When you think of the word “bee,” what springs to mind? If you said “sting,” “yellow and black” or “honey,” you are certainly not alone with your word associations, but you are 90 percent incorrect. Why? Because what most people associate with bees, only applies to social bees, such as honey and bumble bees. And those types of bees make up meerly 10 percent of the world’s bee population.
The other 90 percent of the world’s bees, an estimated 20,000 species, are solitary bees. This means that they live and work alone; they do not divide the labor like social bees. The female solitary bees are essentially “single moms” that find the housing, lay the eggs and provide for their young. The males live a short two weeks as adults and aren’t around to help. As for the “busy as a bee” saying, let’s give credit where credit is due: solitary female bees are the busiest and we have over 400 species of these unsung heroes in Minnesota.
The fact that solitary bees don’t have a worker bee on special assignment to defend the nest makes these bees very gentle, virtually stingless. Even if a person were to get stung, the sting is more like a mosquito bite and there are no known allergic reactions to these stings.
Solitary bees are also not just yellow and black. In fact, they exist in a rainbow of colors and sizes ranging from less than one-sixteenth of an inch to over an inch and a half.
Solitary bees do not make honey. But what they lack in honey-making skills, they make up for in pollination. In fact, they pollinate 60-150 times better than honey bees. A person might consider these bees to be “Rodney Dangerfields of the bee world;” even though they are incredible pollinators, they just get no respect.
Solitary bees’ anatomy sets them up to be amazing pollinators. They are generally hairy little critters and have a rather unsophisticated way of carrying pollen. They basically belly flop onto blossoms and cover their abdomens with dry pollen. They are a mess! As they fly to the next flower, pollen scatters everywhere.
Whereas honey bees wet the pollen so it doesn’t fly around, and pack it neatly in the pollen baskets on their legs. Honey bees are much more efficient at collecting pollen for themselves, and that’s exactly why they are less effective as pollinators.
As you probably realize, pollinators are in peril and have been making headlines. Strangely, most of the discussion has been about the famous honey bee which accounts for less than 1 percent of the world’s bee population. Solitary bees’ populations are declining rapidly too, but they are much harder to study because of their illusive nature.
As a society, we are beginning to realize that we need to think about the health of pollinators because our food supply largely relies on their pollination. To me, protecting pollinators is a common-sense form of self-preservation.
According to E.O. Wilson in “The Forgotten Pollinators,” Eighty percent of the species of our food plants worldwide, depend on pollination by animals, almost all of which are insects.
Stay tuned to my upcoming columns where I detail how to protect pollinators and how to raise bees in your own yard — no special equipment required.
A question I wish people asked themselves is: ‘If the only time I go out to my yard is to mow, do I really need this area as lawn?’
Americans love their lawns. And, there’s no doubt about it, lawns make a fantastic place to picnic and recreate. A tidy lawn represents social status, obligation to neighbors, and even patriotism. A weedy lawn, on the other hand, is a symbol of laziness, a social faux pas, and sometimes even considered rude.
But, let’s reconsider lawns for a minute. We water and fertilize lawns so they will grow only to complain about having to mow our lawns. And what do we do with the cut grass? Bale it and sell it? Eat it? No. At best, clippings are left on the lawn so they can act as a fertilizer. At worst, the clippings are bagged and thrown away, not even allowing those nutrients to be composted or go back into the soil.
The busses and free shuttles still provide amazing service to the transit hub and the gate on Snelling. Or, if fair-goers are bent on American individualism, new Uber users can get up to $20 off their first ride by entering the code MNSTATEFAIR16 when signing up at t.uber.com/MNStateFair16. Uber has two designated drop-off and pick-up points: northeast end of the fairgrounds near Snelling & Hoyt (Gate 2 at 1806 Hoyt Ave.) and outside the northwest end of the fairgrounds (University of Minnesota St. Paul Campus CECC turnaround at 1890 Buford Ave.) To get home, use the Uber app to request a ride and follow the phone instructions to locate a driver.
