Gardening in the Face of Change

I know it seems like I have Bumble Bees on the brain, but I just read a very cool email from the Xerces Society and want to share it with you.

Their “Gardening in the Face of Change” message is a clarion call to anyone who has a patch of grass or a planter: Help bring back the pollinators. Habitat fragmentation – i.e. more lawn than garden and more house than lawn – could be a factor that drives many species to extinction in the next 30 years. Lord knows the last 30 years have been disastrous for creatures like the beautiful Yellow-banded Bumble Bee and the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee. The next 30 could see them disappear forever unless we do something about it. And yes, we CAN do something about it.
Bring back pollinators
Xerces’ Matthew Shepherd says the rest much better than I can.

“The Xerces Society’s Bring Back the Pollinators campaign promotes four principles that can be adapted to any location – grow flowers, provide nest sites, avoid pesticides, and share the word. Fill a window box with flowers. Add planters to a deck. Create a colorful garden border. Mix flowers with the vegetables in a community garden. Enhance the grounds of a school or church. You can do this is a city park, golf course, corporate or university campus, or farm.

Insect habitat doesn’t need to be big, but it should offer a mix of nectar-rich flowers and be free of insecticides. The importance of flower choice was underscored during a recent visit to a large show garden. There were acres of gardens but butterflies and bees were limited to a very few plants. Woodland skippers loved the Pacific aster, as did a variety of bees and flies. Bumble bees were happy on purple coneflower, English lavender, and catnip. Black-eye susans and sneezeweed were humming with all sorts of bees. In between, the brightly coloured bedding plants and flower-less shrubs were quiet, devoid of interest for passing bees.”

I know, I know. Bumblebees on the brain. And gardening. I hope it’s contagious.

The Bumblebee Watch Garden Stare

I have a thing for bumblebees. They’re the Panda Bears of the insect world, and they give me a reason to stare at my flowers.

You know the “Stare”? It’s that trance-like state gardeners fall into whenever we wander among the flower beds. It’s not a restful state, no chess player ever used more brainpower to strategize a next move than a gardener. We may look serene but our minds churn constantly with lists of things to do and change in the garden. So Bumblebees are a welcome distraction. I find them endlessly interesting and as a bonus I get to look – really look – at my plants while I watch them.

Another part of the fun of Bumblebee-watching is trying to figure out what kind they are. That’s not particularly easy, and neither is taking a picture of them. They never stop moving and the workers all seem to look alike. But sometimes I get a shot that’s focused enough to submit to BumbleBeeWatch.org.

It’s kind of fun to do. You login, upload your picture, click on some identification hints and then take a stab at identifying them. Then you sit back and wait for the experts to check your conclusion and tell you if you were right. Or more likely wrong. But who cares – it’s fun anyway.

Try it!
http://bumblebeewatch.org

Bumblebee Watch is a collaborative effort by:

  • Wildlife Preservation Canada
  • University of Ottawa
  • BeeSpotter
  • Montreal Insectarium
  • Natural History Museum, London
  • Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation

 

How to bee nice to Bumbles

DSCN3955I just received a newsletter from BumbleBeeWatch.org, and it has some of the most interesting information on Bumblebees that I’ve read in a while. Since I don’t see a blog on their website, I thought I’d share a bit of it here.

Most bumble bee colonies are well advanced and have a complete worker caste, so they have switched to producing the colony’s reproductive members. Because creating queens takes more resources from the colony than producing workers or males, the colony can only accomplish this once it has a worker caste large enough to provision the nest appropriately. Since the number of new queens (and not the total number of bees in a nest) is the measure of reproductive success, this is a critical time of year for all bumble bees. Ensuring they have enough food to eat between now and the end of the season will determine the strength of next year’s population.

So one of the best ways to help bumblebees (which are declining at a truly alarming rate – never mind honeybees!) is to have lots of pollinator flowers in the garden that bloom into the fall.

I’m not affiliated with the organization, just a big fan. If you love bumblebees, You should sign up!

The bees are awake and they’re hungry

crocus-bees Today was the first really warm day we’ve had since October. It’s been a long winter, and my garden is as eager to reach for the sun as I am.

The crocus’ popped open today (sorry it’s such a lousy picture). I planted them all over the garden in the fall of 2013, hoping that they’d provide an early meal for pollinators. I was delighted to see that it worked – the purple crocus’ especially were crawling with excited wild honeybees and native bees and even flies. No bumblebees though. Not yet. The white crocus’ had a few visitors and the yellow ones were pretty much ignored. Interesting. I know that the colour purple attracts more pollinators – the ultraviolet in the petals stands out, making them easier to see. I wonder if there’s a flavour factor though. Maybe yellow crocus’ just don’t taste as good.

Spring is here. Hallelujah!

The hegemony of chemically green lawns… we need a new kind of beautiful

This is why I feel strongly that biology and landscaping need to intersect to create a new kind of beautiful for homeowners.

“If you’ve got just lawn grass, you’ve got nothing,” said Mace Vaughan of the Xerces Society, a leading organization in insect conservation. “But as soon as you create a front yard wildflower meadow you go from an occasional honeybee to a lawn that might be full of 20 or 30 species of bees and butterflies and monarchs.”

Read on: The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear  (New York Times)