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BEE a Friend

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Make your home a pollination station with this info from Nancy to help you Get Growing!

They are feverishly flying off to work every day and helping to put a lot of nuts, fruit and vegetables on our table. They are the great pollinators, the honeybees and mason bees, and although deceptively small, their success or failure can effect the fate of America’s harvests and sting you in produce aisle pricing. 

There has been much talk in the last few years about the marked decrease in honeybees across the nation and the main focus of this problem is Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD. Annual losses of hives from the winters of 2006-2011 averaged about 33 percent each year, with a third of these losses attributed to CCD by beekeepers. Some research has pointed to the use of pesticides as one source of the collapse of the hives, but no consistent evidence points to any single factor, and the combined stress of new pathogens and parasites in the colonies has brought about a shortage of honeybees for pollination in the nation’s growing regions.  

Professional beekeepers begin their great migration in February in California, pollinating almonds and strawberries, before the bees are trucked north to Washington state for the apple and cherry orchards. As summer arrives, these great semis of hives move to the Dakotas to aid the alfalfa, canola and sunflower crops before making their honey. Some fear these honeybees are just overscheduled and collapse from logging so many miles.

Another weakness points to lack of diversity in nectar and pollen in feeding areas and droughts that have limited the honeybees’ and mason bees’ access to water. 

Most of us home gardeners just want our few fruit and veggies to produce and there are some easy steps we can implement to encourage pollinators in our area, without going out and buying a beekeeper suit!  Introducing these plants into your perennial plantings will help the development and sustainability of pollinating insects: Pieris, asters, borage, alyssum, penstemon, lavender, salvia, Kniphofia – Red hot poker, Scabiosa–pin cushion plant, oregano, fennel, Gaillardia-Blanket flower, Rudbeckia, Echinacea-coneflower, Buddleia-Butterfly Bush-, Asclepias-Butterfly weed and Monarda-Bee Balm. (Note that most of these plants will also serve to attract hummingbirds and butterflies as well.)

Mason Bees are becoming more popular to home gardeners because they do not require elaborate hives, and do not sting.  Honeybees sting instinctively to protect their hives and honey. Just like a pro, you can buy mason bees to release at various stages to begin your great harvest by keeping the bees in the refrigerator and timing them with your blossoms in your orchard and veggie garden. Before releasing your mason bees you will want to either buy or make a small nesting box to position under an eave of a morning sun, south- or east-facing wall so the females can come back to a nest to lay eggs for next year’s mason bee population.  Mason bees naturally seek out holes made by woodpeckers and other bugs that bore into wood for them. It’s easy enough to make your own clean nest for them with a 10-inch chunk of UNTREATED, 4x4 dry post and drill three, half-inch-long holes with a 5/16 inch drill bit. Hang it high enough and protect from other predators with chicken wire.

These clever pollinators are called mason bees because after the female is done laying her egg, she seals the hole with mud to protect her offspring ‘til it develops next spring. You can help the momma by leaving a bucket of mud or digging a hole in the ground near your nesting box and keep a fine, clay silt mix wet (but not too wet) so she can efficiently get her holes sealed. Too hard of mud and the newborns cannot chew their way out of the tiny holes. 

In Late October, move your block to an unheated garage and protect in a ventilated box from mice or in a refrigerator. The cocoons do not like to go much below 32 degrees. If you do not use a nesting box with straws, you will want to drill a fresh block for next year’s mason bee nest and throw out the hatched block in June, since the small, long holes cannot be properly cleaned and will encourage parasites. The most serious mason bee cultivators actually take the cocoons out of the straws and clean and store them for winter separately. 

If not eaten or killed by pesticides, the female mason bee collects pollen and “works” about 5-6 weeks before expiring, completing about four nesting holes with an average of five pollen/egg/mud cells in each one. BEE a friend to nature and try to introduce some of these pollination ideas to your neighborhood. More information can be found at the Washington State University website: http://county.wsu.edu/mason/gardening/Documents/OrchardMasonBees.pdf

Nancy Hastings grew up on a 300+-acre farm and now is co-owner of All Seasons Garden and Floral in Sandpoint. She and her husband John have been cultivating community gardens and growing for 16 years in North Idaho. You can reach them with garden questions or sign up for classes at allseasonsgardenandfloral (at)gmail.com.

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Nancy Hastings Nancy Hastings grew up on a 300+ acre farm and is co-owner of All Seasons Garden and Floral in Sandpoint, She and her husband John have been cultivating community gardens and growing for 15 years in North Idaho. You can reach them with garden questions or sign up for classes atllseasonsgardenandfloral(at)gmail.com.

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gardening, bees, Get Growing, colony collapse disorder, Mason Bees

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