Tag Archives: pollinators

In Praise of the Power of Pollinators

August 5, 2018

Gardening is hard work. It is rewarding, but the task is never over. That’s why we should always remember to give thanks to all the help we get at the orchard. Our wonderful volunteers help keep us going. But our hardest workers are some of our smallest. Without our pollinators, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the bounty from our gardens. We rely on plants to power us, and our plants rely on them. They help keep our flowers, fruits, and vegetables strong.

Christine Ranegger came out to the orchard on July 21st to teach us about our six-legged volunteers. Christine is a neighborhood captain with the Puget Sound Beekeepers Association, and her expertise and passion for the bees is clear. I and the other lucky attendees learned a lot.

Sun, Aug 19, 2-4, Work Party
Sat, Sep 1, 10-noon, Work Party
Sun Sep 9, 10-11, Intro to Qi Gong
Sun, Sep 16, 2-4, Work Party

We learned about three different types of bees from our capable instructor. One of the most surprising facts I took away was that bumblebees and honey bees were two entirely different species! The honey bee is the bee most of us think of. Large nests, bee dances, and a painful stinger left in your skin are all hallmarks of the honey bee. Honey bees also have a further range than bumblebees, sometimes traveling two miles away from the hive in search of nectar. While bumblebees create nests and create complex social structures, they don’t have some of the same interesting behaviors and dynamics as honey bees. When a new honey bee queen is born, the old queen peacefully leaves the hive with a set of worker bees. If you ever see a swarm of bees, don’t hesitate to contact your local bee-keeping association or fire department! The bees might find a home with a local beekeeper, instead of in the siding of a home.

We also learned about mason bees. These bees prefer solitude, and typically range only a couple of hundred feet from their home base. They like to nest in blocks with tubular holes in them. The females are usually placed near the back of the hole, while the male cocoons are placed near the front. This strategy allows the males to hatch first and protects the valuable, pollinating female cocoons from hungry woodpeckers!

The weather was perfect, and I left inspired to seek out my apian friends the next time I walked past a lavender bush. It didn’t hurt that I was able to walk away with a jar of Christine’s delicious honey!


Good Bugs Bad Bugs

July 29, 2016

Last month, I attended a class on Beneficial Insects taught by instructors from Xerces Metcalf southern-sawg-farming-for-beneficial-insects-pollinators-predators-and-parasitoids-17-and-18-january-2014-14-638(http://www.xerces.org/) and hosted by King Conservation District .

Conservation biocontrol is the new catch phrase and the focus is on increasing the numbers and diversity of naturally occurring beneficial insects. The idea is that nature does a good job of keeping pest insects in control. Our part is to create habitat for the good bugs.

Beneficial insects need a place to eat, overwinter and reproduce. Keys to beneficial insect habitat include providing plant diversity and undisturbed areas.

milkweed small FECO 2 WP_20160520_016Plant diversity drives insect diversity. Ideally, your plants flower at different times of the year. Native plants support many more native insects than do non-native plants. Like pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, many insect predators and parasitoids feed on flower nectar or pollen during one of more of their life stages. (link for wildflowers of the native northwest – http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/MaritimeNorthwestPlantList_web.pdf)

Undisturbed areas make the best homes for many insects. Desirable sites include grassless patches of earth or mulch, dead plants with hollow stems, rock and debris piles, and bunch grasses in elevated areas.

Uh oh! Not all flowering plants are favorable, depending on your crop. Sweet Alyssum (not native to the northwest) attracts pests such as flea beetles, Harlequin bug, and Bagrada bug. You might not want Alyssum if you are planting a Brassica such as arugula or mustard greens.

Even some native flowering plants are hosts for crop pests:

Hawthorn (Craetagus spp.) and Wild Plum (Prunus spp.) host the maggot fly
Wild Rose (Rosa spp.) hosts leafroller caterpillars
Willow (Salix spp.) and Elderberry (Sambucus spp.) host leafhoppers/sharpshooters
Wild Plum, Elderberry and Wild Raspberry (Rubus spp.) host the Spotted-Wing Drosophila (SWD)

Tue, Aug 2, 6-8:30, Night Out
Sat, Aug 20, 10-11, Intro Qi Gong
Sun, Aug 21, 10-12, Work Party
Sat, Aug 28, 10-11, Intro Qi Gong

Reducing pesticide use is another important step to support beneficial insects. We know not to 24 syrphid fly southern-sawg-farming-for-beneficial-insects-pollinators-predators-and-parasitoids-17-and-18-january-2014-24-638spray horticultural oils when the bees are active during the day. However, these instructors asked us to think beyond bees. Many insects are nocturnal, like our friendly slug eating beetles, so evaluate your pest control practices in consideration of all critters. Even organic-approved pesticides can harm beneficial insects; Pyrethrin and spinosad are broad-spectrum insect killers.

Following the classroom session, we toured a local organic farm to grade their site for beneficial insect friendliness. (Beneficial Insect Habitat assessment form and guide link – http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/HAG_BeneficialInsects_June2015_web.pdf) There were attendees who could identify the plants in a hedgerow a hundred yards away! This habitat assessment included a good lesson in seeing how physically close the flowering plants should be to the crops, based on how far different insects travel in a day.

We left the class with the book, Farming with Native Beneficial Insects, (Xerces Society), which has excellent information including a chapter on how to transition areas full of invasive plants.

Links for good slideshows of these topics:



USDA supported on-demand webinars – http://www.conservationwebinars.net/
Look under Organic Agriculture for titles such as:
Evaluating, Establishing & Maintaining Habitat for Pollinators and Beneficial Insects
Farming for Beneficial Insects: Pollinators, Predators and Parasitoids
Mitigating Soil Disturbance in Organic Systems
Orchard Floor Management in Organic Systems