Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Customizing Gardens for Native Bees (Pollinators & Predators)

image: Mine

Predatory small wasp on my apartment balcony inside a large pot container with my Avocado tree digging a hole and burying what looked like a wood lice grub for it's young.

This past year there is a young 12 year old boy of African descent from parents who immigrated from Uganda who I've been spending time with discussing particular things about how nature really works. Here is Sweden because of this cool wet climate, there is not a whole lot of opportune days for being outdoors and exploring out in the wild. Especially when you live in an industrial city like Gothenburg. The Parks are not exactly representative of wild things, but once in a while there are some surprising exceptions. Other than school and the rare occasion where his dad will take him for a walk, he spends most of his time at home in a concrete social housing high-rise Project. However, there are many Saturdays we spend time out in volunteer work and as we walk through some gardens, one in particular stood out as unique from the rest over in an area on Hissingen called Baron Rogers. What I noticed immediately is that there were many different plants were  flowering plants. But also the area was loaded with all sorts of pollinators, not just bees and wasps, but also butterflies. On a picnic table was a wasp exactly like the one in the photo above. It was stalking a wood lice on the table and I pointed it out to the young man and explained that this is how things work in nature as a balance to keep pests in check. I also explained that when people carelessly use chemical pesticides to do the job, these chemicals which may be manufactured for killing certain specific pest are also toxic to the good predators which should be doing that job if the garden was managed properly. Rarely do you see such a garden in healthy holistic shape as this one was and we actually met the groundskeeper who had specifically designed this landscape with those reasons in mind. But this brings me to an excellent recent article which encourages citizen participation in creating a landscape environment which is managed as a natural native habitat for all the beneficial critters through eco-friendly practices. Here is the article below and it concludes with an extremely irresponsible negative quote from a Biotech Scientist who says nature is dangerous and should not be encouraged within urban areas. Seriously, she said this.
(Image: Jim Cane ARS)
A native Andrena bee species gathers nectar
 and pollen from a pear flower
"Dogged by pests, pathogens, poor nutrition, and other problems, the European honey bee is having a rough time these days. The bee pollinates over 90 different kinds of fruit, vegetable and nut crops. These same crops are also pollinated by native bees, particularly on smaller or diversified farms and especially in home gardens. Together, their pollination services are an $18 billion annual asset to U.S. agriculture, and concern over their welfare prompted the White House in May to issue a directive aimed at bolstering their numbers and health through a series of initiatives including improving and expanding pollinator habitat."

"Citizen involvement is another component. Among the actions citizens can take is growing nectar- and pollen-rich flowering plants; another is “customizing” garden or landscaping areas to make them more hospitable to these pollinators—especially native bees, says entomologist Jim Cane, with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS)  Pollinating Insect–Biology, Management, Systematics Research Unit in Logan, Utah."

"In a three-year outdoor experiment conducted on the campus of Utah State University, Cane found that the common, widespread social bee species Halictus rubicundus (H. rubicundus) prefers digging its subterranean burrows next to small surface stones rather than in areas of bare soil. The next generation of queens, who mature in the fall and hibernate away from the cluster, return in the spring to use those same sites to establish nests of their own. Indeed, when Cane created a thin mulch of flat stream pebbles along the edges of a landscaped sidewalk area, he observed 66 to 78 percent more burrows there the following spring than in adjacent areas of bare soil."

(Image: Jim Cane ARS)

Burrow dug by female Halictus rubicundus bee amid pebbles and cobblestones

"Together with Utah State University Extension, Cane turned his research findings into practical guidelines the findings into practical guidelines that gardeners and landscapers can follow to create habitat areas that will serve other ground-nesting bees, which comprise about three-fourths of the 4,000 described native species in North America."

"“Bees have two primary needs in life: pollen and nectar to feed themselves and their offspring, and a suitable place to nest,” writes Cane in his guide, Gardening and Landscaping Practices for Nesting Native Bees. While lists of bee-friendly plants are available, most practical advice focuses on practices to avoid, like using buried landscaping fabric or sprinkler-irrigation systems during daytime, which can disrupt a female bee’s orientation to familiar landmarks.

"For ground-nesters, like H. rubicundus, Cane suggests creating a single surface layer of small, streambed-type pebbles along the perimeter of a flower garden or landscape area. It’s important that these pebbles remain undisturbed by foot traffic, because female bees will burrow into the ground near them and rely on the pebbles’ positions as landmarks to return to their nests after foraging for nectar and pollen. When pruning plants with woody stems that have pithy or hollow cores, Cane advises, leaving a few foot-long dead sprigs in place. This will attract species that prefer to nest above ground, like small orchard bees."

"Urbanization, loss of habitat, and other events have taken a toll on managed and wild bees. But they’re resilient insects, and even a few simple steps to help these important pollinators can go a long ways."