First Stop, Eco-Experience (Open daily 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.)
Located at Cosgrove St. and Randall Ave.
For people who love nature—and want to protect it, visiting the Eco-Experience building is a must. A partnership between the State Fair, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and more than 150 organizations and businesses across the state, the Eco-Experience has it all. There are engaging exhibits around each turn and the “Sustainability Stage” features hourly demos/shows on reduce-reuse-recycle how-tos, healthy cooking, innovations in green technology, leisurely landscaping using native plants, transportation and more. View the schedule at www.pca.state.mn.us/ecoexperience/shows-and-demos.
Before entering the building, be sure to join the West Metro Water Alliance’s campaign Pledge to Plant—for Pollinators and Clean Water near the enormous windmill blade sticking out of the ground at the building entrance. There is even a native plant scavenger hunt near the pledge station to familiarize fair-goers with suitable native plants that offer benefits beyond just looking beautiful.
Inside, a 15-foot Paul Bunyan donning a new outfit and calls attention to a giant-sized waste problem: Minnesotans throw away nearly 12 grocery carts of clothing and textiles every MINUTE. Another symbol of Minnesota—hockey. Check out the Watershed Partners’ storm drain goalie exhibit to find out how to be a local legend in protecting water.
West Metro Water Alliance, Blue Thumb—Planting for Clean Water® along with scores of other partners are launching the Pledge to Plant for Pollinators and Clean Water Project (bluethumb.org/pledge). Adding native (wildflower) plantings, raingardens, and shoreline plantings to landscapes increases pollinator corridors/habitat and protects water by capturing and filtering runoff. The project’s goal is to get landowners to plant 10,000 native plantings (of any size) to protect pollinators and our 10,000 lakes by 2020.
Local Author Performs Children’s Book as a Puppet Show—Fun for All Ages!
Barnes & Noble—HarMar in Roseville, Minnesota—Local author, Dawn Pape will share her love of nature and message about protecting our pollinators as she performs her new book, Mason Meets a Mason Bee as a puppet show on Saturday, September 19, 2015 at 11:00 A.M. at the HarMar Barnes & Nobel Booksellers located at 2100 N. Snelling Av, Roseville, MN 55113. She will also be reading her Thank You, Bugs! book with a similar message that celebrates pollinators.
Barnes & Noble Roseville has extended an unprecedented invitation to author Dawn Pape to return for another storytime due to the overwhelming response to her June 2015 appearance and books Thank You, Bugs! and Mason Meets A Mason Bee. Dawn’s books and puppet show perfectly complement the Barnes & Noble National storybook of the month Bug in a Vacuum. “This time we need to order more books! We ran out last time,” commented Barnes & Noble Community Business Development Manager, Janet Waller.
Mason Meets a Mason Bee is about a boy who is afraid of bees until his life is transformed by an educational encounter with a talking mason bee—yes, a bee sharing his own name! Mason conquers his fear of bees and feels like a superhero on a mission to save bees. This rhyming picture storybook performed, as a puppet show, sends young audiences into fits of laughter as it teaches weighty topics in a light and fun way. Children and adults will likely come away with new knowledge about habitat, pesticide use, native bees, and native plants.
Ms. Pape got the idea to write “Mason Meets a Mason Bee” several years ago when Pape found ground-nesting bees under her deck where her then toddler, Mason, was playing. As a parent, her first reaction was to protect her son and eradicate the bees. But she soon learned that these native bees were virtually stingless and had a short lifecycle. Instead of getting rid of the bees, she just barricaded the area off for a few weeks. Although she determined the bees nesting under her deck most likely were not mason bees, she learned that there were over 400 species of native bees in Minnesota with important stories to be told. And, when she learned there was a fascinating and gentle native bee sharing her son’s name, she knew she had a story to share. She also added that not just the honey bee numbers are plummeting, but all bees—and they need our help. Pape said, “Since bees help make the food we eat everyday, it’s really in our own best interest to pay a little attention to them,” added Pape.
