We’d be in big trouble without pollinators. Bees, butterflies, a host of other insects and even hummingbirds carry the load of pollinating our food crops and ornamentals.
Let’s get to the nitty-gritty of what occurs. Nectar is food for bees, hummingbirds, even beetles. While gathering it, they fertilize flowers by scattering pollen from flower to flower as they rummage around gathering nectar. The alternative methods of pollination are by wind or for us to take a tiny brush and flit from flower to flower. It’s much easier and successful helping our winged friends.
With the honeybee population decimated in recent years by diseases and mite problems, other pollinators are carrying more of the load.
Master Gardeners Terry Anderson and Patti Milos have gathered information, made handouts, posters and found supplies that encourage pollinators, especially native bees. Most everyone recognizes the mighty bumble bee, a ground nester, but few people recognize either the Mason bee or leaf cutter bee in the good-guy lineup.
Mason and leaf cutter bees are solitary so they have no nest to protect. They won’t sting — well, perhaps if you hurt them they’d retaliate. Mason bees are slightly smaller than a honey bee with dark blue coloring. They look vaguely like a housefly, but have longer antennae and look more bee-like. Leaf cutters are smaller yet, about half the size of a honey bee.
What can we do to help? Anderson ticks off five items: “Install houses for native bees, reduce pesticide use, replace lawns with flower beds, plant for pollinators and cultivate native plants, especially those that provide nectar and larval food for pollinators.”
Milos adds to the list: “Plant for a season of long succession of blooms, plant in clumps rather than individual plants spread around and old-fashioned varieties rather than double blossoms are easier for bees to pollinate. Master Gardeners have a list of plants and flowers that can make your area better for bees.”
Learn more about pollinators at the Master Gardener booth during Pybus Market’s grand opening Saturday. Our booth is open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. You can pick up the flower list, buy nesting blocks or learn how to make your own. Paper straw tubes especially made for Mason bee blocks will be available also, or learn how to make your own.
The tubes are inserted into the 5/16-inch drilled holes in non-treated wood blocks. By changing the straws every year, we minimize mite and disease problems and maximize our bee population. Plastic straws don’t work — they promote fungal diseases.
You’ll gather ideas of how to drill the blocks, add an overhang to them, where to locate them for best exposure and how to keep them clean. This is the time for Mason and leaf cutter bees to be out and about pollinating, so don’t delay in providing nesting sources for them.
A couple who often walk past the Xeric Garden in Riverfront Park were talking with Anderson last week as he weeded. They said they just don’t understand why more people aren’t concerned about the significant consequences of lack of pollinators, and why more isn’t being done about it.
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in the At Home section. Mary Fran McClure is one of three columnists featured.