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Christian Science Monitor: Encourageing Wild Bees forPollination

  • Subject: [cg] Christian Science Monitor: Encourageing Wild Bees forPollination
  • From: Alliums garlicgrower@earthlink.net
  • Date: Fri, 29 Aug 2003 10:19:04 -0400

Hi, Folks!

Interesting article from the Christian Science Monitor. At the community garden, we have herb and perennial beds through the midpoint and around the sides of the veggie growing areas to encourage native bees to pollinate. We also allow volunteer flowers (especially sunflowers and cleome) to grow wherever they sprout. We haven't had a pollination problem in 5 years!

Dorene Pasekoff, Coordinator
St. John's United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden

A mission of
St. John's United Church of Christ, 315 Gay Street, Phoenixville, PA 19460

 Headline:  New farming buzz: wild bees
 Byline:  Robin White Special to The Christian Science Monitor
 Date: 08/28/2003

 (DAVIS, CALIF.) Each year for as long as he can remember, Rick Rominger and
his father
 before him have rented honeybees to pollinate the crops on their
 sunbaked farm near Davis, Calif. When the days get long they pay a
 beekeeper to truck hives into their fields. For a few weeks the
 honeybees fan out to collect pollen and nectar and in the process they
 turn sunflowers into sunflower seeds and bean flowers into beans.

 Occasionally, the honeybees misbehave and abscond to the local town,
 bringing back the wrong kind of pollen for Mr. Rominger's hybrids. But
 for the most part the relationship between honeybee and farmer has
 stood the test of time.

 Some bee experts say that could be about to change. The number of
 honeybee colonies in the United States is down by almost two-thirds
 over a 50-year period. Two species of bloodsucking mites are chewing
 their way through honeybee colonies nationwide, wreaking havoc on the
 way. Chinese competition is driving down the price of honey.

 Because of these problems, beekeeping no longer earns much. Some
 operators are hanging up their veils and putting away their smokers.

 This means the cost of pollination is rising and occasionally there are
 honeybee shortages. With 1 out of every 3 bites of food the result of
 pollination, bee specialists are looking for alternative ways to do the

 Princeton University researcher Claire Kremen is a champion of native
 bees - the wild, distant cousins of the honeybee. Dr. Kremen says
 farmers have been relying too heavily on honeybees, and that other
 species of bee such as bumblebees, mason bees, carpenter bees, and
 sweat bees can do a much better job of pollination.

 "I kind of think of wild bees as being our insurance policy," Kremen
 says, adding that there are 1,500 species in California alone.

 Working on farms near Davis (including Romin-ger's), Kremen's team has
 found one bee species that is 10 times as good at pollinating
 sunflowers as the honeybee, a European import. But, she says, the
 numbers of native bees are kept low by typical commercial farming
 practices. Many farmers scrape their farms clean of weeds, in the
 process removing the kind of habitat the bees need to nest and forage.

 Kremen wants Rominger and other farmers to plant hedgerows of native
 plants and take more care in their use of pesticides. She says if they
 do that, they could have all the pollinators they need on the farm
 without paying a penny to rent honeybees.

 At Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley, about 20 miles from Rominger's,
 there are plenty of native bees. Right now, it's harvest season in the
 tomato fields. The shoulder-high cherry-tomato plants are laden with
 red, green, and yellow fruit. Several thousand bumblebees buzz the
 flowers in the four-acre field.

 They are not there by accident. Full Belly farmer Paul Muller says it's
 part of his organic farm's plan to grow insects as well as plants.
 During 20 years of experimentation, Mr. Muller and his partners have
 planted swaths of native flowers to provide pollen and nectar sources
 year round. They leave a lot of weeds around the edges of fields. This
 attracts native bees as well as other beneficial insects.

 "We're just dancing in the dark here with something that we think is
 enhancing insect ecology," says Muller. But Kremen's research shows
 that Muller's experiments are working. She says Muller doesn't need to
 bring honeybees onto the farm to pollinate the crops.

 Persuading other farmers to change will be an uphill battle, Muller
 says. "It's an aesthetic thing. Farmers think the ideal is to have all
 their rows neat and straight and not a weed in sight. But if you want
 insects it doesn't work that way."

 It's not aesthetics that worries Rick Rominger, but reliability. "You
 like to think in the long term. But in our business if we trip this
 year, we won't be here next year."

 Rominger wants to know precise details of the native bees' nesting
 habits before trying to create habitat for them. He's concerned about
 the investment. Native plants cost money at the nursery and reduce the
 amount of available cropland.

 But there are hidden benefits to switching to native bees, Kremen says.
 Hedge-rows can harbor a range of beneficial insects that keep pest
 insects under control and reduce pesticide costs. They might also
 provide new hedgerow crops such as blackberries or rose hips, which can
 be sold for profit.

 Underlying Kremen's arguments is the fear that native bees are in
 danger because they face pressure from development in their wild
 habitat. Two species of bumblebee have vanished from Oregon and
 California in the past five years alone. If Kremen can persuade farmers
 to make bee habitat on the farm, it's one way of making sure native
 bees are there for farmers should they come to really need them.

 While owners of small, organic farms may warm to the idea of using
 native bees, Kremen admits it may prove difficult to convince big
 agriculture to make the change. But she says small farmers often lead
 the way because they have the flexibility to implement change. As more
 data come in about the effectiveness of the native bees as pollinators,
 she predicts more farmers will get on board.

 (c) Copyright 2003 The Christian Science Monitor.  All rights reserved.

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