Front Porch Blog

Bees and Pollination

Bees play a vital role in the pollination of spring-flowering plants. This excerpt from the summer ’06 edition of Agriculture, Natural Resources, & Environment explains the importance of these helpful insects, and details strategies for promoting their habitation of your land.

Increase Your Pollination and Farm Diversity with Native Bees

Most farmers are aware that honeybees face a number of parasites and other problems that have reduced their populations across the country. Here in Watauga County, our beekeepers association is doing excellent work in promoting the knowledge and techniques to keep honeybee populations viable on High Country farms. But, given many of our important crops’ need for bee pollination, what is the non-beekeeper to do to insure that apples, squash, melons and other fruits and vegetables get the pollination they need? One good answer is to join the Beekeepers’ Association, and learn to keep honeybees. Another good answer (especially for those without the time or inclination to work with honeybees) is to encourage native, solitary bees, such as the Orchard Mason Bee – Osmia lignaria. Such bees are incredibly effective pollinators, and are also very easy to keep.
Orchard Mason Bees are wood-nesting bees: in the wild they use the tunnels in trees and dead wood made by beetles, borers and even woodpecker drillings. You can help them along by drilling wood blocks with 5/16” diameter holes 4” to 6” deep. You can also fashion nests for them by buying paper straws of the same inside diameter and length, and bundling them into a coffee can, PVC pipe, or other shelter. Whatever nest material you choose, the nests should be placed at least three feet above the ground, and in a place where they will receive morning sun. They should also be placed near streams or wetlands, as the bees will use mud to cap their nest holes. Finally, the nests should be placed within 100 feet of the crop you want to pollinate, as these bees do not fly very far. In exchange for their homes, these bees will gladly pollinate apples and other spring-flowering crops: it only takes 500 orchard mason bees to pollinate an acre of orchard. For honeybees to do the same work, as many as 100,000 would be needed!
Orchard Mason Bees are only one species of many native pollinating bees: pollination also happens thanks to carpenter bees (Xylocopa spp), leafcutter bees (Megachile spp), and bumblebees (Bombus spp), among many others. You can help all of these species by conserving woodlands (particularly those with birch, maple, oak, poplar, and willow), wetlands, hedgerows (particularly those with honeysuckle, dogwood, and kalmia), and other natural areas on your farm. Minimizing the use of insecticides will also make life easier for your native pollinators. For more information about conserving or raising your own population of native bees, contact Richard Boylan at the Watauga County Cooperative Extension office.





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