Winter Meeting Focuses on Native Bees and Fruit

January 22, 2010

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

Bee-DisplayThe 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.

Squash-FlowerAlex 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.

Other Related Vegetable Gardening Posts:

  • It all makes sense doesn’t it. I noticed that as I add more and more diversity to my gardens and the longer it has been since I’ve used any chemicals (fertilizer or pesticide) in the garden the more pollinators I notice. This past year I noticed a huge number of native pollinators in my gardens, so many different sizes, colors and shapes. It’s very fascinating.

    Atrracting native pollinators is one of the reasons I let a few “weeds” grow in my garden, like queen anne’s lace and other native plants.

  • Kenny Point

    Hey Susy, it all makes a lot of sense… how could native pollinators not be irresistibly attracted to a garden loaded with a diversity of blooming plants. And who could better detect or be as easily impacted by subtle changes in a flower, a plant breeder in a lab or a bee buzzing around the garden?

    It is fascinating and I’ll be paying a lot closer attention to my native pollinators. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of “oh, it’s just a bee” and never realize that the insect you’re looking at is a solitary squash bee or other unique native pollinator that is depending on you to provide a safe habitat in exchange for the vital role that it will fill in your landscape!

  • Barbee

    I am very lucky to have a good friend and neighbor (Gary) who keeps honey bees in his backyard. They are extremely reliable about visiting my garden each and every day…like today. We are having a well deserved warm period and I was outside weeding my raised beds when 3 of those little darlings came over to me to see if I was something tasty.

    It seems that because I was wearing bright colorful clothing and gloves, I had inadvertantly attracted their attention. I held very still and they moved on within only a few moments with no harm to any of us. It was actually kinda’ sweet sitting there with the three of them snuffling and lighting upon my person-like little faries.

    I have read that you can buy or build ‘homes’ for the SOLITARY bees out of thin tubes (like drinking straws) and I plan on doing that this Summer. I have seen them in my garden burrowing in the lawn (it concerns me that I may be injuring them w/ the mower) so looks like I need to set up some apartment buildings to keep them safe. (BIG SMILE!)

    Has anyone else here had any experience with the ‘homes’ I am referring to? If so, I am sure I’d like to hear more. Thanks!

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Barbee, I have been sheltering solitary bees for the past couple of years, they are very interesting and I planning an article on them before spring arrives. I have used the cardboard tubes that you referred to in the past and simply took a five gallon plastic bucket, built a shelf inside and attached it parallel on the side of a tree or building structure.

    This year I’m upgrading their living quarters and a member of the Backyard Fruit Growers Group is building a fancier house for my bees that will use a Binderboard type nesting system that allows you to access the bee cocoons to check for things like parasites and allows you to care for them a little better. You can find more information including bees and supplies over at Pollinator Paradise. Solitary bees are cool and not aggressive even if you are right at their nesting site… you’d really have to go out of your way to get stung by one of these lovable bees!

  • Incredible pollinator facts, Kenny! I never thought there were so many different types of bees. Like you stated in one of the above comments, when I see a bee I just think “Oh, it’s a bee”. I, too, look forward to investigating the native bees in my area a lot closer this year. I can’t wait to snap some photos of a few and find out what they are.

    Thanks for sharing what you learned at the Backyard Fruit Grower’s Winter meeting.

  • Pingback: Interesting Apple Facts from the Fruit Expert » Veggie Gardening Tips()

  • I’ve been thinking a lot about bees lately. Hope to start beekeeping this spring. Yesterday I relocated a digging bee who was trying to burrow into one of my seed starting trays.

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