add some summer blooming plants to continue the show with the lavender and the dianthus.

#2

Another container which attracts many pollinators is the one above with primrose, scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’, heather, alyssum, woodland phlox, lilies, and yellow dogwood sticks for fun. The lilies will be the last to flower and will take this container into the summer. At that time, I will rejuvenate the container, keeping the plants that still look good and changing out the bloomed out ones. Makeover time!

Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’ is a great pollinator friendly plant

#3

Violas are the star in this pollinator container. The silver ball is a great way to add “pizzazz” and amp up the impact. Again snapdragons are an important element for early spring chilly weather. The alliums will be blooming in another month to continue the color show. The cobalt blue container adds a splash of color to the composition.

Frost date for my area of the mid-Atlantic is May 12 so I am careful to plant only cold hardy plants –  no pentas, marigolds, lantana, coleus, etc.! I hold these until later in my greenhouse to fill in for my spent spring flowers.

 

For more information on the best plants for bees, go to my post, Plant These For The Bees.

National Pollinator Week

pw2016_stickerENG

Eight years ago, the U.S. Senate in a rare unanimous approval vote, designated one week in June as “National Pollinator Week”  which addressed the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations.  In 2016 the dates are June 20 – 26 and the event has now grown to be an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles. The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture signs the proclamation every year designating this week. Pollinator Week was initiated and continues to be managed by the Pollinator Partnership, the largest non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to the protection and promotion of pollinators and their ecosystems.

Trees-For-Bees-2016-Poster_800x1260
This year’s poster, Trees for Bees, by artist Natalya Zahn, is a beautiful reminder of the many trees you can include in your pollinator-friendly habitat

The creation of beautiful posters commemorates the event and this years poster by artist Natalya Zahn celebrates trees  in the landscape that will help attract pollinators. It is available by going to Pollinator Partnership.  Most people don’t think of trees as a valuable pollinator source, like they would with annuals and perennials, so I was happy to see the subject of the poster.  Because trees hold their blooms up high where you can’t see them, you don’t see the pollinator activity that you would down below with smaller plants. According to Doug Tallamy, who wrote Bringing Nature Home, Oaks rank number one as supporting at least 557 species of caterpillars as a host plant, and Cherries as number two attracting and supporting 456 species of caterpillars. And to have butterflies and other pollinators like birds who feed their young tons of the butterfly larvae, you need caterpillars.

IMG_5619
Maple Tree flower: Most people don’t notice that bees are visiting flowers high in the canopy of trees

To make it easy to figure out what to plant, you can ask at native plant sales, visit nature centers, and go to websites like plants.usda.gov. This website has  regional and state lists of native plants that you can plant in your area which includes trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous plants.

etsy
21 popular flowers and herbs that attract pollinators

For seed sources, I rely on Botanical Interests for their great diversity and selection. You can order a seed packet from them, I Love Pollinators, #4007 which includes a mix of pollinator friendly plants- bachelor button, sunflower, borage, hollyhock, marigold, zinnia, hyssop, and dill. Costing only $1, all proceeds go to support the Pollinator Partnership which supports the health of our pollinators.

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This mix creates a pollinator-friendly habitat with annual and perennial flowering plants that supply pollinators with nectar, pollen, and shelter. For more information, go to www.botanicalinterests.com/pollinators

calycanthus3
Calycanthus, or Carolina Sweet Shrub, is a great native addition to a garden that will attract many pollinators

 

Bee Counted

 Bee crossing sign

Drum roll please!……..It is National Pollinator Week starting today and you need to start counting those bees. Go to my post Pollinator Week to see the drill, but it is real simple. Name the flower, and then do a quick count, say five minutes each flower of any pollinators that visit. Bees are of course the poster child for this campaign, but remember bees are only one part of the equation.

Apiary
Beehives are important but only part of the picture

Butterfly on Zinnia
Butterfly on Zinnia

Count butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, flies- basically anything that visits the flower by wings or just crawling. Do as many or as few counts as you have time for this week and click on Great Sunflower Project, and if you haven’t already registered, set up an account and input your results. This project collects data from ordinary gardeners all over the country to track pollinator numbers so that scientists can have a better understanding of the health of our populations in North America. Consolidation of all this data gives scientists hard numbers when they determine the best strategies in tackling this problem.DSCN0733

Citizen Science at its best!

Bee One in a Million

Set up a pollinator garden with blocks of plants
Set up a pollinator garden with blocks of plants

 

To take this effort even further, you can join the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge which is a nationwide call to action to preserve and create gardens and landscapes that help to revive and sustain the health of all pollinators.

Plant in blocks of color
Plant in blocks of color

Plan of a pollinator garden
Plan of a pollinator garden

Aiming to move millions of people outdoors to create nectar rich gardens, this initiative fosters a connection between pollinators and the food that we eat. The goal is to get people out in the great outdoors and start planting flowering plants. You notice that I say “flowering plants” and not just “flowers”? Flowering trees and shrubs are just as important as perennial and annual flowers. And if you can plant native ones, all the better. Go to Plant These For the Bees to see the best strategies on attracting pollinators in the garden. And check out Monarch Way Station if you are interested in Monarchs in particular.

Bee on Azalea shrub
Bee on Azalea shrub

 My Sunflowers and Zinnias here in the mid-Atlantic aren’t quite blooming yet, but I do have lots of other flowers that are popping out that I can start my count on. Happy counting!

Monarch butterfly

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