Many of you took me up on the green ideas for chasing away winter blues, and some like Tee over at Veggie Gardener even commented on actually getting out into the garden to take in the milder temperatures that we enjoyed last weekend.
For me, the latest thoughts of warmer days and backyard gardening were inspired by the Backyard Fruit Growers Winter meeting that I attended. Great speakers, fellow gardeners, and the opportunity exchange new ideas always make it a worthwhile event.
Native Pollinators and Vintage Fruits
The main focus of this year’s winter meeting was on native pollinating insects and apples. Alex Surcica a researcher from the Franklin County Extension spent the morning talking about native pollinators with an emphasis on bumblebees and some of the solitary pollinators.
The afternoon session was a discussion of “All Things Fruit” with much of the conversation devoted to heirloom and antique apples. Tom Burford of Vintage Virginia Apples was the guest speaker and shared a wealth of information related to the culture, history, and future of the apple in America.
Interesting Facts about Native Bees, Wasps, and other Pollinators
Here are a few fascinating tidbits that were picked up during BYFG Winter Meeting:
- Bees are our most important pollinator but butterflies play an important role in maintaining genetic diversity because of the way that they flutter here and there spreading pollen to individual plants in scattered areas.
- Wasps are carnivores, while honeybees follow a strict vegetarian diet. A worker bee’s stinger is a modified egg laying appendage.
- There are native pollinators such as squash bees that will visit a single family of plants. A squash bee will pollinate and feed on pumpkin, gourds, and squash flowers and are much more efficient with them than honeybees.
- 80 % of the world’s almonds are produced in a single California valley and there are not enough honeybees in the entire country to pollinate them all. Over a million colonies of domestic bees are transported to California each winter, but more bees are imported from places as far away as Australia just to pollinate the almond crop!
- Honeybee workers are assigned distinct roles related to pollination, some collect nectar, others are responsible for gathering pollen, and still others serve a dual role and collect both pollen and nectar as part of their designated job assignments.
- Bees forming new colonies in the spring will have smaller sized workers early in the season because the queen has to manage all of the chores of building the hive, caring for the young, and gathering food. Subsequent generations of the insects will grow larger and healthier because there is a community of workers to help care for them.
- Bumblebees generate an electrical charge as they travel that attracts and causes pollen to jump onto them as they pass through flowers. Bees are hairy in comparison to wasps and that hair is an asset in the pollination process.
- There are many, many different types of native and solitary bees; digger bees, polyester bees, sweat bees, wood nesting, carpenters, leafcutters, mason, and cuckoo bees. Cuckoo bees will invade other hives, kill the queen, and force the workers to care for her own offspring.
- Native plants are four times more attractive to native bees. Hybrid plants are even less attractive to native bees. Plant flowers in groups or drifts to attract native bees and plan for a succession of blooms throughout the season to provide for them. Native bees also need nesting areas, access to water, and sheltered sites to overwinter.
- Pussy Willow and Crocus are two plants that can produce pollen early in the season when native bees have limited supplies of good pollen sources.
Alex also discussed various wasps that serve an important role in nature and around our gardens. These are just some of the notes that I took during the lecture. It’s clear that one could easily devote years studying just a single variety of bee or wasp. I have had an intense fascination with bees extending back to my amateurish attempts at beekeeping years ago. I hope to get back into it one day and plan to write more about bees here in the near future.
Next time, I’ll run through my notes again and share some of the information about fruit that was presented by Tom Burford during the annual BYFG’s Winter Meeting.
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