Pollinators, Pollinator Gardening, including diverse bees and others

Started by William Schlegel, 2022-06-25, 08:16:02 AM

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William Schlegel

One of my garden crops is pollinators.

I am a native plant gardener for over 20 years. Professionally I work as a botanist and sometimes albeit rarely get to study pollinators for work. More often I collect seed for wildflowers to replant and support flowers. For native plant gardening I also often grow native north American plants from beyond my local flora. So eastern Montana plants that don't naturally make it to western Montana and plants from the eastern U.S. and California that are very botanically interesting do make it into my native plant gardens at home.

When I was I think a teenager Seeds Blum in Idaho a once awesome garden catalogue had a mix up with their beans. A highly effective native pollinator crossed them one year! So they offered the resulting bee pollinated grex.

Dakota Bumble bean is named for such a cross.

A tomato loving fellow I encountered once on facebook claimed that in his state in the upper Midwest he got a lot of natural crosses due to a specific species of pollen robbing bee that would cut into the anther cone. I would love to have that bee species but have never observed such feeding damage. He claimed it was only in his area.

Some legume specialist bees are good at crossing our normally inbreeding legumes.

Montana is currently doing its first ever bee survey. Maybe as an act of citizen science I should do my own bee survey on my eight acres. I have about four acres of degraded hill prairie of the Palouse prairie type with a mix of native and introduced plants.

Then I have some pollinator plants I grew for the bees. Including some natives that don't naturally occur on the property. Anise Hyssop or Agastache urticifolia is a favorite pollinator plant I plant along with Bee Balm Monarda fistulosa. I also have Agastache foeniculum and need to propagate more of it. I have at least three strains of bee balm all of which I think are Monarda fistulosa or at least hybrids with it. One came from a nursery I was working at, another came from a county distributed pollinator mix, and the third is a local ecotype native strain. I also do have some wild plants on my hill.

Another favorite is milkweed which for me is mostly the local native species showy milkweed or Asclepias speciosa but I also grow or have grown Asclepias incarnata, Asclepias fasciculata, Asclepias cordifolia, and I have tried multiple times to get Asclepias tuberosa started to no avail. I am currently starting a new start of incarnata after it died out some time ago and my fasciculata and cordifolia I have yet to see come back this year though they have been coming back. The big patches are all Asclepias speciosa though.

My wife is growing a cut flower garden with a diverse mix of mostly non-native flowers, but she is including some native flowers.

My crops thus year include buckwheat, turnips, radish, corn, beans, peas, favas, squash, watermelons, and tomatoes amongst them. Diverse crops and pollinators plantings and even weeds provide a garden a nice backdrop to support bee diversity.

I attended a bee identification workshop once through work put on by some researchers who did a large study in California and they strongly supported planting floral diversity in gardens to support bees. In their study it probably helped to have natives or some natives in the mix, but the most important thing to support bee diversity is to plant diverse floral resources- so lots of species of plants, particularly flowering plants.

I also briefly got to study butterflies intensely for a former job some 10+ years ago. Butterflies also need a diversity of plants including specific larval host plants and specific floral food plants. Often varying by species. I am a bit against planting non-native butterfly bush to attract them- at least not without also taking the time to research and plant native larval food plants and native nectar sources as well.

Oh also there are certain plants which attract humming birds and no garden is complete without them! Bee balm, golden currant Ribes aureum, Ipomopsis aggregata or scarlet gilia are a few of my favorite natives in this region. Basically look for red and yellow tubular flowers and particularly native ones.

A favorite native tree of mine is Blue Elderberry which used to go by Sambucus caerulea and Sambucus mexicana but is now considered to be Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea and grows all along the west coast states. It attracts a significant pollinator complex, has a long period of bloom, produces fruit which makes delicious jelly, and also the fruit attracts birds. I also have a Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis from Eastern North America. Some cultivars of the European elderberry Sambucus nigra ssp. nigra are sold at garden centers and any of these three-tree subspecies will work for pollinators throughout the circumboreal range of the species. Though your local native subspecies may be the best recognized- my Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis doesn't attract the birds as readily as the Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea a bit of an advantage. It would be interesting to compare the pollinator complex of the two trees. I have a third tree which the first year it set fruit had black fruit and I thought it canadensis and then in subsequent years developed fruit with a yeast bloom like caerulea. It is a seedling and could be a hybrid between the subspecies or it might just be caerulea and it took the yeast a year to colonize, uncertain!

So I am curious about my pollinators and also about my natural out crossing rates. Organic gardens with lots of diverse floral resources can support a lot of pollinator insects. Pollinators can include bees, wasps, flies, mosquitoes, butterflies, moths, and some odd balls like mammalian bats. Most common might be the diverse species of bees that visit flowers.
Western Montana garden, glacial lake Missoula sediment lacustrian parent material and shallow 7" silty clay loam mollisoil topsoil sometimes with added sand in places. Zone 6A with 100 to 130 frost free days


 cow peas is polinisated by the wasps for me but they don't touch at the others beans.
Our dominants polinisators are bumble bee, apis melifera and xylocopa (she look like at cantabtita) but i'm not sure., Sometimes a few black wasps.


