Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What's New At The Farm? 1/20/10


Yes, this week's topic is bees. I'm not going into specifics about bees as there are many experts and as many articles about them. A quick internet search will give you reading for a couple of days anyways.

We all know how critical to our food supply bees are, but bees are also fun and interesting to watch. So what does one do short of going into bee keeping in order to help the bees and educate ourselves at the same time? The easiest way to enjoy bees is to attract wild bee populations and watch them. We can start by doing a few simple things that will insure we have ample opportunity to attract and keep various wild bees around our gardens:

  • Understand their biology. Find out the different types of bees, their life cycle, what they need and the timeline for when they need it and their housing and feeding requirements. Indentify the distinct differences in various species. Get a good book that clearly identifies bees and wasps and spend some time out there watching at them.

  • Restrict our use of pesticides. Most pesticides have varying degrees of toxicity to bees; this includes organic pesticides. We need to read the directions and warnings on pesticides to determine if they are dangerous to bees before we purchase or use them. Many pest issues can be dealt with by using row covers and not pesticides. Row covers can be used over and over, with some care, and are always there preventing insects from eating our crops. We needn't wait until we see damage to attempt to control the insects with pesticides when using row covers. If pesticides must be used, try to get the lowest toxicity that will work on the target pest and then spray in the evening when bees aren't out.

  • Give bees and pollinators a place to live. Homes can be built for Mason bees, undisturbed areas can be left for Bumblebees, and beneficial gardens can be planted to attract all of them. If you know where ground bees live, make sure to leave them undisturbed, so they can complete their life cycle. Look around at suspect places for bee and pollinator homes; check under eaves, in buildings exposed to the weather, in wormholes in wood and in attics. If you find an active nest, mark it and come back in the coolness of the early morning, before they become active. If you are still and quiet you'll have a great view watching them as they start their daily activities. Distance is important; I would probably stay 3-5 feet away from bumblebees and at least 15 feet away from yellow jackets.

  • Beneficial gardens provide nectar to sustain beneficials insects and bees when other food sources aren't available. These gardens can be located in our gardens or just on the outside of our gardens. At Johnny's we have them outside of our greenhouses. Small beneficial gardens can be made from large plant pots and kept in the garden or in the greenhouse. Sweet Alyssum is often used to attract beneficial insects. We also offer a beneficial insect mixture which we often use here on the farm. Beneficial gardens can be organized plots of land or simply designated areas which grow highly sought after crops.

  • Educate others of the importance of bees and why we shouldn't indiscriminately destroy them. I once saw an employee spraying a nest of ground living bees with wasp killer "because they might sting someone". Their entrance was under a wheelbarrow and we had watched them all summer. Luckily I caught him before he could do too much damage. You would have to really aggravate bumblebees before they would sting you. I've been stung by honeybees and Yellow Jackets but never by a bumblebee. We used to catch them as kids and watch them in a jar, and still we never got stung.

Looking out the window today, I'm sure the bees and wasps are sleeping and dreaming about spring; I wonder if they dream when they sleep. February 2nd is the traditional half way mark of winter; the days are getting longer and temps look good for a week out anyways.

Until next week, Brian

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