The Wilton Pollinator Pathway: Bee on it!
When most people think about pollinating bees, they picture the honey bee, often brought into our environment from abroad to help pollinate crops. But more than 30% of the plants that require pollinating are served by native bees that do not live in hives. A single mason bee, one type of solitary bee, visits more than 1,000 blossoms each day. In fact, most solitary bees, such as mason bees or bumblebees, are two to three times better pollinators than honey bees because they forage at temperatures too cool or wet for honey bees, and because they “buzz pollinate,” a method that vibrates the blossom to shake out more of the pollen, resulting in larger, more abundant fruit.
Beekeeping is a hobby that is a fascinating way to study hive bees, but it can be expensive and complicated to maintain. Attracting the hundreds of native species of solitary bees is far simpler and essentially cost-free. Solitary bees are insects that make their homes in rotted logs, in the stalks of hollow-stemmed plants, or in the ground, where they hibernate alone in autumn through winter, often in proximity to others of their species.
Native bees need three essentials to survive:
- A constant supply of food — planting native plants that are available to pollinators throughout the season provides more food for native bees;
- A place to nest and rest throughout the year;
- Protection from pesticides.
Frequently found nesting in sandy areas of gardens or on sports fields, native bees generally do not sting and are only active for about three weeks in spring, when they are laying their eggs and providing food for their larvae. Scattering the small mounds of sand that surround the exit hole of ground bees’ dwellings will destroy their habitat, and since they are not aggressive, we should protect them to do their work of pollinating blossoms in the surrounding area. For that reason, it is best to wait until spring to dig in the garden.
Because many native bees make their homes on or near the ground, use of pesticides or herbicides on the lawn endangers these and other insects or their food sources. Since many of the insects in our environment are beneficial, acting as natural predators to insect populations that are destructive to plants, our protection of them is critical to healthy gardens without use of chemicals.
The Xerces Society, a nonprofit organization that studies invertebrate organisms, particularly bees, recommends the following guidelines for backyard gardeners:
- Avoid use of all pesticides around your home. Instead, seek out alternative solutions. Non-chemical options will often help you address the problem at its root providing long-term relief, whereas pesticides are a short-term fix.
- Ask your nursery if potted plants — especially species that support pollinators — have been treated with neonicotinoids. When possible, purchase organic plants.
- Ask your local nursery to stop selling neonicotinoid products. Shelf space can instead be filled with ecologically sound options.
- Request that landscape and gardening companies not use pesticides on your property, and ask them to plant organic plants. This will protect not only the plants and insects, but your family and pets!
- Increase the amount of pollinator habitat in your home and garden. For plant selection ideas go to xerces.org/bringbackthepollinators/.
The Wilton Pollinator Pathway, a collaboration of four local conservation organizations — Norwalk River Watershed Association, Wilton Garden Club, Wilton Land Conservation Trust and Woodcock Nature Center — will hold a workshop to create mason bee “hotels” on July 9 at Woodcock Nature Center. Because this popular event filled quickly, we will hold more workshops in autumn. Watch The Bulletin for details later this summer.