There is much more to those little buzzing creatures than meets the eye and more of them than many realize. Sue Westby, bee specialist and also a member of Chester Garden Club had members and guests complete attention as she discussed how to recognize native species of bees, their role in the environment, and how to keep them content in our own gardens.
There are more than two hundred different species in Nova Scotia which are dependant on plants for their entire livelihood. They are hairy, have two pairs of wings, and elbowed antennae. The main bees discussed were: leafcutter bees, bumblebees, digger bees, mason bees and sweat bees.
Leafcutter bees are solitary bees. They range in size from fly size to honeybee size and nest in holes in wood.
Bumblebees are a large size social bee. Like most native bees, they carry pollen on their legs. Leafcutter bees and mason bees carry pollen on the underside of their abdomens.
Digger bees are a solitary, small to medium sized species that reside in the soil. They are rather specific when choosing plants and can be identified by their unique velvety area between their eyes.
Mason Bees are medium sized bees that don’t sting and are sometimes mistaken for flies. 250 female orchard mason bees can pollinate an acre of apples.
Sweat bees are a small bee, some species are social but most are solitary and live in the soil or soft wood.
Most bees are not picky when choosing which flowers they visit and move from bloom to bloom as the season goes on. Some bees however, are specialists and live exclusively on one plant species.
Reproduction habits vary among species. For example: Bumblebees colonies last all growing season but in the fall, new Queens emerge, mate and find a place to hybernate underground over winter. They are the only ones to survive the winter. When it is warm enough they emerge from their den, find a nest site and begin to gather pollen. They lay a few eggs which develope into workers. Those workers then help feed the young from eggs the Queen continues to lay. These young develop quickly and become more workers for the colony which continues to grow this way until there are just about 100 workers supplying the colony. Towards the end of summer/early fall, males and new Queen develop, emerge and mate with the new, mated Queens overwintering to start the cycle over again.
Leafcutters make brood chambers inside a long tube shaped cavity, fill them with pollen and lay one egg per chamber. Throughout the rest of the year, the young develop in the chambers, until they overwinter as fully formed adults, ready to emerge by chewing their way out the next growing season.
Different bee species emerge at different times during the season. There are early, mid and late bee species from each species that emerge and live 4 to 6 weeks, pollinating flowers in bloom at that time.
Pollination in both natural ecosystems and human managed is critical for food production and human livelihoods, and directly links wild ecosystems with agricultural production systems. The vast majority of flowering plant species only produce seeds if pollinators move pollen from the anthers to the stigmas of their flowers. Without this service, many interconnected species and processes functioning within an ecosystem would collapse.
Current understanding of the pollination process shows that, while interesting specialized relationships exist between plants and their pollinators, healthy pollination services are best ensured by an abundance and diversity of pollinators.
In order to support bees in your garden you need to ensure there are blooms to support them throughout the seasons. There needs to be enough plants and a diversity of flowers within the garden as not all bees can use the same flowers. Also, providing water and nesting sites or commercially or home made homes is helpful.
When planning your garden Sue provided suggestions that encourages us to think like a pollinator:
Go Native-Pollinators are “best” adapted to local, native plants.
Bee friendly-Create pollinator friendly gardens.
Bee aware-observe pollinators and notice which flowers attract.
Bee Bountiful- Plant big patches of each species for better foraging efficiency.
Bee Diverse-Plant a diversity of flowering species. Use single form varieties ( roses, hollyhocks,dahlias)
Bee Showy-Flowers should bloom in your garden throughout the growing season.
Bee homey-Provide hollow twigs, rotten logs with wood boring beetle holes and leave stumps and old rodent burrows and fallen plant material for nesting bees.
Bee a little messy-most of our native bees (70%) nest underground so avoid using weed cloth or heavy mulch.
Bee Sunny-Provide areas with sunny bare soil that’s dry and well drained, preferably with south facing slopes.
Bee Gentle- Most bees will avoid stinging and use that behaviour only in self defence. Males don’t sting.
Bee Patient-It takes time for native plants to grow and for pollinators to find your garden.
And Bee Chemical Free-Pesticides and herbicides kill pollinators.
Let’s keep our native Nova Scotia Bees happy.