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Native Bees Need Your Help

by Community Forests International on November 17, 2016

Conserving pollinator habitat and forage is not just an exercise in conservation; they are necessary for our food system and are responsible for millions of dollars of crop production annually. The non-native European honey-bee (Apis mellifera) is suffering colony collapse and other problems, but it's our native bees that support much of the pollination that we need to grow food. However, many of our agricultural crops do not provide the nectar these wild pollinators need in return, making the conservation and restoration of wild pollinator habitat and forage essential to the success of our farm systems. Ecology is essential to the success of agronomics, whether the farm is large or small, conventional or organic – pollinators are keystone in creating the fruit and seed that we harvest.

Pollinators, wild and domesticated, are in decline due to a variety of factors including loss of habitat, lack of diversity of flowering plants, lack of appropriate plants, pesticide use, and viral and bacterial infections that harm weakened populations. There are many things we can do on farm, on fallow or open land, or in our backyard that can support the restoration of habitat and forage for pollinators.

Pollinators include bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, beetles, ants, bats and hummingbirds. For a flower to be pollinated, either wind or one of these animals has to carry a pollen grain to a female flower part. Depending on the structure of the flower it requires specific animals to be able to successfully move pollen.

Native pollinators need two main things to thrive:

1. Habitat to nest, raise larvae, and over-winter

2. A diversity of flowers from spring until fall for nectar (or food)

 

How to conserve and rehabilitate pollinator habitat on your farm, land, or backyard:

Plant Native Plants

Although wild pollinators can forage on non-native plants, some cannot, and non-native plants are often invasive and out-compete native plants for habitat niches. We need at least greater than 30% native plants to truly support wild pollinators and invasive plants often make this difficult.

Read more on what to plant here

Don’t Mow it All at Once

Avoid mowing a whole area at one time, mowing a large area can abruptly remove pollinator habitat, foraging resources and overwintering sites. You can mow different areas at different times to avoid impacting all the pollinators at once or mow 1/3 of a large area per year in 2-3 year intervals. Every year, leave one area as a refuge that is not mowed and mow as high as possible to preserve the existing plant community.

Learn about mowing here

Create Habitat

Bees typically either nest in the ground or in wooden stems, hollow trees, or abandoned rodent nests. There are over 400 species of bees in Atlantic Canada alone – having different habitat and foraging needs. Leaving marginal land un-tilled and bare sandy ground open is important for ground nesters, and native bunch grasses, rock piles, logs, standing dead wood and woody plants with hollow stems are important for cavity nesters.

Learn more about creating habitat here

Whole Farm Diversity

Crop diversity, perennial crops, perennial insect strips, insectary intercropping, limited mowing, wild areas, and crop rotation will help pollinators without reducing your yields. To take it a step further, a ½ acre of pollinator habitat and forage within 1 km of your farm will increase the rate of pollination on your crops and has the potential to increase your yields.

 

Thank-you to our funders for supporting the bee field at Whaelghinbran Farm!

 

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