You never know what you'll find when you visit a pollinator garden.
Take the case of our visit Nov. 12 to the Sonoma Cornerstone, Sonoma, to see the pollinator garden of Kate Frey, an ardent pollinator advocate, world-class garden designer, and co-author of The Bee Friendly Garden with UC San Francisco professor Gretchen LeBuhn.
The flower-filled Frey garden is a people/pollinator favorite at the Sonoma Cornerstone, and no wonder.
We spotted a yellow-faced queen bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, foraging on Salvia Indigo spires. Normally, you don't see bumble bees this time of year, but this one came out of hibernation temporarily to eat. She appeared famished!
Bombus vosnesenskii is among the bees featured in the University of California-authored book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday Press). It's the work of entomologists Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley and Robbin Thorp of UC Davis, entomologist/photographer Rollin Coville and plant expert Barbara Ertter of UC Berkeley. Thorp, a UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor, also co-authored Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University).
In their book, California Bees and Blooms, the authors call attention to this iconic Bombus species: the yellow hairs on the face and top of head, and the yellow stripe on the abdomen.
Hibernating queen bumble bees are a joy to photograph as they forage for food, buzzing from blossom to blossom to sip nectar. This one seemed to be braking during a winter break.
Or have you ever seen a bee nectaring in a community garden and wondered "How can I attract THAT bee to my yard?"
Just like all floral visitors are not bees, not all bees are honey bees. However, the honey bee, Apis mellifera, is the most well known. Worldwide, there are 20,000 species of bees. Of that number, 4000 are found in the United States, and 1600 of them in California.
Here's how you can find out more about them.
The University of California Hopland Research and Extension Center has scheduled a four-hour program, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23 on "Native Bees in Your Backyard" at two sites in Hopland and you're invited.
UC Berkeley professor Gordon Frankie and entomologist/photographer Rollin Coville, co-authors of California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, will discuss native bees. They and will be joined by Kate Frey, award-winning gardener and author of “The Bee-Friendly Garden" who will provide a guided tour of her gardens and explain what plants attract pollinators. Her gardens are renowned for their floristic diversity, color and the habitats they provide for wildlife.
Participants will meet from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Kate Frey Gardens and from 11:30 to 2 p.m. at the UC Hopland and Research Center, 4070 University Road, Hopland, from 11:30 to 2 p.m. A locally sourced, honey-themed lunch, catered by Beth Keiffer, will be served at noon.
Hannah Bird, community educator at the Hopland Research and Extension Center, says attendees will "learn about some of the 1600 native bee species found in California--from the leafcutting bee to the cuckoo bee, the sweat bee to the mining bee!" They will learn how to identify them and how to accommodate their needs.
Frankie will share the research done by UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab and Rollin Coville will display and discuss his photographs of native bees and how he captured the images.
Advance registration is required by Sept. 18. The cost is $40, which includes lunch. Click here to register. Maps and directions will be provided to registrants.
“I'd love to attract honey bees, bumble bees and other pollinators, but what can I do?" you ask. "Where do I start?"
So we asked world-class garden designer Kate Frey of Hopland, a two-time gold medal winner at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show in London, co-founder of the American Garden School, and co-author of The Bee-Friendly Garden (with Professor Gretchen LeBuhn of San Francisco State University) for her advice.
Few people are as passionate about pollinators and pollinator gardens as Kate Frey.
We heard her speak at the Native Bees Workshop last September at the Hopland Research and Extension Center, Mendocino County, and we tagged along on her guided tour of her one-acre spectacular garden at her Hopland home, where she and husband Ben and assorted pets reside. We also heard her speak on "Gardening for Bees, Beauty and Diversity" May 14 at Annie's Annuals and Perennials, Richmond.
Kate is highly sought as a speaker, whether it be at sustainable landscape programs, gardening seminars, or at UC workshops. Among her affiliates: University of California entomologists Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor at UC Davis, and Professor Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley. (Read what Frankie has to say about native bees.)
So, what to do first? Kate offers these tips:
- Create healthy gardens that require no pesticides by using the right plant, right place approach, add quality compost to all plants and irrigate adequately.
- Choose appropriate plants for your water, soils, exposure, climate, and if annuals, season!
- Think in terms of abundance, not minimalism. Plant at least a 3-x-3 foot area of each plant, or repeat the same plant throughout your garden. Each honey bee colony needs an estimated one-acre of flowers to support it.
- Goal: 12 months of bloom. Plants can be annuals, perennials, shrubs or trees.
- Make sure plants do offer floral resources, as many landscape plants don't.
- Have patches or repeated plants of the same flower. Honey bees practice floral constancy.
- Include water for honey bees
- Sunny spaces are the best.
- Provide bee-block nests and mulch-free nest sites for native bees.
All great advice! Indeed, we should think of pollinators as not mere "visitors," but permanent residents. Plant what they like and they will come. To ensure that they will stay stay, leave soil bare for ground-nesting bees, such as bumble bees. And don't forget those bee-block nests, or bee condos, for leafcutter bees and blue orchard bees.
