- Author: Marian I Chmieleski
A few months ago I wrote an article about the importance of planting bee-attracting plants in our gardens to hopefully counteract the alarming effects of Colony Collapse Disorder in the bee population across our country. In my research for that article I learned about neonicotinoids, which are a new type of pesticide suspected of contributing to that disorder. Since then I have read several new pieces, done more research into the topic and learned some worrisome information. Let me share some of that with you.
Firstly, some background: according to Wikipedia, "Neonicotinoids are a class of neuro-active insecticides chemically similar to nicotine. The development of this class of insecticides began with work in the 1980s by Shell and the 1990s by Bayer. The neonicotinoids were developed in large part because they show reduced toxicity compared to previously used organophosphate and carbamate insecticides. Most neonicotinoids show much lower toxicity in mammals than insects, but some breakdown products are toxic. Neonicotinoids are the first new class of insecticides introduced in the last 50 years, and the neonicotinoid imidacloprid is currently the most widely used insecticide in the world. The neonicotinoids include acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiaclopridandthiamethoxam." And Dinotefuran.
The connection between these products and the death of so many bees is becoming more widely suspected. In a July edition of "The Hill", it was reported that H.R. 2692- Saving America's Pollinators Act of 2013 had been introduced into Congress, to stop the use of these pesticides and require the EPA to do more extensive research into their effects. (http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/energy-a-environment/312023) It was sent to committee on July 16th and there it has sat. In a January, 2013 report of the European Food Safety Authority neonicotinoids were identified as a definite risk to honey bees. The EPA reported that beginning in December of 2013 and for 2 years forward the use of these pesticides will be severely restricted in Europe. But not here.
In searching the Internet I found that neonicotinoids are in a large variety of products, which may be purchased in stores around town and on such sites as Amazon.com and ebay. Those products include (but I'm sure are not limited to): sprays for insect control of lawns and turf grasses; pesticidal products (sometimes combined with fertilizers) for vegetables and fruits, (citrus fruit, grapes, cotton, canola, cereals, cherries, cucumbers, melons, onions, peaches, rice, stone fruit, strawberries, sugar beets, tea, tobacco, pears, apples, peppers, plums, potatoes, tomatoes) house plants and ornamentals; insecticides to kill bed bugs, leaf miners, grubs, aphids, white flies and beetles; and pet supplies to kill ticks and fleas. So, yes, they are everywhere.
Just as with any other pesticide, there may be good reason to use them at times, but the less we use the better and we certainly want to know if they are in the products that we are buying. So reading labels and steering clear of the ingredients mentioned above should be a pretty effective means by which to feel confident about our purchases. You would think.
However, it has recently been reported that some of the plants sold in "big box store nurseries" are grown from seeds pre-treated with neonicotinoids. Yikes! I learned this after I had purchased from one of those "big boxes" a beautiful chrysanthemum this summer. Had I killed bees??? I was feeling tricked. So I have since made a few phone calls.
I asked a salesman in the garden department at Lowe's whether the seeds for their plants had been pre-treated with pesticides. The answer was, "yes". He explained that they have many growers from whom they buy, and those plants coming from out-of-state and from SoCal were indeed pre-treated. Those coming from "here", he said, were not. A call to Home Depot got me an "I'm not sure" response. Two of their vendors are Hines and Color Spot. I was not able to contact anyone at Hines, but did call the ColorSpot corporate offices, and was re-routed from Customer Service to Grower information, where the recording asked for my message. We'll see whether or not I get a response. I did, however, note that all the ColorSpot Nurseries are located from Salinas south to Fallbrook and across the southwest to Texas. We must draw our own conclusions.
Suffice it to say, there is reason to be concerned. Friends Of The Earth now has a BeeAction campaign going on. The Sierra Club has Sierra Rise that is expressing the same concern. And, interestingly, Bayer on their crop science website has a whole little section devoted to the importance and care of bees. http://www.bayercropscience.us/our-commitment/bee-health
Bee forewarned and bee careful!
- Author: Susan Croissant
Borage (Borago officinalis), aka starflower, bee bread. Clusters of sky blue, nectar-rich starflowers grace this Mediterranean annual herb almost continuously through Spring, Summer and Fall. Honey bees and bumble bees can't get enough of it. It has distinguishing black anthers, white prickly hairs and bristly stems and leaves. It is often grown as a companion plant to legumes, strawberries, spinach and brassicas. Full sun, any soil, keeps this plant growing 2-3 feet tall. Keep it dry or provide very moderate water. It reliably reseeds itself year after year.
I placed just one plant in my hard-clay soil a couple years ago. Now, single stems emerge in new spots every Spring. So, be sure you don't mind it popping up just about anywhere it pleases. If you have a small hill or bare area, an empty corner, if you like your garden a little more wild or informal, you will love the bees that head directly to the borage; they will then frequent your garden to explore your other goodies.
