The Buzz on Bees

BY KATHY JENTZ

These Busy Pollinators are a Gardener’s Best Friend

The bee is one of the hardest workers in your home garden. Without any assistance from beeyou they pollinate your vegetables, fruits, and flowers. Without bees, the garden could not exist.

Although many people are very afraid of them, the honeybee is extremely gentle. They do not sting unless their home hive is threatened or they are personally attacked. Swatting at a bee will cause it to react. Note that they do not sting when they are out foraging for pollen in your garden and feeding on your flowers. They are busy gathering and will ignore you. They only ask that you do the same.

Ann Harman, a beekeeper in Flint Hill, VA, for almost 30 years, says, “Honeybees are our friends and should be protected. They need all the help they can get. Plant assorted flowers to attract bees – yellow, blue, and purple – anything but red flowers, which bees ignore.”

“Anyone growing a vegetable garden containing cucumbers, squash, pumpkins or melons has to have bees to pollinate it,” explains Ann. “Moreover, bees improve not only the quantity, but the quality of fruits like strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and blueberries as well.”

“Bees can cover a three-mile area,” according to George Imirie of the Montgomery County Beekeepers Association. “Plants in the home garden provide a miniscule amount of the food bees require.” He encourages area residents to respect bees and their hives.

If you must use pesticides in your lawn or garden, use them wisely and always carefully read the labels. They will indicate whether it is toxic to bees. A better choice is to use IPM (integrated pest management) and reduce all pesticide use. IPM is basically using an insects natural predators and traits against it.

Thanks to pesticide use on crops and gardens and the destruction of their habitats, domesticated honeybees and their native counterparts are disappearing. We depend on these bees to pollinate billions of dollars worth of fruits, vegetables, and other crops in the USA. The summer 2006 edition of OnEarth, the award-winning environmental magazine published quarterly by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), explores the looming agricultural catastrophe that their demise portends, as well as potential solutions.

 

Experts interviewed by author Sharon Levy for her OnEarth article “The Vanishing Bee” blame the widespread use of pesticides by farmers who unintentionally poison domesticated honeybee colonies. Non-native species of parasitic mites are also deadly to honeybees. For these reasons, native wild bees will become even more important as pollinators, but they too are threatened because their habitats—natural woodlands, shrubs and flowers—have been decimated by relentless sprawl and development and by modern agriculture’s poor land-management practices.

One-third of the food Americans eat comes from crops that are pollinated by bees or other creatures, including butterflies, birds, and bats, according to the article. As they travel from plant to plant, bees transfer pollen that fertilizes blossoms and allows fruits and vegetables to develop. Without bees, many of the foods we enjoy — tomatoes, squash, peppers, apples, and pears, for example – could disappear from our tables. Domesticated honeybees, in particular, are in steep decline. In the 1940s, American beekeepers had about 5 million colonies. Today, their colonies number about 2.3 million – and falling – while the demand for their services is increasing.

Experts interviewed by Levy believe we can still rescue honeybees and native wild bees by limiting our use of pesticides and by setting aside space for plants that nurture bees in our home gardens. “Gardeners are important to bees to provide a good habitat,” says Levy. “Native flowering plants are recommended.” In particular, home gardeners can grow milkweed, white clover, coneflowers, and monarda (bee balm).

“Bees are the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for American agriculture. Their demise is a warning. But there are solutions that make environmental – and economic – good sense,” said Doug Barasch, OnEarth’s editor-in-chief. “Putting those solutions into practice depends on farmers, homeowners — all of us — realizing that protecting bees is in our own self interest.”

For more information on bees and bee-keeping, these local groups welcome your inquiries:

• Virginia State Beekeepers Association: http://www.virginiabeekeepers.org/
• Virginia Beekeepers Directory: http://virginia.uscity.net/Beekeepers/
• Association of Southern Maryland Beekeepers: http://gworrell.freeyellow.com/asmb.html
• Beekeepers Directory of Maryland: http://maryland.uscity.net/Beekeepers/
• Maryland State Beekeepers Association: http://iaa.umd.edu/mdbee/main/home.html

Note that beekeeping was until recently illegal within city limits of Washington, DC. New regulations are currently being passed. Outside of DC you should check your local ordinances to learn your beekeeping laws.

Attend a Talk on Native Bees

Learn about native bees by attending this month’s Takoma Horticultural Club meeting. The talk topic will be “Bees In Your Garden” presented by Sam Droege of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. The meeting is Wednesday, November 20, 2013, 7:30-9:00pm at the Historic Takoma, Inc., 7328 Carroll Ave., Takoma Park, MD. This event is free and open to the public. No reservations required. You are encouraged to bring a snack to share and to wear a recycled nametag. Find out more about the Takoma Horticultural Club on their web site at: http://www.TakomaHort.org.

About the Author:

Kathy Jentz is editor/publisher of Washington Gardener magazine.
Washington Gardener magazine, is a new gardening publication published specifically for the local metro area — zones 6-7 — Washington DC and its suburbs.
The magazine is written entirely by local area gardeners. They have real-world knowledge and practical advice with the same problems you experience in your own gardens. They share their thoughts on what to plant in deep shade, how to cover bare spots, which annuals work best throughout the humid DC summers, and much more. If you are a DC area gardener, you’ll love Washington Gardener magazine!
The magazine is published four times per year with a cover price of $4.99. IN addition to the print magazine, subscribers also receive a monthly enewsletter 12 times a year that includes timely information such as a local garden events calendar and gardening to-do list for that month. A year’s subscription is $20.00 — that’s a savings of almost 40% off the per issue price. To subscribe to the magazine: Send a check/money order for $20.00 payable to “Washington Gardener” magazine to: Washington Gardener, 826 Philadelphia Ave., Silver Spring, MD 20910 OR to pay via Paypal/credit card click on the “subscribe” link at www.WashingtonGardener.com.
Washington Gardener magazine also makes a great gift for the gardeners and new home owners in your life.

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About the Author

Kathy Jentz
Kathy Jentz is editor of Washington Gardener magazine and is a long-time DC area gardening enthusiast. Washington Gardener is all about gardening where you live. She can be reached at @WDCgardener on Twitter and welcomes your local DMV gardening questions.