- Asclepias milkweeds, all
- Asters, Aster x frikartii 'Monch' A. ericoides ‘Monte Casino', A. laterifolius Lady in Black'
- Agastache, ‘Black Adder' ‘'Purple Haze' Rosy Giant' ‘Tutti Frutti' and many more
- Arbutus unedo, Strawberry tree
- Arctostaphylos, most Manzanita
- Calamentha nepetoides, Calamentha
- Ceanothus, all California lilac
- Epilobium, California fuchsia. There are many good cultivars
- Eriogonum fasciculatum, California buckwheat
- Gaillardia, Blanket flower
- Helianthus bolanderi, native shrubby sunflower
- Monardella villosa, Coyote mint
- Nepeta faassenii, all nepetas, Catmint
- Origanum, flowering oregano, all. Origanum 'Santa Cruz' and 'Bristol Cross' are good.
"Bee gardens make people happy," Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn write in their book. "Whether you enjoy a brilliant chorus of saturated color, a tranquil sanctuary from the busy world, or a hardworking edible garden, there is a glorious, flower-filled bee garden waiting for you."
Yes, we all need a happy place. And so, too, do the pollinators.
Have you checked to see what's foraging on your early spring blooms?
Our cherry laurels (Prunus laurocerasus) are blooming and the Andrena (mining) bees are zooming. These fast-moving bees are solitary ground-nesting bees that are early spring bees, according to native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. The males emerge first.
"Females emerge several days later and, with only a few short weeks to live, waste no time with polite introductions," write and Thorp (who received his doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley) and UC Berkeley professor Gordon Frankie in California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists. The book is also co-authored by UC Berkeley affiliates: entomologist/photographer Rollin E. Coville and botany specialist Barbara Ertter.
"Mating is first on their agenda, followed by a quick meal of pollen to build up their ovaries," Thorp and Frankie point out. "They then dig or forage for materials to construct their nests, and for food for their offspring. At the end of the short flight season, the adults die and the new generation's life cycle continues inside the nest."
Thorp identified the bees below as two females: Andrena candida and A. nigrocaerulea. He and several colleagues teach The Bee Course, "an annual workshop for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees." It's held at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz., and this year's dates are Aug. 21-Aug. 31.
"Most North American Andrena species are black, dull metallic blue, or green and moderately hairy, with bands of pale hair on their abdomens," according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. "Females have large, velvety facial depressions (foveae) that look like eyebrows and large pollen-collecting hairs (scopae) on the upper part of their hind legs, seemingly in their 'armpits.' Despite a variety of striking colorations, Andrenan species are difficult to tell part."
If you have sandy soil and shrubs, that's ideal for them. You'll be the landlord and they'll be your tenants. "They nest in the ground, typically in sandy soil and often near or under shrubs. The nest entrance is usually marked by a small mound (tumulus) of soil."--Xerces Society.
Andrena is the largest genus in the family Andrenidae, with more than 1300 species, and about 261 in California. They occur nearly worldwide (Americas, Eurasia and the Old World tropics). The tiniest of the Andrena are only 7 millimeters long.
You may not see them. They're as tiny as they are fast, and they don't stop for photographs!
Sometimes you get lucky...
Specifically, California bees and blooms.
Even more specifically, undomesticated bees (that is, not honey bees).
Did you know that:
- Of the 4000 undomesticated bee species in the United States, some 1600 species are found in California?
- Seventy percent of bees nest in the ground, and 30 percent in pre-existing cavities?
Like honey bees, native bees are declining due to pesticides, habitat destruction and fragmentation, global climate change, drought and other extreme weather events, and lack of nutrition.
Native pollinator specialist Thorp, a Bohart Museum associate, is a distinguished emeritus professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and also the co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University Press). He retired in 1994 after 30 years of teaching, research and mentoring graduate students but continues his research on pollination biology and ecology, systematics, biodiversity, and conservation of bees, especially bumble bees. Among his special interests: native bees of the vernal pool ecosystem.He maintains his office in the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus.
Native bee expert Frankie is a professor and research entomologist at UC Berkeley. His specialty is behavioral ecology of solitary bees in wildland, agricultural, and urban environments of California and Costa Rica. More information on his projects can be found at www.helpabee.org. See also the Bay Nature interview.
Coville, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley, is a noted insect and spider photographer. Check out the photos on his website. Coville also has a strong interest in the biology and behavior of Hymenoptera and has published papers on Trypoxylon wasps and Centris bees.
Ertter is curator of Western North American Botany at the University and Jepson Herbaria, UC Berkeley. Primary research interests include western floristics (including the East Bay), systematics of several members of the rose family (that is,, Potentilla, Ivesia, Rosa), and the history of western botany.
California Bees and Blooms showcases 22 of the most common genera (and six species of cuckoo bees). You can learn about their distinctive behavior, social structure, flight season, preferred flowers (there are more than 6500 flowering species or angiosperms in California), and enemies, such as praying mantids.
The some 200 photos in the book will help you identify native bees, such as the bumble bee and carpenter bee below. We found these foraging in our backyard pollinator garden.