Pollination management (forwarded post)

Lawrence F. London, Jr. london at sunsite.unc.edu
Tue Jan 6 02:13:59 EST 1998

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 6 Jan 1998 01:18:12 EST
From: Pollinator <Pollinator at aol.com>

Here is a copy of a message I posted on rec.gardens.edible, which gives
further development of the idea of pollination management as a basic part of
gardening for the future.

> Living in the Seattle Metro area -- zone 8 -- Always on the lookout for
> interesting, attractive annuals to place within my raised beds for the
> purpose of enticing pollinators to my vegetables.  (esp. bees --
> Bumbles, Honeys, etc.) I'm a bit picky; would like these additional
> flowers to be no taller than 24" or so? Any suggestions?  Favorites?

    My commendation on being alert to the shortage. Many folks are now
planning the coming season without a single thought to pollination. You are
ahead of the game. The time to plan pollination is when you are looking at the
first garden catalogs.

   I am sure you will receive many replies with plant suggestions, and this is

   But the basic concept of "attracting pollinators" is faulty.  If there are
pollinators, they will come. If they are absent, you cannot attract them; you
must become more proactive.

    (Therefore planting for pollinators is not to attract them, but to help
them survive and reproduce, so the population will build.)

   The honeybee situation: If you have them now, you almost certainly have a
beekeeper near you. The survival level of feral honeybees has dropped to
almost zero in continental USA, due to varroa mites and pesticide misuse.
Domestic bees have the assistance of a beekeeper to help them cope with both

   So if you want honeybees, your best efforts should be bent to "attracting a
beekeeper" to your neighborhood, or keeping them yourself.  If you want to
join the ranks of beekeepers the time to start is NOW, before the available
bees are all booked by the suppliers. There are so many new beekeepers
(because of the pollination shortage, and because of growing interest in bee
sting therapy for multiple schlerosis, arthritis, etc, that suppliers are
selling out early.

   Some of the best helps IMHO:

1. Here's a good starting point with lots of info for a beginner:  Dr. Keith
Delaplane's beginner guide       http://www.ces.uga.edu/pubcd/b1045-w.html

2. Also you might subscribe to Bee Culture: bculture at aol.com    --They not
only have a lot of good info, but also ads for package bees, nucs, bee
equipment, etc.

3. It is wise to connect with a local bee club. Check with your county
extension agent to find one. Often the club, the extension office, or a
community college or adult ed center will offer beginner courses.

   If you don't want to go the honeybee route, you have other choices:
bumblebees, solitary bees, or hand pollination.

   Bumblebees are cyclical in population and they are quite sensitive to
pesticide misuse in the area. They are commercially available, but very
expensive, so most gardeners work with wild ones. Again, you cannot "attract"
them; If they are present, they will come. But you can, if not restock them,
help them have more nesting sites, feed them well, and protect them from
pesticide misuse. All these should help build greater populations.

   Nesting sites can be provided quite easily and cheaply. Plans are widely
available on the internet for bumblebee houses, including at the pollination
web site below. Place these in a wild, undisturbed area near your garden,
early in the spring. If they are occupied, they will do a good job of
vegetable pollination, as the colonies will be approaching peak population
when your beans, squash, cukes, melons and pumpkins start blooming. They will
not help much with early fruit, as there will only be a few queens around at
that time. Providing nest sites is one way to help, but, even in areas where
bumbles are still plentiful, they tend to have only about a 20% occupancy.

   Dr. Keith Delaplane wrote a series of articles on bumblebees and their
culture in the American Bee Journal a couple years ago. It should be available
in your library. The references, and other info on bumbles is on the
pollination page under "Alternative Pollinators."

    Solitary bees, which you did not mention, are another alternative. The
orchard mason bee and the japanese hornfaced bee are available commercially,
though my understanding is that many of the suppliers are already sold out.
These bees are excellent for early spring fruit pollination, but will be
dormant by the time your vegetables bloom.  

   Carpenter bees, likewise are excellent for early pollination, but these
wood nesting bees are hated by homeowners, though their damage is usually
slight, and they nest in the same holes for many years. If you can teach folks
in your neighborhood to live and let live, you will have these pollinators. If
not, they will be exterminated.

   There are thousands of other solitary bee species. Most are spring bees,
and many are adapted to one specific plant. Some are available though, later
in the summer, and can be a help to veggie pollination. We have a squash bee,
slightly smaller than a honeybee, that is valuable for cucurbits in some
places in the east, though I don't know about your area. In other places
pesticide misuse has eradicated it.

   You can encourage solitary bees by leaving some wild spots on your
property. You can also provide wood block or reed nesting sites for them, to
help build populations. Again, the plans are widely available on the internet.
A very common size is 5/16 inch holes, which can be drilled with a long drill
bit. If you see bees working in the holes, and they eventually plug the hole
with a little mud, you are definitely successful. Inside will be a half dozen
females and one drone, ready for next year's pollination. With a little
effort, you can build up large populations. But these are susceptible at times
to mites, funguses, bad weather during nesting, and preditor wasps, fire ants,

  Each bee has strengths and drawbacks. The best general, all-purpose
pollinator is the honeybee; if you have a healthy hive, it is present year
around in high populations, each worker is faithful to one plant species, and
it works many of our most common food plants. A few plants (tomatoes, peppers,
okra, eggplant) are better served by bumbles and solitaries, because honeybees
often prefer richer sources.

   As gardeners, we will increasingly see that pollination just will not
happen by itself; our ecology has been disrupted too much. We've been somewhat
alert to pollenizer management (see web page below), now it's time to bone up
on pollinator management.

   Sorry, I didn't answer the question you asked. But I hope I answered the
one you needed to ask first.........

Pollinator at aol.com     Dave Green  Hemingway, SC  USA
The Pollination Scene:  http://users.aol.com/pollinator/polpage1.html

Jan's Sweetness and Light Shop    (Varietal Honeys and Beeswax Candles)

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