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News Release

Give your farm or garden a leg up for pollinators

NEWS_RELEASE_HEADER-UPDATED

Release No: 2018-06-040

Contact: Mace Vaughan
Phone: 503-273-2442, Email:
mace@xerces.org  

Kathy Pendergrass, Plant Materials Specialist
Phone: 503-414-3266, Email:
Kathy.Pendergrass@or.usda.gov

PORTLAND, Ore., June 7, 2018 —Some scientists estimate that pollinators make possible one out of every three bites we take of our food. While bees are the most important pollinators for crops, butterflies, moths, birds, bats, beetles, wasps and flies all play a vital role in sustaining and advancing agriculture.

National Pollinator Week is June 18 – 24, and it’s a time to get in on the buzz and find out what you can do to protect pollinators.

Illahe Vineyards PollinatorsMore than three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on pollinators to reproduce. In the United States, more than 3,500 species of native bees help increase crop yields and ensure that wildlife have abundant access to fruits and seeds.

Despite their pivotal role, many pollinators are at risk.  While the alarming decrease in bee and bat numbers has recently made headlines, other species have also declined in the face of habitat loss, disease, parasites, and pesticide exposure.

The good news is, you can help.  Habitat restoration starts as close as your backyard.   

There are two important habitat requirements for bees: 1) food and 2) shelter, both of which need to be protected from exposure to insecticides.

Food. Bees eat pollen and nectar. In the process of gathering these resources, they move pollen from one flower to another, and thereby pollinate your crops and gardens. Bees rely on an abundance and variety of flowers and need blooming plants throughout the growing season. Plants that are native to the Northwest are particularly valuable for bees, as well as a variety of wildlife and beneficial insects.

Shelter.  Oregon native bees don’t build the wax or paper shelters we associate with honey bees or wasps, but they do need places to nest. Wood-nesting bees are solitary, often making individual nests in hollow stems or beetle tunnels in standing dead trees. Ground-nesting bees  typically dig nest tunnels underground, especially on warmer south-facing slopes. Bumble bees make use of small cavities, such as abandoned rodent burrows, wherever they can find them.

7 ways to make your garden a haven for native pollinators:

  1. Use pollinator-friendly plants in your landscape. Shrubs and trees such as California lilac, Oregon grape, red-flowering currant, cascara, rosemary, blueberry, cherry, plum and willow provide pollen and/or nectar early in spring when food is scarce.
  2. Choose a mixture of plants for spring, summer, and fall. Different flower colors, shapes, and sizes will attract a variety of pollinators. If you have limited space, you can plant flowers in containers on a patio, balcony, and even window boxes. Try to have something in bloom during each season.
  3. Reduce or eliminate pesticide use in your landscape, and incorporate plants that attract beneficial insects for pest control. If you use pesticides, use them sparingly and responsibly.
  4. Accept some plant damage on plants meant to provide habitat for butterfly and moth larvae.
  5. Provide clean water for pollinators with a shallow dish, bowl, or birdbath with half-submerged stones for perches. This is especially important for managed European honey bees.
  6. Leave dead tree trunks, also called “snags,” in your landscape for tunnel-nesting bees. Plant pithy-stemmed shrubs, such as elderberry and raspberries, and leave some dead stems and canes for bees to move into.
  7. Support land conservation in your community by helping create and maintain community gardens and green spaces to ensure that pollinators have appropriate habitat.

Improving pollinator habitat on farms

When it comes to farming, native bees are valuable crop pollinators. Hundreds of species of native bees (often called pollen bees) help increase crop yields and may serve as important insurance when managed European honey bees are hard to come by.

There are simple, inexpensive ways farmers can increase the number of native bees living on their land.

  1. Know the habitat on your farm. Look for areas on and around your land that can support native bees. Most native bees are solitary or live in small colonies. Mining bees and mason bees are especially important for early spring blooming crops. Bumble, digger, and sweat bees are valuable for late spring and summer blooming crops.   
  2. Protect flowering plants and nest sites. Once you know where bees are living and foraging, do what you can to protect these resources from disturbance and pesticide exposure.
  3. Enhance habitat with flowering plants and additional nest sites. Most bees seek out the sun and prefer to nest in dry places. Nests are created underground, in twigs and under debris, and in dead trees or branches. Seventy percent of bee species build nests in the soil.  You can add flowers, leave some ground untilled, and provide bee blocks (tunnels drilled into wood) or bundles of hollow stems to increase the number of native bees on your farm.
  4. Protection from pesticides. Most insecticides are deadly to bees, and unnecessary herbicide use can remove many of the flowers that they need for food. If you use insecticides, choose ingredients targeted to specific species (for example, Btk for pests such as leaf rollers) and the least harmful formulations (i.e., granules or solutions). Spray on calm, dry evenings, soon after dark when bees are not active. Keep in mind that even when crops are not in bloom, some  pollinators are visiting nearby flowers, where they may be killed by drifting chemicals.
  5. Minimize tillage. Many of our best crop pollinators live underground for most of the year, sometimes at the base of the very plants they pollinate. To protect them, turn over soil only where necessary.
  6. Allow crops to bolt. If possible, allow leafy crops like lettuce to flower. Consider delaying the termination of blooming cover crops like crimson clover or buckwheat, and delay mowing or raise the height at which you mow field borders, orchard understories, or nearby lawns to allow white clover to bloom.  All of these practices give bees additional food sources.
  7. Plant hedgerows or pollinator strips:  If you want to do more to increase the number of native bees pollinating your crops, you can plant hedgerows or windbreaks with a variety of flowering plants and shrubs. See how this Polk County vineyard is maximizing pollinator habitat on the farm: http://arcg.is/1XHSrb/

Learn more about how you can help native pollinators at www.xerces.org/pollinator-conservation and http://bit.ly/NRCS_pollinators.