All The BUZZ About BEES
By Cheryl Capaldo Traylor
Banner photo by Matt Williams
What you can do to preserve
North Carolina’s critical bee population.
National Pollinator Week, June 18th to 24th, is a perfect time to celebrate the importance of pollinators in our ecosystems and to bring attention to their declining numbers.
There are many kinds of pollinators—birds, bats, butterflies, native bees, and other insects—but honeybees are the primary pollinators in North Carolina. Designated the state insect in 1973, the honeybee (Apis mellifera) plays a vital role in the state’s $76 billion annual agricultural economy as many of our crops depend on the honeybee for pollination.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on pollinators to reproduce. One out of every three bites of food we eat is available because of the work of pollinators. This includes our favorite homegrown garden vegetables and fruits—like apples, collard greens, cucumbers, peaches, strawberries, and sweet potatoes. And don’t forget the honey! All thanks to pollinators.
It all started when…
Keith Wright, district manager for the Raleigh office of Davey Trees, puts it in the simplest terms: “We’re in trouble if we don’t have bees.”
That’s a grim reality that could happen if we aren’t proactive. Jennifer Howard, education coordinator for the Wake County Beekeepers Association, says that, overall, bees are still on the decline.
According to an annual study from the Bee Informed Partnership, average losses last year were 32 percent. Habitat loss, disease, parasites, and environmental toxins have all contributed to the decline of pollinators over the past several years. Varroa mites are the beekeepers’biggest problem, because they carry viruses that spread in the hives. “It’s not all doom and gloom, though,” Howard says. “Bees are surviving, and some beekeepers are having success with increasing their colonies. But there are real challenges, and homeowners can help with that.”
Homeowners can do their part by creating pollinator-friendly landscapes filled with shrubs and flowers, preferably native species. “Offering native plants is one of the surefire ways to attract pollinators to your yard,” Howard says. “Native plants produce pollen or nectar that our local pollinators recognize as a food source.”
Most pollinators feed on specific plant species, and more often than not, choose native plants (which often also require less maintenance and water). Color and shape are also important factors when choosing plants. Bees are attracted to flowers with simple shapes in shades of blue, purple, violet, and white.
Other pollinators also have specific color preferences, and trees play an essential role in pollination. Wright explains that their large size provides an abundance of flowers on one plant. For instance, the tulip poplar, a prolific spring bloomer with large cup-shaped blossoms, is a primary source of nectar in the Triangle area. It is also the source of one of our most popular honey varieties. “It’s important to have green spaces in the community with a variety of trees that are healthy and maintained,” Wright says. While there is an abundance of nectar flow in spring, late summer and fall are difficult times for honeybees because they are preparing for winter at a time when plants aren’t producing as much nectar. Homeowners can help by including more late-blooming plants in their gardens, such as native asters and goldenrods.
While honeybees live in managed colonies, our native bees and other pollinators live out in the landscape, in trees, and underground. If possible, leave an area of your yard undisturbed for nesting sites and wildlife habitat, which will also increase pollinator counts.
Even small urban gardens or container plantings can make a difference when it comes to pollinators. Every little bit helps!
For more information, contact the Wake County Beekeepers Association, and be sure to mark your calendar to attend the annual Wake County Pollinator Festival at Lake Crabtree County Park, June 16th, from 10am to 3pm.