The Importance of Bees
Let’s talk about pollination. Yes, we know that some fruit trees are self fertile and some need pollinators. “I planted a pollinator for my trees, shouldn’t I have an orchard full of fruit?” It is not that simple. Bees and other pollinators are essential to help move pollen from one flower to the next and they help make our dining tables look full and diverse. Did you know that a single honeybee may visit as many as 5,000 flowers in one day? Honeybees and other pollinators are necessary for global crop production and the greatest contribution of these bees and pollinators is the successful pollination of nearly three quarters of the plants that produce 90% of the world’s food. A third of the world’s food production depends on bees, i.e. every third spoonful of food depends on pollination.1(World Bee Day 2018) In mature orchards, there should be 20-25 bees on apple trees, 10-15 bees on pear trees, and 25-35 bees on cherry trees. These numbers indicate that sufficient pollinators are present for proper pollination.2
So how can we encourage bees to visit our trees and assist with pollination? Here are a few tried and true ways to attract more bees to your orchard or your backyard garden and keep them there:
Add Bee-Friendly Flowers to your orchard. Bees like yellow, blue, purple or white flowers (and so do butterflies which can also help pollinate). Honeybees, mason bees and bumblebees all like a diverse variety of blossoms. Think vegetable blossoms, native plants and herbs. Although your orchard will bloom seasonally, you want to encourage your bees to stay. Try choosing fruit trees with staggered bloom periods to keep them on your property longer.
Provide a water source. Just keep in mind that bees are tiny creatures and can easily drown. If you have a bird bath, add some rocks to make it shallow enough for them to take a rest and sip. Water features like fountains are also great since water depths can vary.
Encourage nesting areas. Different types of bees have different nesting behaviors. For instance, honey bees (which are not native to the US), do not mind man-made nests like bee boxes. Native bees, however, are ground nesters and wood nesters. Ground-nesting bees find holes in the ground. They tend to prefer bare slopes or banks in a sunny location for their nests. You can help make suitable natural habitat for ground-nesting bees by leaving bare areas of soil in your orchard. Wood nesters, on the other hand, need logs, stumps, fence posts or dead trees to make their homes. By leaving a brush pile somewhere in or near your orchard, this can encourage ground nesting bees to nest. If you do not have suitable options, or do not wish to keep brush on your property, then you can make your own nesting box for bumblebees and/or purchase mason bee hives to hang on your property.
Avoid pesticide use. The use of pesticides has increasingly killed off bee populations. If you cannot avoid pesticide use entirely, avoid application during bloom periods. If you use pesticides when the tree is blooming, it will likely poison the bees and cause abnormal behavior, decreased foraging, create queenless hives and weak/unsuccessful production of offspring, and death. Specific pesticides (insecticides) primarily responsible for bee poisoning are:
- Organophosphates (such as acephate, azinphos-methyl, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, dimethoate, malathion, methamidophos, and methyl parathion)
- N-methyl carbamates (such as carbaryl and carbofuran)
- Neonicotinoids (such as clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam)