Master Gardeners are often asked to speak at local garden clubs and other social organizations and a topic that is always of interest is gardening for pollinators, especially bees. It seems lately, gardeners are trying to do their part in helping the bees, and that is a good thing!
There are 4,000 species of native bees in the country. Some are social and some are solitary. There are specialistbees and generalist bees. These bees pollinate approximately 75 percent of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in this country and 80 percent of our flowering plants. Most people are familiar with the European honey bee (originally from South and Southeast Asia), but few know that California is home to 1,600 species of native bees, the most diverse bee population in the U.S..
According to the Xerces Society, native bees are North America’s most important group of pollinators. California’s native bees pollinate our crops yet they don’t make a drop of honey for human consumption. They are 200 times more efficient at pollination than honey bees! According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, pollinating an acre of apples requires 60,000-120,000 honey bees; the same area can be pollinated by 250-750 mason bees.
Some of the more common families of bees found in CA are:
APIDAE (Cuckoo, Digger, Carpenter, Bumble, and Honey Bees) The family Apidae is very diverse and is the largest group of bees. It contains a diverse array of digger bees, most of which nest in the soil, carpenter bees which nest in soft wood or pithy stems, and bumble and honey bees which nest in large cavities or hives, are social, and have distinctive pollen baskets
COLLETIDAE (Membrane Bees) The small family Colletidae is known for the membranous, cellophane-like secretions used by females to line burrows they excavate in the soil, or that they construct in tubular cavities.
ANDRENIDAE (Mining Bees) This is a large family of soil nesting bees, hence the common name Mining Bees. These are among the first bees to emerge and visit flowers in spring.
HALICTIDAE (Sweat Bees) Sweat bees have earned their common name from the tendency, especially of the smaller species, to land on ones skin and lap up perspiration for both its moisture and salt content.
MEGACHILIDAE(Leafcutting, Mason, Cotton Bees) The family Megachilidae is a large and diverse group of bees. They are the architects of the bee world. They nest
primarily in pre-formed tubular cavities (tunnels of woodboring beetles, hollow plant stems, and even abandoned snail shells) using a wide variety of materials collected from the environment, including leaf and flower pieces, masticated leaves, mud, resin, plant hairs, and pebbles to construct brood chambers for their young.
You can help California’s hardworking bees by making a few simple changes in your garden. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind as you grow your bee-friendly garden.
Provide Food One of the best ways to initially attract wildlife to your garden is to provide food. In the case of bees it’s with flowers that provide nectar and pollen all year long. Adult bees feed on sugary nectar for energy. The pollen they collect is a protein and vitamin rich source which they will feed to their young.
If you have the space, plant flowers in patches. These provide more resources and allow bees to forage in one spot for a long period of time. As well as having large patch sizes of flowers, diversity is also important. Native bees are more likely to forage on native plants, so the more diversity of plants the better. Bees are attracted to brightly colored flowers in shades of blue or yellow (bees cannot see red) that are open during the day. Try to avoid hybridized plant varieties, as they are often less beneficial for bees
Provide Cover and Places to Raise Young Most native bees are solitary nest makers and between 60-70% of the native CA bee species dig tunnels in soil and create a series of nest cells. If you are a “mulcher” make sure to leave some bare dirt areas because bees will not dig through a thick layer of mulch.
Provide Water Water is also a key resource for wildlife and bees are no exception. Bees need a place to get fresh, clean water. Fill a shallow container of water with pebbles or twigs for the bees to land on while drinking. Make sure to maintain the container full of fresh water to ensure that they know they can return to the same spot every day.
Reduce pesticide use. It is extremely important to avoid using any insecticides, herbicides, or pesticides on your plants – even organic ones contain substances that are harmful to bees. Pesticides do not distinguish between pests and pollinators. If you must use a pesticide, use the least toxic material possible. Before purchasing, read labels carefully, as many pesticides are especially dangerous for bees. Never spray a blooming plant and spray after dusk when bees and other pollinators are less active.
By adding a few easy to do features in your garden you can provide an oasis for local bees. In return, the bees will pollinate your flowers, providing a bountiful harvest of fruits, seeds and vegetables as well as the joy of watching them up close.
For gardening-related questions, call the UC Master Gardener office at 209-953-6112, or use our website: http://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/CONTACT_US/.