Christian Science Monitor: Encourageing Wild Bees forPollination
- Subject: [cg] Christian Science Monitor: Encourageing Wild Bees forPollination
- From: Alliums email@example.com
- Date: Fri, 29 Aug 2003 10:19:04 -0400
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
(DAVIS, CALIF.) Each year for as long as he can remember, Rick Rominger and
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.
The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org
To post an e-mail to the list: firstname.lastname@example.org
To subscribe, unsubscribe or change your subscription: https://secure.mallorn.com/mailman/listinfo/community_garden