“Watching them forage and nest can be great fun as well as educational for curious homeowners—they’ll quickly appreciate the truth in that old saw, ‘busy as a bee!’” says Jim Cane.
(Source: USDA Blogs)

(Image: Jim Cane ARS)

Two female Peponapis squash bees pollinating a zucchini flower. These bees are key pollinators of squashes across much of the United States.
I loved this rare article from of all sources the USDA which normally is promoting and supporting the agro-chemical business model, but here actually encourages the average citizen to participate in helping native bees/wasps thrive into the urban landscape setting. Of course the focus was on pollinators, but don't forget many of them have a major play in keeping plant pests in check. The role of flowering plants of course is to attract the pollinators and in so doing your garden plants are pollinated. However, though they all dine on pollen and nectar, their developing young for whom they dig those burrows in the soil or carve out holes in dead wood do not feed on pollen. They need more protein diet to develop and the adult native bees and wasps provide this food by finding an insect plant pest, paralyze it with a sting and shove it down the nesting cavity which they have previously created. They lay their egg on the victim and as it grows it feeds on the insect pest their parent have provided for them. This is what the little wasp was in my plant container on the balcony and at the garden landscape within the apartment complex of Barron Rogers in Hissingen were doing. They play such major roles in balance in nature and provide an opportunity for all of us to never again use chemical pesticides ever again. Same with the chemical fertilizers which are often so rich and potent, they attract the very pests to the plants that feed on the synthetic chemical diet. Yesterday I had a neighbour down the street ask me what I fed my mothers shrubs and trees because everything looked so green and healthy and they've noticed the plants appear to flower all year long. She said she hasn't been able to get her Mexican Red Bird of Paradise shrubs to flower at all the way my mother's shrubs do and when they have flowered, there were very few blooms and their appearance was momentary. She was blown away when I revealed to her that I have never ever fertilized them with any chemicals. Mycorrhizal inoculation the first couple of years to build initial plants health and long term soil benefits are all I've done aside from adding just a thin layer once a year of decorative mulch on the surface which will gradually get broken down by the natural fungi and  bacterial elements. All of this is really fun for me, but this is also the kind of basic things never taught in schools where it should be at a very early age. Wait till High School and most youth are lost into the virtual world of electronics and turned off to anything regarding outdoor activity. The Biotech and Agro-chemical Industrial world have the say and influence on what is taught in academia from the conventional textbooks. Take for example this negative sewery comment below by a well know Biotech proponent demonizing the USDA article because in her worldview, it was sending a dangerous message because Nature is so unsafe.

"As an agricultural scientist I fully appreciate the importance of our pollinators to the farming community, but encouraging bees in urban areas places a higher concentration of people in contact with insects than in the coutryside, insects which can sting and even occasionally, cause anaphalactic shock. Yet urban bee keepers are on the rise, and while people are exhorted to change their gardening practices and use of pesticides to protect the bees, little consideration is being given to harm this can cause – Up to 100 people a year die from insect bites, not including mosquito and tick borne disease such as West Nile Virus or Lyme Disease. I wish there was more balance to the “save the bees” call to action, and some recognition that people don’t only have pollinators to protect but also themselves, their children and pets."
Source: Dr Clare Thorp PhD, Croplife America, Managing Director at Biotechnology Industries Organisation (BIO), Washington DC

So what is there really here for me to critique about the  irresponsible comment above ? Absolutely nothing since I believe they speak for themselves. This woman is shackled to promoting a business model and nothing more. If people all got together and actually got on board with what the USDA article was encouraging, can you imagine the dollar value big business losses in retail sales of all their chemical cocktails sold at numerous home improvement stores ? This is a multi-billion dollar a year business for these people and their investors. Count on more negative publicity in the years to come as these people will go down to their grave fighting these issues. Walk up and down any aisle with countless agro-chemicals for fertilization, insecticide and herbicide solutions and it's quite literally all about death and keeping your garden and landscape on permanent life-support for a cost. And with that I'll simply close and post a few beneficial links for improving your garden and landscape for your personal health and benefit. I'll also post some links of organizations for furthering your education on how native plant ecosystems actually work and how and why they should be replicated. The Agro-Chemical giants have had this "Us against Nature" mentality for decades, so Clare Thorp's comment was nothing new or isn't something that hasn't been pimped before.

"But if we want to protect ourselves from the rampages of Nature (such as fire, famine and disease) we'll have to use chemicals"

Monsanto advertisement 1977 ) 
 News Update (November 4, 2015)   
Urban environments boost pathogen pressure on honey bees
USGS: Native Bees Foraging in Fields Are Exposed to Neonicotinoid Insecticides and other Pesticides 
Past Articles from my blogs on this very subject of Pollinators and Predators
Diversity of Flowering Plants Imperative to Pollinator & Predator Health
How to Construct the best Insurance Policy for your Agricultural Business Venture
Attracting Wild Bees & Wasps to Landscapes & Farms is the best Insurance Policy
Sources of Native Plant Ecosystem Education and the practical applications into the Landscape
California's Own: Native Landscape Design by Greg Rubin

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