As more seed catalogs arrive in the mail, gardeners will begin dreaming of next year’s gardens. Following the mantra, plant diversely and they will come, may be one way for gardeners to help troubled bee populations.
Multiple bee species are showing declining populations due to habitat loss, use of pesticides and diseases like Colony Collapse Disorder. Though planting a diverse patch of uninhibited flowering plants may not seem like much, to bees in search of nectar and pollen it could be a feast that helps feed them and us according to this December 24, 2012 article in ScienceDaily.
Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Texas at Austin found that “ … increasing the number of species-rich flowering patches in suburban and urban gardens, farms and restored habitats could provide pathways for bees to forage and improve pollination services over larger areas.”
As Shalene Jha, assistant professor of biology at the University of Texas at Austin notes in the article, “Native bees provide critical pollination services for fruit, nut, fiber and forage crops.”
She and colleagues found that of native bumble bees, thwarted by paved areas containing limited or no patches of flowering plants or ground nesting sites, will travel longer distances to find patches of flowering plants. Importantly, bumble bees will travel even longer distances to locate diversely planted patches of flowering plants. In other words, bumble bees seek out planted or native areas that offer them a rich menu.
This suggests that planting a rich bumble bee-friendly menu of flowering plants near food and other crops will increase pollination of said crops.
What a great excuse for gardeners looking to increase the number of flowering, preferably regional native and naturalized, plants in their gardens … to help bumble bees and better pollinate neighboring crops.
In my Connecticut garden I often observe bumble bees ‘resting’ atop flowers in the early morning and late evening hours, as if they are intoxicated by the pollen they’ve collected. They are not usually aggressive unless they feel threatened while foraging or when their nest is threatened. Bumble bees generally go about their business of collecting pollen with little care for anything else. (Of course, anyone with bee allergies must always use caution around any bee and follow standard protection measures.)
Bumble bees buzz pollen loose from flowers. Once the vibration of the buzzing releases otherwise unreachable pollen the bees collect it in sacks on their hind legs. They then carry the pollen is carried back to the nest to feed the colony.
They are amazing, beneficial pollinators most worthy of gardeners’ consideration when planning next year’s gardens.