It took almost three years for the idea for the book to come to life, but the timing is perfect. There is a lot of buzz about mason bees also called “orchard bees” because of their tremendous pollinating abilities. Both of Pape’s children’s books retail for $9.99. She also has created a K-5 teacher’s guide for Mason Meets a Mason Bee ($19.99). Pape said she is eager to continue performing her puppet show at more schools, books stores, libraries.
When asked about the photography in the book, Pape said, “I knew I wanted to use my son as the main character for the book and he is so expressive and I love photography, so it was a perfect fit.” In responding to whether she took the pictures of the mason bees, Pape quickly replied, “Oh, no! Mason bees are are extremely fast. I couldn’t dream of catching those photos. My bee photos featured in the book are thanks to local author Heather Holm (Pollinators of Native Plants) and Dave Hunter with Crown Bees, a mason bee seller in Washington.”
Dawn Pape is a self-proclaimed “Lawn Chair Gardener” and specializes in intermingling native plants with vegetables and herbs and embraces the concept of “functional” yards rather than just purely aesthetic yards. She practices what she preaches in her own award-winning gardens. Lawn Chair Gardener, LLC was founded by Dawn Pape who has worked in education and the environmental field for over 20 years and has been a Master Gardener for 16 years. The purpose of the company is to promote eco-friendly multi-purposed gardens through speaking presentations and her books. For more information, contact Dawn at 651-485-5171 or email@example.com or visit www.lawnchairgardener.com.
If only we could bottle my son’s excitement about dandelions and sprinkle the potion on the “old school” yard maintenance crowd who still regards dandelions as weeds. That’s right, dandelions are increasingly being considered an early spring flower critical for the survival of honeybees.
In early spring when there are few flowers available for foraging, perhaps the single most valuable early spring wildflower is the dandelion. If a honeybee hive survives the winter, beekeepers know the bees will be safe from starvation if they can stay alive until dandelions bloom. Dandelion pollen is moderately nutritious and the nectar is abundant. It doesn’t normally produce enough nectar to produce honey above and beyond what the bees will use for themselves, (so a person doesn’t generally see dandelion honey for sale), but it gives the bees a huge boost and adds to the health of the hive.
Helping honeybees is in our own best interest, of course, since they our nation’s leading crop pollinator. Imagine the labor costs of hiring workers to pollinate the nation’s crops by hand to our produce fruits, vegetables and nuts. While honeybees are clearly not the only hard working pollinators, their recent deaths from Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) starting in 2006 have captured the world’s attention. To date, CCD has been defined as a series of symptoms, but the cause and the cure remain complex and elusive. But CCD is not the only problem facing honeybees. In 2010, the overwintering losses were at the same unsustainable rates of over 30% but the cause seemed to be less from CCD than from other problems. Habitat loss combined with a class of insecticides, neonicotinoids, seem to be the big cuprits that are making survival for our insect friends a challenge. Neonicotinoids (aka neonics), related to nicotine, attack the insects’ nervous systems. Neonics, are systemic, meaning they permeate the whole plant, including the nectar and pollen and they persist for years unlike other insecticides. The neonics do not kill the insects on contact, but impare the insects’ ability to navigate back to their hives or nests. In addition, insects, like bees, feed on the nectar and bring pollen back to their brood slowly weakening the whole colony with these neuro-toxins making them more susceptible to disease.
A very simple way to help honeybees is to refrain from killing or removing the dandelions in lawns. Perhaps all a person needs to do is view the cheery little yellow flower as a desired flower rather than a weed. I haven’t given up on my lawn, I swear. (Although I keep putting in more and more functional gardens so I have less and less lawn.) But I think bees have enough strikes against them these days. If I can help their plight by doing nothing, it seems like a pretty good deal for both of us. I can feel good about enjoying a little time in my lawn chair and not feeling a sense of guilt for not keeping up with up with the neighbors’ with attentive yard care. I am, after all, a self-proclaimed Lawn Chair Gardener.
Remember: a “weed” is an unwanted plant. If you want all the plants in your yard, you won’t have a single weed!