Since ancient times, borage has been regarded as having a wonderful effect on mind and body. When the yard is alive with sky blue color and pollinators, it certainly lightens the heart and calms the mind. Great-grandmother's pillowcases may have borne the embroidered likeness of borage. Borage oil is said to have an anti-inflammatory, skin-healing effect and is used in skin products to restore moisture and smoothness. The flowers are edible and, when separated from their calyxes, the corollas can be floated in cold drinks like maraschino cherries or used to garnish salads.
The tender young leaves (which lose their flavor when dried) have a cucumber-like taste and aroma and can be used in salads, herb vinegars and pickling. Its leaves are sometimes used as coolants in drinks and were once widely used as an addition to tankards of wine and cider. They’re still commonly included in recipes for claret cup, a drink that consists of iced claret and a little brandy seasoned with sugar, sliced lemon and the herb leaves. It is suspected that the leaves of borage, steeped in wine, were the mysterious Nepenthe elixir that Homer writes about. Roman historian, Pliny, praised Nepenthe for its ability to drive away melancholy and bring pleasant forgetfulness.
At Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg (http://www.gardenbythesea.org/), not only are there spectacular views of the ocean, there are bees are foraging on the Borage that borders the vegetable gardens. At Luther Burbank's Gold Ridge Experiment Farm in Sebastopol (http://www.wschsgrf.org/luther-burbank-gold-ridge-experiment-farm), it's a sea of Borage.
Check out these bee photos by Kathy Keatley Garvey on UC California Garden Web. Wow! She is awesome.
NOTE: The UC Gardeners do not recommend consuming any plant unless you have it identified as edible.
- Author: Betty Homer
On January 26, 2013, Rush Ranch hosted Dr. Robbin Thorp, a native pollinator expert and emeritus professor in the Department of Entomology at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Thorp gave a lecture entitled "Buzzed for Bees," where his presentation focused primarily on the topic of native bees (as opposed to honeybees).
Dr. Thorp explained that bees share a common ancestry with wasps. Some of the differences between bees and wasps include, but are not limited to, how bees use nectar as "flight fuel" and that there are branched hairs on bees not found on wasps. There are apparently 19,500 species of bees around the world, which are more than all the species of reptiles, mammals, and amphibians combined. Of the 4,000 species of bees found in the United States, 1,600 species are located in California, with 75 species found in the Haagan-Daz bee garden on the UC Davis campus alone. Fun fact for trivia enthusiasts--there are no native bumble bees in Australia.
In contrast to honeybees, only 10% of native bees are social. Most native bees are solitary, nest in the ground, and do not store much honey.
Farmers and gardeners are especially interested in the well-being of their bees, as 15 - 40% of all crops and edible plants are pollinated by bees. According to Dr. Thorp, one acre can support two bee hives, and native bees such as the Mason bee, are more efficient at pollinating than the honeybee.
Dr. Thorp discussed how gardeners and farmers can help enhance the native bee population by creating an environment appropriate for them. Such strategies, include, but are not limited to, allowing weeds and cover crops to go to flower, multi-cropping, and growing hedgerows. Since native bees are seeking both pollen and nectar, in order to attract them, one must plant a diversity of flowers in 3' x 3' blocks/sections and create a nesting area for them, which may be as simple as leaving some bare soil and/or creating tubular cavities for nesting.
Summer: Sunflowers and their relatives.
End of Summer/Late Fall: Cosmos, Coyote Bush, and Asters.
Dr. Thorp said that wild bees are not abundant, and springtime is the best time to view them. He suggested checking out Manzanita trees while they are blooming, as they are most likely to attract solitary bees, like the digger bee.
For additional information on native bees, Dr. Thorp suggested the following resources, in no particular order:
Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
UC Berkeley Urban Bee garden
UC Davis - Haagen Daz Honey Bee Haven
UC Davis Arboretum All stars
NAPPC planting guides
National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)
- Author: Sharon L. Rico
It’s such a pleasure spending time in the garden, especially this time of year. Even with our erratic weather, we have color and life everywhere. The garden is abundant with vegetables and flowers. We have been busy the past 2 months harvesting cherries, followed by peaches. A couple of days ago, I pulled the yellow onions, cleaned and trimmed them for storage. The ‘Big Boy’ and ‘Juliet’ tomatoes are providing us with tomato sandwiches and salads. The zucchini is trying it’s best to hide from our searching eyes. The last one was about a foot long (oops). Eating outdoors just about daily is the best summertime treat and a relaxing way to catch up on our daily activities. Listening to the splashing of our water features, watching the bees and hummingbirds-zipping back and forth. What a treat. The dahlias are blooming in several corners of the yard and these blooms have been cut and placed in a vase gracing our kitchen island. The begonias, in pots and hanging baskets are glorious. As busy as we are each day, enjoying the fruits of our labor, is the best feeling. There is no better time than “the good ole summertime” and right now we’re enjoying every minute of it before it’s over.
- 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.