With the hubbub surrounding the honey bee’s plight, folks are turning to promoting native, wild bees for crop pollination. I say it’s about time. I have nothing against honey bees, and I even like honey on steaming hot cornbread fresh from the cast-iron skillet, but with monoculture of any kind, disaster is always just around the corner. Colony Collapse Disorder, mites, you name it and the non-native honey bee is in a world of hurt. Since so many fruit and vegetable crops depend upon bees for success native bees are finally getting noticed, even though there’s no honey or wax byproduct involved.
One of the principal ways to promote a healthy population of native bees around your place is to offer them places to nest. Nesting spots can be as simple as a bundle of paper drinking straws placed in a strategic location. But it is important to protect those straws from the elements. The corrugated plastic totes used in mail handling are perfect for just that.
Agricultural Research Service scientist James H. Cane says that female wild bees will readily use a properly placed, nicely furnished tote as a shelter for their nests. Turned on their long side, the totes can be held firmly in place on a wooden or metal post by means of a lightweight steel chain and a metal support frame.
Folks who want wild bees to live near and work in their fields, gardens and orchards, can use the totes to house nesting materials. Wild female bees like the blue orchard bee, Osmia lignaria (see photo), can use the straws as homes for a new generation of pollinators. A single tote can accommodate as many as 3000 young, which would be sufficient to pollinate an orchard up to about an acre in size.
Read more about this discovery here.
Photo courtesy ARS: Jack Dykinga
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.