Our most successful Beestra so far this year.
So you did all your homework. You read up on the best places to put nurseries, you picked a spot by some nice flowers, maybe you even cleared some earth nearby for a steady mud supply. A few long weeks later and what do you have to show for it? Three tubes filled, maybe? That's a little... underwhelming.
But should you be disappointed? I don't think so! In fact, I think that ANY tubes filled is cause for celebration. Every tube, generally, holds 7-10 bee larvae. That's 7-10 native bees that otherwise would be in precarious living conditions. Some scientists argue that bees can pollinate 5,000 flowers a day- so three tubes means that once they hatch, there are up to 150,000 flowers pollinated in ONE DAY. All thanks to your nursery!
As I've said before, bees are very much at risk right now. It certainly wouldn't surprise me if many people struggle to get their entire nursery filled up because as we know, there just aren't as many bees around these days. On our tree farm, which is 250 acres of mostly-wild forests and fields, we have yet to find a single nursery with more than a handful of tubes filled up. And I still get excited every time I see a new one! There are so many factors affecting bee populations, and living in an agricultural area, I suspect that pesticides are commonplace. We take our victories where we can get them- so remember, every mud-cap you see is a victory for native bees.
If you're still unsure about your progress, keep an eye out for a new blog post about location and how the smallest changes can make a big difference!
I hate to be the bearer of bad news... but our nurseries will NOT get you any honey. Better visit the farmer's market if that’s what you’re after. But while you're here... Why aren't we interested in honeybees, anyway?
Let's be clear about one thing: I love honeybees. I love honey. Without it, I wouldn't be able to make salted honey pie and that's just not ok. But are honeybees really the pollinating super-insects they're cracked up to be? Not really. Not here in North America anyway, where honeybees are not only not native, they could even be considered invasive (here's a fantastic article detailing this). Using honeybees to pollinate agricultural crops comes with a host of problems including the inevitable spread of disease that happens when you cart bees over hundreds and hundreds of miles. Plus, honeybees can compete with native bees for pollen: we already know that honeybees can be quite aggressive, and native bees are decidedly not. That's where the "invasive" part comes in. Plus, all this talk about pollinators going extinct? Not really true for honeybees. In fact, they're doing just fine compared with the thousands of at-risk pollinator species all over the globe.
The fact is, native bees are much more deserving of our help right now. Habitat loss, worldwide pesticide use, and irresponsible agricultural practices are having devastating effects. And what a shame, because species such as mason bees and bumblebees are way better at pollinating our plants. They use nifty tricks such as vibrating on the flowers to get all the pollen to fall out, and they carry pollen all over their bodies instead on two measly leg-sacks (looking at you, honeybees). Simply put, they're way more efficient, and they are superbly equipped for pollinating many of the crops we depend on. Do you like blueberries and apples and almonds? Thank mason bees for their hard work. Do you enjoy eating beef? Good job leaf-cutter bees! Without you, dear Megachilidae, we wouldn't have the alfalfa to feed our livestock.
So do we still like honeybees? Sure. But there's more important work to be done right now. So go plant a flower or two, put off mowing another day, and tell your neighbor to stop spraying their peach trees. When you're done with that, treat yourself to some great food: perhaps some Ratatouille full of tomatoes, eggplant, summer squash and peppers; a crisp cucumber and onion side salad; and juicy strawberry shortcake for dessert. And then thank native bees, who made that meal possible. Pretty sweet, huh?
We get this question all the time... "Why would I want bees around? Won't they sting me?" Maybe you've had some bad experiences with honeybees or hornets, and we wouldn't blame you for being weary. However, there's good news: solitary bees are not aggressive! Male bees don't even have stingers. The female bees do, but the odds of them stinging you are extremely low. In fact, you'd have to be trying really hard to get them to sting you, like stepping on them or grabbing them with your bare hands. They just aren't interested in us humans, not when there's flowers to visit! Plus, unlike honeybees, they don't have a hive to protect so there's no need for aggression. Sometimes curiosity gets the better of them and they may come close to you to investigate. But have no fear: native bees are gentle creatures and they mean you no harm.
Pictured here: a mason bee who is way too focused on pollen to think about stinging you. source
Ames Chiles is a native bee enthusiast from the Ozarks and co-founder of BeeFoster. She studied biology at Missouri State University and followed her passion for learning about our natural world to the west coast. Upon moving back to the area she began to invest her time in land stewardship and sustainable business, eventually starting a company. BeeFoster is a solution to an immediate and pressing issue of a declining bee population. This mission is what steers her path forward and gets her into the garden everyday.