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HA! You thought I was talking about honey bees. Nope!
We've been told to worry about the wrong bees. Honeybees are NOT endangered. In fact, they are becoming invasive in the U.S. and cause harm to our native bees. Honey bees are bullies in the garden and will attack and steal pollen off of the bodies of bumble bees. Nobody likes a bully.
Native Bee Awareness
Honey bees are imported from Europe to pollinate crops in the United States. Conventional farms and orchards rely on honey bees because intensive agriculture destroys native bee habitat. Honey bees are adaptable to disturbed habitat because they can build hives. North American native bees do not make hives.
Native Bee Habitat
Our native bees nest underground, in rock wall crevices, in fallen trees, under leaves, inside hollow native plant stems, or in abandoned rodent holes. Bumble bees make honey and wax, but only to support their young. Our native bees rely on North American native plants, particularly those that bloom in early spring when they are just emerging from hibernation.
Native Bee Facts
Scientific studies show that bumble bees are far more effective at pollinating many of the food crops we rely on. Bumble bees use "buzz pollination" which is necessary to successfully pollinate many vegetables and fruits we all love, like tomatoes, peppers, and berries. Bumble bees are active pollinators early in spring and late in the fall. Due to their fur covered bodies, bumble bees can fly and forage in rain and inclement weather - things honeybees cannot do. Mason bees are outstanding pollinators. These bees are so small that you may not even notice them in your garden - but they are 120 times MORE effective at pollinating orchard fruit compared to European honey bees. You can see why it's so important to protect our native bees!
Instead of being a honey bee keeper, be a Native Bee Guardian. While honey bees are more inclined to sting you, bumble bees are docile and rarely sting. Unlike honey bees who travel long distances, North American native bees stay close to home and forage within a mile of their nest. The actions you take in your own yard will have a direct impact on native bees.
Plant native pesticide-free plants for native bees to forage from spring through autumn. Leave the leaves where you can, leave plant stems standing for bees that nest in hollow stems (refrain from "cleaning up" your garden) and you will begin to notice an increase of incredible pollinators in your yard.
Bumble Bee History
Bumble bees have existed on Earth 30 millions years before humans, but we are quickly driving them to extinction.
If you see an insect and you're not sure what it is, upload a photo to the iNaturalist app. When you use this app, you're also helping scientists track populations of plants, pollinators, and wildlife. https://www.inaturalist.org/
The Rusty Patched Bumble Bee
The Sweetfern logo is a Rusty Patched Bumble bee. This native bumblebee bee was once the most common bee throughout the United States. Their numbers have declined by 90% due to intensive agriculture, land development, herbicides, and pesticides. Sadly, the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee was the FIRST North American native bee to be added to the Endangered Species List.
Be a Bee Hero
We can all help prevent pollinator extinctions. Reduce or remove lawn and replace it with low maintenance ground cover. Avoid pesticides and herbicides including any type of "weed and feed" products that contain chemicals. Grow plants native to your region.
Set aside space for a meadow or low-maintenance perennial garden. Native plants don't need mowing or irrigation. There are low-growing flowering perennials that are tough, pretty, and make great ground covers.
My favorite ground covers are wild violets and wild strawberry. Wild violets are drought tolerant and bloom in early spring. Wild strawberry is also drought tolerant, spread fast, is evergreen, provides fall color, and produces edible fruit. I mean come on, how amazing is that?
Leave it Be
A "clean" yard is sterile and does not help bees or other wildlife. Good news! Wildlife likes a "messy" yard. You like snacking and watching Friends re-runs. So relax! Leave the leaves and leave plant stems standing in areas where you don't frequent (under shrubs and trees and along the perimeter of your yard). You will see more birds, butterflies, dragonflies, fireflies, frogs, and salamanders if you do this one simple thing.
Pesticides kill bees, butterflies, and birds fast. When you purchase plants for your garden, confirm they are NOT treated with neonicotinoids. Just ONE seed from a plant treated with neonicotinoids can kill a songbird. If a retailer does not have a neonicotinoid or pesticide statement on their plant labels, please ask the nursery!
Lawn treatments, and mosquito and tick spraying kills bees and other pollinators and poses a health risk to children and pets. For an effective non-toxic alternative, use garlic spray or cedar oil (check out Cedarcide.com). Take common sense precautions like ensuring there is no standing water in your yard. Mosquito "dunks" available at most hardware stores can be used in small bodies of water and will not harm aquatic life.
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