- Author: Jennifer Baumbach
This summer, the Master Gardeners have taken on the theme of Pollinators for their farmers market booths. They will talk about a host of other gardening topics, but the focus is going to be pollinators, and what you can do in your yard to host, attract, and maintain pollinators locally.
Pollinators are very important to the local crops and pollinating the various fruit, nut and vegetable crops we grow here in Solano County. Without the pollinators, we'd be without the bounty. I'm not just talking about the European honey bee, I'm talking about the host of other insects out there (and birds and bats too!). Solitary insects like the leaf-cutter bee, you know this little bee by the half-circular cuts it makes in your plants. Most people are troubled by this, but seeing this phenomenon in your yard should make you excited about having solitary bees in your garden...pollinating away. Other insects like the huge carpenter bee always get my attention as they lumber by. They are huge bees! I sometimes mistake them for hummingbirds out the corner of my eye.
It is important to get out there and have a look at your garden and see what insects are there. You'd be surprised by the variety and number of insects you can find, and most are beneficial insects. You just have to become knowledgeable about what you're looking at.
The Xerces Society is a great place to start learning more. They have a ton of free materials to get you started. Here is the link to their website http://www.xerces.org/. I recommend looking at their publications and then fact sheets, many are free. The Master Gardeners are utilizing several in their 'bee binders' they take to the farmers markets.
Get out there and learn more about your native bees.
- Author: Marime Burton
After a couple of lackluster years in my vegetable garden I have high hopes for this summer’s effort. For the first time in far too long, bees are working busily in my garden.
The combination of cooler than usual summers the past two years, along with a dwindling bee population has made its mark in my back yard. Tomatoes, zucchini, cantaloupe and beans that grew effortlessly have required hand pollination which has been only marginally successful. Even with that extra effort, the relatively cool temperatures of the past two summers have not spurred the tomatoes into their usual fruiting frenzy.
The bees made themselves known in March when the ceanothus began to bloom. We could hear the frenetic buzzing from inside the house. By the time the ceanothus quieted down, bees were busy in the potato vine and beginning to visit the bright yellow blooms on the tomato plants. I’m hopeful pollination will proceed accordingly
As for the hot summer, it’s more of a double-edged sword. Those cooler summers may not have encouraged vegetables but they sure made the season easier to enjoy. I know we can’t have both, and now while it’s cool, tomatoes have the edge over 100 degree days. You have to be careful what you wish for though, and the outcome probably depends on whether I begin to delight in the vegetables before the heat hits us.
- Author: Kathy Thomas-Rico
I was lucky enough to attend the recent “Pollinator Gardening” workshop hosted by the California Center for Urban Horticulture at UC Davis. Part of CCUH’s Your Sustainable Backyard series, the day devoted to pollinators was fascinating. I learned a lot, which was the point:
- Bees are basically wasps that have changed their diets. Wasps = carnivores. Bees = vegans. Nectar is their flight fuel, and they use plant protein (pollen) to feed their young.
- Boy bees do not sting.
- Not all bees are social, like European honey bees. Many native bees are solitary, nesting in soil or fallen trees. Very few bees make honey.
- There are 20,000 species of bees, on a world scale. This is more diversity than all mammals and birds combined.
- In North America there are 4,000 species of bees.
- In California there are 1,600 species of bees.
- In Yolo County, there are 1,300 species of bees.
- The value of pollination is $220 billion a year in the U.S. European honey bees’ pollination value is $14.6 billion a year. Wild bees? $13 billion a year.
So, I got it! Wild bees are quite helpful pollinators after all. But they are under threat from habitat loss, the intensification of agriculture, new and persistent diseases, and pesticides. It was made plain during the workshop that we, as urban gardeners, should to do our part to provide bee-friendly areas in our yards. How do we do that?
We were told that bees need habitat, not just flowers. They need bare soil, so don’t use too much mulch. They also need sun, plenty of water, rocks and a diverse selection of pollinator plants (native plants work best). You can even make your own bee houses out of reed cane bundles. If you build it, they just may come. (To see a bee-friendly garden, head to UC Davis’ Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven.)
- Author: Erin Mahaney
One of my favorite volunteers in my yard is the aptly named Tower of Jewels, Echium wildpretii. I first saw one of these beautiful rose-colored towers while living in San Francisco and was smitten. When I moved to Solano County, I planted one in my front yard and have enjoyed the volunteers ever since.
Tower of Jewels is a biennial species of Echium that forms a silvery-gray, narrow-leaved rosette approximately 1-2 feet wide in the first year. The second year, the plant forms a single spike that can range from 5 to 8 feet tall (in my experience, the height seems to depend somewhat on whether the plant is watered). At full bloom, the spike is covered with hundreds of small rosy pink to almost red blossoms. It’s spectacular! Plus, bees love it.
After blooming, the plant sets seed and can self-sow year after year. Each year or two, I find a volunteer in my yard that, if left undisturbed, will eventually send up a beautiful flower spike. The plant is drought tolerant and I never both to water any volunteers. The seeds don’t seem to spread far and any unwanted seedlings are easily hoed up. (However, I am keeping an eye on the California Invasive Plant Council’s inventory at www.cal-ipc.org to make sure that this species isn’t becoming an invasive problem.)
It is a delightful surprise to find a small silvery rosette in my yard, knowing that the following spring I’ll have a Tower of Jewels to enjoy.
- Author: Jennifer Baumbach
I don’t know about you, but when I am out in the garden, I am often amazed at the wonderful happenings there. I can be watering plants and a brown praying mantid will pop out of the shrub or a hummingbird will come close to inspect what I am up to.
Its funny how you might forget all the interesting things that happen in your garden over the year, so again, I was surprised at the return of the longhorn bees. I have noted them in my yard for about three seasons now. The first time I noticed them, I was taken aback. Here were a cluster of bees on my long- spent salvia flower stalks. All of them lined up, upside-down, mind you, on the stalk. It was so weird, that I took pictures and immediately sent them off to UC Davis and Dr. Eric Mussen. He is the man when it comes to bee stuff. I was told they are longhorn male bees that come to the yard with the purpose of mating and they rest on flowers and the like at dusk. I have also seen the bees pollinating flowers along the way.
This year, once I rediscovered them in my yard, I kept a close eye on the bees. They found my Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia spp.). There they were, just dangling like little jewels from underneath the petals. It was like a gathering under a circus tent sans the tigers, and high-flying trapeze act. It was interesting to note, they find their way back to the same plant nightly. As the flower started to fade, they still came back until the flower was all but gone.
The bees were in two locations of my yard this year, but now I don’t see them anymore. I’m assuming they’re gone for the season. I look forward to their return next year-that is if I can remember to look!