Quote from: William S. on 2022-06-25, 08:16:02 AM
Pollinators can include bees, wasps, flies, mosquitoes, butterflies, moths,

I see multiple varieties of all of those in my garden and to that list I would add ants, which seem to like things like carrots, onions and sweet potatoes. Honeybees do occasionally visit the garden but not nearly as often as those others mentioned. At least two types of bumblebees are principally responsible for the higher that often indicated crossing rate in my beans. Various little bees, many beautifully colored will force their way into a tomato flower if the anther cone has any gaps at all at its base. Some of these look as if they are made of shiny green, blue or orange metal. They range in size from 1/2 an inch or so to almost too small to see, I have no clue how many different kinds there are. I saw a new one just today, about 3/4 the size of a paper wasp and more like a wasp than a bee. It had orange and black rings around the abdomen and iridescent purple wings. It wasn't pollinating anything at the time but kept landing on the ground and crawling under things, I suspect that some poor little spider was about to meet an awful end.

By Indiana standards I live in a very wild area. Most of my land is steep wooded hillsides, the neighboring land is similar with some wider ridgetops being in various stages of returning to nature and some that are mowed occasionally for hay. There is no commercial agriculture within miles in any direction. No herbicides, no fertilizers, no insecticides in all that area. I guess that along with the massive number of flowers in our yard, many wild collected and propagated, such as columbine, bluebells, dames rocket, asters, butterfly weed to name a few is why I have such a nice diversity of pollinators.  I even have things most people call weeds, like goldenrod and iron weed. Pollinators love both of those later in the season.

I also provide them homes as possible. Any old chunk of wood with lots of various diameter holes drilled in it will attract many kinds of those little bees. I have never been successful however in attracting bumblebees to a pre-selected nest area. I always stumble on them by accident in a stack of old flowerpots or in an old boot in the shed, when found I post a sign "Do NOT Disturb" and everyone has to accept that whatever item or tool in the immediate vicinity is out of service until winter.

Steph S

My garden is a sanctuary for bees and other insects.   The main garden is a perennial herb permaculture which I started 30 years ago and has been through a couple of waves of succession where different plants dominated, but getting more attention to that in recent years to keep it diverse and especially, to introduce some earlier flowering herbs and flowers, because the majority of those I started with are peaking in august and september.  That is good for bumblebees though, because they really feed up for the winter here.  I just don't have as many things for them to feed on early.
The herb garden has turned out to be totally self sustaining, that is, I don't need to water or feed anything, most of them are fine even without weeding and they are building the soil as years go by - it was a gravel pit when I started.  I spent about a decade building and pouring inputs into that, and then it went feral for another decade before I got back into taking a hand.  Birds and animals come and take whatever medicine they need.  Vegetable beds and tomato shelters are additions that continued to grow over the last decade.  I know the bees are not thrilled that tomatoes have no nectar, but they certainly show up for the pollen.  I usually grow some brassica greens in the winter and they are bolting by the time spring comes around, so I put them out and let the bees enjoy them.  And usually get some seeds too.  Nothing sweeter than a brassica in bloom. ;)  I do think about the space I use for crops that give nothing to bees or to the wildlife.  Garlic is easy to grow because animals don't care for it.  Now I'm experimenting with grains as a rotation and that is also a no starter for bees.  So I'm trying combinations of peas and grains, also trying favas for the first time this year, which would be great for the pollinators if I can make it work as a crop.

I was an arts graduate and always worked in the arts, then I went back to study biology as a mature student, mainly interested in plant biochem and medicinal plant secondary substances.  But one of the highlights of the general degree for me was the invertebrates course, where they asked us to do a project and study some insect.  I spent hours in the garden for weeks just watching parasitoid wasps, totally blew my mind to experience that window into their world.     I did insect systematics as an elective after that, but I wouldn't even venture to call myself an amateur entomologist, I am pretty ignorant even when it comes to insect identification, although periodically I try to learn for one reason or another.

However I do host them a garden where there are no pesticides ever and they certainly own it, whoever they are.

William you might be interested in the resources at https://www.bumblebeewatch.org/.   If you submit a photo of a bee, they have a very cool software that helps you to key it out to species.   With regards bee nests, the idea that north facing slopes are classic bumblebee overwintering sites has stuck in my mind.  But in spring... yep just like you I end up not able to move or disturb certain areas because they moved in. 
Loose and layered compost piles are said to be ideal habitat for some other types of bees.  Since I'm already doing that, I keep it as a check mark but really don't know anything about their life cycles or when it is good or bad time to break up and disperse that compost pile..  I just go with what makes sense for me as a gardener and hope that it's all good.

Couple pics of my flowering herb garden in august last year, crawling with pollinators and other bugs.  It's a riot...


Bees are crazy about of virginia creeper flowers!
We have each year the impression to have a hive above ours heads.