This past spring I put together a series of gardening related classes for the PALS organization here in Dunwoody. One of the speakers I brought in was Jose Vivanco, a Master Gardener friend who is also seriously into beekeeping.
His presentation to our class was absolutely fascinating. Who knew that one bee can tell the other bees in a hive where to find flowers by doing a little dance that communicates both direction and dis- tance to the flower source? Amazing.
He also talked briefly on the terrible Colony Collapse Disorder that is threatening our honeybee populations all across the country. The loss of bees who serve as pollinators for our gardens and agricultural industry is a frightening thing.
Without these bees to pollinate our food supply we are threatened with massive losses of food sources.
Not only would we lose fruits and vegetables, but also agricultural feed for animals that serve as a major food source for us. Personally, I don’t care if cauliflower supplies dwindle, but the potential loss of fresh peaches, apple pies and beef supplies gives me nightmares.
The causes of the Colony Collapse Disorder are not certain. Various parasites, fungi and viruses may be part of the problem. A class of pesticides known as neonicitinoids is also suspect in contributing to the situation. Modern large-scale agricultural practices such as massive monoculture farming and lack of diverse types of pollen may also contribute. Additionally, lack of uncontaminated water and exposure to other pesticides may be at fault. Studies continue in an effort to learn about the problem and what we can do to reverse the trend of honeybee losses.
At the home garden level we can do a few things to help. One thing is avoid the use of pesticides whenever possible and to only apply them according to directions when they are used. Additionally, avoid applying any chemicals during midday times when bees are most active.
You can make sure that fresh water is available in birdbaths and in drip pans near your outdoor faucets. Planting a diverse number of pollinator friendly plants (such as bee balm, joe-pye weed, gaura, salvia, etc.) or other native plants can also help.
Another thing we can do is to encourage populations of bees other than the traditional honeybee. The Mason bee (Osmia lignaria), also known as the orchard bee, is an excellent alternative to the common honeybee. While they make nests together, they are solitary bees that do not form colonies. And perhaps best, they are not at all aggressive. They do not produce honey, yet they are still excellent pollinators.
These characteristics make them attractive around our homes and gardens. It is easy to build nesting boxes for them to help draw them to your garden areas. You can also buy good-looking mason bee nesting boxes at many garden supply stores or on the internet. Check Amazon’s or Google’s shopping sites for a range of styles or prices
If you are inclined to build your own, check the website at the National Wildlife Federation, nwf.org, for information and instructions. Use their search box at the top of the page to look for “mason bee houses.”
Although they don’t mention it on their website, do try to keep a supply of wet Georgia clay mud in a bowl near the bee house so that the bees can use it to seal their nest holes. There are lots of other websites with instructions and useful information about mason bees if you want to look further into this.
Now, if we could only develop bees that avoid cauliflower, and for that matter, Brussels sprouts and whatever kind of peas it is they use to make canned peas. That would be just about perfect as far as I am concerned.
Jeff Coghill has been gardening in DeKalb County for more than 30 years and has probably killed at least one of each kind of plant he has tried before getting another one to thrive. He is a gardening volunteer at the Dunwoody Nature Center and works closely with members of the DeKalb Master Gardeners group. He can be reached at gardening- email@example.com.