Why NATIVE bees?

bumble bee ©Janet AllenA native pollinator: the bumble bee

With all the news about Colony Collapse Disorder affecting honey bees, we've become very aware of how important they are to our food supply.

We rely on bees to pollinate:

  • our fruits and vegetables
  • food fed to animals that produce food, such as milk
  • plants that produce fibers, such as flax or cotton.

But although honey bees have become important in modern agriculture, they aren't native, and our reliance on them has overshadowed the importance of our native pollinators.

Sweat bee on leadplant ©Janet Allen
A sweat bee pollinating a lead plant

And, even more important, native bees are essential pollinators in the world beyond our yards and farms, since about 75% of non-agricultural plants rely on animal pollinators—not wind—to produce seeds for the next generation of plants.

What would happen to all those plants in the wild if there were no native bees?

And besides plants in the wild, who would pollinate the plants I grow in my own yard for birds and other creatures? My serviceberries, dogwoods, winterberries, spicebushes and the like all need to be pollinated to form berries for the birds.

Mountain mint and wasp ©Janet Allen
Mountain mint and some kind of wasp

Many creatures, such as bats (especially in the Southwest), hummingbirds, butterflies, beetles, and other insects are pollinators, but bees are especially important. Why?

Because unlike other pollinators that unintentionally transfer pollen as they're getting nectar, bees intentionally gather pollen as food for their offspring.

Of course, they're not intentionally pollinating flowers, but their bodies are designed to get pollen, and so they're especially effective in moving pollen around.

Pollen basket ©Janet AllenA bumble bee with its pollen basket on its leg

The bumble bee in the photo, for example, has collected pollen in its "basket," but also has pollen grains sprinkled all over its body, sure to leave some on the next flower it visits.

In addition, it tends to visit one type of flower repeatedly rather than visiting different species of flowers randomly as other creatures may do. This behavior is an obvious advantage to the plant.

Our habitat garden helps our edible garden

A bumble bee pollinating our blueberries ©Janet AllenA bumble bee pollinating our blueberries

Our habitat garden helps make Our Edible Garden much more productive by attracting and supporting a large population of bumble bees and many other kinds of bees.

Bumble bees are my favorites. They're social insects, but their colonies are much smaller than a honey bee colony since only the queen survives the winter and a colony must start from scratch each spring.

Bumble bees are particularly helpful since they can pollinate tomatoes and other plants that improve their yield with their special "buzz pollination."

An unexpected benefit

Solitary bee ©Janet Allen A solitary bee nesting in a bee box

Once we became aware of pollinators and other insects, we found that they're just as fascinating as other creatures.

And our native solitary bees aren't aggressive, so we've been enjoying them "up close and personal." The difference between solitary bees and social bees (such as honey bees and bumble bees) is that solitary bees aren't defending a hive—they just lay their eggs and leave. And they don't care that we enjoy watching them.

Their busy buzzing makes our yard a very pleasant place to be, a yard truly full of the sounds of life.