We see them buzzing around in the summertime and rarely take notice, except to bat one away when it gets too close! The tiny bee is often taken for granted by local homeowners, and yet is vital to the reproduction of flowering plants and to our food supply. Bees and other pollinators are the work force that help produce about a third of the food we eat. Without them, we would see drastically reduced yields of crops and drastically increased food costs.
What is Pollination? Bees support the food chain through pollination… which has to do with plant sex! The primary goal of plants is reproduction, to continue its line into the next generation by producing seeds through flowers. Pollination occurs when pollen grains from the male part (anther) of the flower are transferred to the female part (stigma) of another flower of the same species. This transfer encourages fertilization of flowers and the production of fruits/seeds.
The transfer of pollen from one flower to another is the work of pollinators like the bee. As bees visit flowers for nectar and pollen, the pollen clings to the hairs on their bodies and is brushed off onto other flower parts as they flit from one flower to the next. The native bumble bee’s buzz is actually a method of pollination. Their vibrating muscles shake the pollen loose!
Honeybees and Colony Collapse Disorder: According to The Nature Conservancy, “the honeybee is the greatest pollinating machine when it comes to agriculture.” Honeybees were imported from Europe to North America in the 1600s because of their role in pollination. They live together in hives, are expert at finding nectar sources close to the hive, and their colonies can be easily moved where needed. Farmers have relied on honeybees for generations to pollinate crops.
In 2006, farmers and scientists began to notice a troubling decline in the honeybee population. A mysterious disorder seemed to cause workers bees to fly off and leave the colony, never to return. Scientists designated this puzzling syndrome, Colony Collapse Disorder. In the last ten years, over 50% of managed honeybee colonies in the U.S. have collapsed. While the causes of this “bee-pocalyse” are still not definitive, scientists believe contributing factors are disease, parasites, reduction of plant diversity from commercial agriculture, habitat loss and the use of pesticides, especially neonicotinoids, a widely-used and popular class of systemic pesticides, marketed by Bayer, that affect the central nervous system of bees, resulting in paralysis and death. Concerned about the relationship between neonicotinoids, the European Union has suspended their use. The United States is waiting for results of further studies.
Native Bees and Pollination: Since Colony Collapse Disorder has decimated half of our honeybee colonies, farmers and gardeners are looking to our 4,000 native bees to pick up the slack. Native bees tend to be smaller and solitary. They do not live in hives but nest alone underground or in holes in trees. They rarely sting, do not have queens (except bumble bees) or produce honey. But native bees are a hidden treasure! Researchers have learned native bees are more plentiful than honeybees, fly faster, and are more efficient in pollination, especially in cooler temperatures.
While native bees do not succumb to colony collapse disorder, they are suffering decline as well from disease, habitat loss and pesticides. But scientists and the public are taking notice and taking steps to help the bees. The U.S. Department of Transportation recently began planting pollinator gardens along highways to provide sanctuaries for butterflies, bees and other pollinators.
How you can be there for the bees!
- Create a habitat to lure bees to your garden. Replace part of your lawn with flowering plants. Leave some areas a little messy so bees can find nesting materials like brush, dry grasses, mud and dead wood.
- Grow native flowers and wildflowers. Native bees are specifically adapted to native plants. Add bee-friendly, native plants to your garden to ensure a wide array of native bees in your yard. For plant suggestions, check out the Georgia Native Plant Society’s website at gnps.org.
- Select flat flowers with single flower tops. While double-headed flowers like double impatiens are gorgeous to look at, they produce less nectar and their bloom structure makes it more difficult for bees to access the pollen. Look for flat flowers like daisies, coneflowers, rudbeckia, zinnias and marigolds with single flower tops.
- Strive for three-seasonal color. Bees thrive with a constant food source. Make sure you have flowers in the spring, summer and fall. Springtime blooms include crocus, borage and calendula. Summer brings the blooms of bee balm, cosmos, coneflowers, snapdragons and daisies. Fall blooming flowers include sedum, asters, goldenrod, sunflowers and zinnias. Don’t forget to add some herbs like mint, salvia, oregano. thyme and lavender. Select a color palette in blue, yellow and purple because bees are drawn to these colors.
- Avoid the use of pesticides and apply only organic fertilizers. Some nurseries and big box stores, such as Home Depot, are labeling plants that contain neonicotinoidal pesticides. Avoid purchasing these plants because the pesticides will affect bee behavior and can lead to their death.
- Add a bee bath. Fill a shallow container, or a rock with a depression, with pebbles and fresh water, place it in the garden and watch the bees arrive!
- Become certified as a “bee friendly” garden. For information on attracting bees to your garden, go to the Pollinator Partnership website at: pollinator.org.
Master Gardener volunteers from the University of Georgia Fayette County Extension Office are partnering with city and county leaders to create a Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Trail in Fayette County. Since 1990, the population of Monarch butterflies has drastically declined because of the destruction of milkweed plants, which the species uses for a food source as well as for breeding.
The Master Gardener volunteers were inspired by former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, who established a butterfly garden at her home in Plains to encourage pollinator conservation and promote awareness of the plight of the butterfly population. Last spring, the Extension Office gained access to a greenhouse, located at the old Fayette County High School, which is now used by Master Gardener Extension Volunteers for educational purposes. There, milkweed and other native plants are being grown from seed and then distributed for planting in public gardens.
This year, two butterfly gardens were created in Shamrock Park in Tyrone, one at the educational garden located behind the Extension Office at 140 Stonewall Avenue in Fayetteville, and another at Patriot Park on Redwine Road, near the Veterans Memorial. Master Gardener volunteers will soon meet with leaders in Peachtree City, Brooks, and Woolsey to decide on locations for additional butterfly gardens to be launched in 2017.
The butterfly gardens are maintained by Master Gardener Extension Volunteers. The goal of this program is to make Fayette the model county in Georgia by raising the plants needed for pollinators to thrive again. For more information about the Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Trail or the Fayette County Master Gardener program, please call the Fayette County UGA Extension Office at 770-305-5412.
- 85% of the world’s flowering plants depend on pollinators, including bees, butterflies, wasps, hornets, moths, birds and bats, for reproduction
- 1 of every 3 bites you eat is thanks to the work of bees! Bees are crucial to the production of more than a third of the food people consume.
- More than 150 crops grown in the United States depend on pollinators, including almonds, blueberries, melons, apples, pumpkin, squash, pears, citrus and many more.
- 4,000 native bee species exist in North America.
- 95% of native bees are solitary, living alone in the soil or nesting in wood.
- 1600s: Honeybees, an important pollinator, are not native to North America, but were imported from Europe in the 17th century.
- 50% of managed honeybee colonies have collapsed in the past 10 years in the United States.
- 23% of wild, native bees in the United States declined between 2008 and 2013 due to disease, habitat loss, pesticides (neonicotinoids) and climate change.