23 January 2010

Blast from the (Bloomingwriter Past): Pollinating our futures



My most recent Wordless Wednesday photo of the bumblebee snuggling into a primrose blossom brought a lot of response from readers, and that prompted me to dig into the blog archives for this post I wrote several years ago about pollinators. It's hugely pleasing to me to see so many other writing about, and doing something about, the status and growth of pollinating insects in their communities, but the message does bear repeating. So here, for your (hopefully) reading and viewing pleasure is another peek into the Bloomingwriter archives, with a couple of new photos to add to the fun. I hope you enjoy--even more importantly, I hope that you are prompted to also help out the pollinators by planting species that attract and nurture them, by being as organic a gardener as possible, and by encouraging others. We're all in this together...



Every single day, I learn something new about gardening, about plants and birds and other myriad creatures, by reading through the scores of blogs that are among my favourites. One of the people I hold in highest esteem in the garden-blogging world is Wild Flora, of Wild Gardening. Flora is a passionate promoter of wildlife-friendly gardens and native plants. She is gently passionate, getting her message across about these things without being strident or didactic.

Over the past few months, we’ve talked back and forth about a variety of subjects, including pollinators, particularly bees. Even before the fuss began last year about Colony Collapse Disorder, we were both thinking a lot about native bees. Honeybees are not native to North America, and while they’re incredibly important for pollinating a huge number of food crops (and other plants), native bees and other pollinators also perform these important tasks.


Wild Flora put me on to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, where I happily began learning more—but also learning things that alarmed me, about the decline in native pollinators from a host of reasons. Habitat destruction, excessive use of pesticides, possible disease from introduced bumble bee species…while some research has been done, there’s lots more to learn.

Ours is a very bee-friendly property. I’ve always gleefully welcomed the sight of honeybees from a local beekeeper’s boxes, bouncing from flower to flower, but what I love best are the fat, fuzzy, happy-sounding bumble bees. I’ve been stung exactly once in nine years here, and that’s because I walked on one in the clover—and felt very sad for it. Not being allergic to bees or other hymenopterans (order Hymenoptera includes bees, wasps, sawflies and ants), I don’t work in fear in the garden, and I’m quite inclined to follow bees around with my camera, trying to get good photos of them as they go about their business.


By accident last summer, I took several photos of one of the bees that is in decline—the yellow-banded bumble bee, Bombus terricola. I didn’t know what species it was at the time, I just like bees. Earlier this winter Sarina of Xerces confirmed the identification after Flora and I puzzled over it. I was delighted, but also became more determined to do what I can to promote awareness of the plight of native bees, and do what I can to help them.


I’m not an absolutist in most things. I’m a mostly organic gardener (about 99 44/100 %) and use a mixture of native and hybrid plants. Our property is a Monarch Waystation, we feed the birds, don’t spray chemicals (even organic ones), and I encourage plants that are good for all kinds of pollinators. Like nettles, and goldenrod, thistles and even dandelions. Our ‘lawn’ is full of clover and dandelions, and every time I watch a pollen-laden bee rise from a clover blossom or a dandelion flower, I smile.

So while you’ll see a host of cool hybrids here at Sunflower Hill, you’ll also see other plants that won’t grace the front cover of too many glossy gardening magazines. But that’s okay. I hear our happy bees, and like Yeats in his bee-loud glade, I find peace, ‘dropping slow’ on me with a sound of hope. This is just one garden. But there are many who share these concerns, and do what we can to help.

25 comments:

  1. It seems that bees must have multiple sources of pollen to nourish them during the day and cannot flourish in a monoculture. In other words preserving a diversity of species is critical to bees and (therefore) to human survival.

    Here is an article from this week's BBC, intitled, "Scientists Discover Reason for Bee Decline": http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8467746.stm

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  2. We hardly have any honey bees around here. There are several types of bumbles. I don't think I have seen the yellow banded one though. Great photos. I love the reminder of summer. It is spring-time warm here today. It won't last long though.

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  3. Thank you for this important post, Jodi, and very timely while we dream of how to improve life in our gardens. This past summer's garden seemed rich in bees (and void of butterflies); opposite was true the previous summer. Wonder what this summer will bring (anxious to read the article mentioned in the above post).

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  4. Dear Jodi, At the start of a new year it is timely to remind us all of the fragile nature of the earth and its creatures. We have a saying in Britain that when America sneezes, Europe catches a cold. Our future survival as a race depends upon us all working together in greater harmony.

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  5. You have a great blog! I love to read about your gardening thoughts - and your lovely cats!

    Please accept this well-deserved Sunshine Award - to find out more check out my blog:
    http://blissknits13.blogspot.com/2010/01/double-sunshine-award.html

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  6. I am so happy to read here that you protect our pollinators too. I wrote an article recently about protecting bats, for a California magazine. Yes, some bats are important pollinators for night blooming plants and desert plants.

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  7. Wonderful vintage post! We love our bees here and spray no chemicals, even organic ones, in an effort to sustain the entire ecosystem in this area. When I contemplate the pollinators that keep this whole game running, despite being under attack by our civilization for decades, I'm in awe of their perseverance.

    That rare yellow-banded bumble bee is gorgeous. Bumble bees are my favorites, too. :)

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  8. I do my best here too Jodi. I see fewer and fewer honey bees but usually a number of bumblebees. Last year however wasn't so good. I hope it's not a trend. I had a colony of bumbles build under my front step a few years ago. Unfortunately, they picked the year I had to have some work done on the exterior of my house and when I returned home from errands that first day, the workers had stomped them all. There were dead bumblebees everywhere. I was sickened. Even tho it wasn't an ideal location for the hive, I was going to let them be....
    I think we need to spread the word.

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  9. Beautiful post - we garden for ourselves of course, but it's so much more enjoyable when we also garden for the bees, butterflies and birds!

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  10. Hi Jodi.. definitely synchronicity here! .. I was going to also mention the bee loud glade.. there was a very interesting item on the radio about the poem..much loved by all of us .. but poor old Yeats became sick to death of it! and dreaded having to read it over and over again.. but I still love it!

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  11. AMEN! Bees totally rock. "Hey farmer, farmer put away the DDT now...Give me spots on my apples But LEAVE me the birds and the bees, Please!" (Big Yellow Taxi; Joni Mitchell)

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  12. Wonderful posting Jodi. I saw so few honeybees last summer that it was scaring me. Mostly what bees were on my flowers last summer was the small bumblebees. When I was small there use to be some huge bumblebees but I see them no more. It is so important to garden with the pollinators in mind.

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  13. Thank you for repeating this post Jodi. I agree with Joey that it's very timely as we're planning our gardens over the winter.

    Thanks to Anonymous for the link to the BBC article!

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  14. I remember reading this article when you first posted it, Jody. We always seem to have plenty of bees around here. This past summer we discovered a honeybee hive in the back wall of our barn. They'll be moved to another location by a beekeeper come spring because they were rather possessive of their space when we were painting the barn last summer. Had to leave that area unpainted.
    Love those sunny bee/flower photos :)

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  15. The yellow banded is really pretty! And I like the thoughtfulness of your post... so many of us do what we can, and I can't help but think that we have a cumulative strength in numbers. (I hope, anyway.)

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  16. I try to plant lots of pollinator attracting flowers and we are pesticide free too here. We had so many bumblebees and honeybees this past summer I was surprised. I love finding them sleeping on a flower in the morning.
    My only bee sting happened the same way yours did, I stepped on the poor thing while it was on clover.
    I love your sunny bee pictures today!

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  17. Jodi -- great re-post about such a worthy subject. And perfect for winter food for thought, too. I particularly liked your comments about leaving some dandelions and clover for pollinators...THAT's what I've been doing and I didn't even know it, yes, why that's it...I've left those weeds to help keep our pollinators alive! (tee hee hee) Stay warm!

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  18. I just wanted to let you know that this weblog has been nominated to the Gardening category in the 2010 Canadian Weblog Awards: http://www.canadianweblogawards.com/

    Congratulations!

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  19. What a great post, Jodi. Loved this and am excited to go visit your friend's site. Mine must be a bee friendly garden (they're every where.) They go nuts over my sedum in the fall...

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  20. Jodi, one of the benefits of blogging is that I became aware of the plight of the bees through reading blogs. Through no special planning on my part, we have lots of bees in our yard and garden. I've learned, too, that they are my garden friends, and I'm often getting up close and personal trying to photograph them.

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  21. Jodi, a wonderful post, and very informative. Gardening in containers has it's own challenges, and the lack of bees is sad. I have been organic for as long as I have been a gardener, never spraying.

    I have hopes that they will come back now that our condo maintenance gardeners have finally gone organic also.

    Jen

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  22. Jodi, you are so lucky for not being allergic to insect stings, because i am and i tell you it can stay there for weeks, itchy and sore, etc. Our property in the province here is also biodiversity friendly and we are together in that. However, it is small and others around affect ours. I love honey also, in fact use it in my coffee and also have a bottle in the office. I specifically love honey from coffee and coconuts, light yellow in color, dont like the brown or black.

    These photos are wonderful, specifically love that blue buttons. thanks

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  23. A wonderful post Jodi. When i moved into my new house, carved out of the bush I decided I didn't want a lawn and all the work that comes with it, watering and mowing. I planted clover. I whack it down once a year, in the autumn, to about 3 inches high, mainly so I'm not left with a tangled mess after the snow melts. The side affect of all this clover is not just the wild bees that have come but other insects, good ones, as well.

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  24. Hi Jodi~~ I love bees too. Isn't it gratifying to have them visit our flowers? It makes me feel like I'm making a small contribution to nature. I see the yellow branded bee too. I wasn't sure what it was so thank you for the ID. As always, a pleasure to read your posts.

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  25. Jodi - I'm a beekeeper here in Vermont, where our official stance is that we don't have CCD. We also don't have: monoculture, large scale farming, overuse of chemicals, and we're not transporting bee colonies long distances (which is stressful) for pollinating almond groves and other monoculture crops (most apple orchards keep the bees in place.) So, it does seem like a huge combination of things both known and unknown - thanks for talking about it!

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