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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Pollinating Your Garden

The thick and fuzz of it all is -insects do the job better than you.
Recently, I grew cucumbers in a garden with no pollinators.  I was unaware of the lack of pollinators.  I had never run into such a problem.  I did not catch it in time to rectify; several, hundred blossoms died without fruiting.

I hand pollinated while I looked for a quick fix.  I concluded that quick fixes cost more than I could afford.  Hand pollinating only produced 1 fruit per 20 blossoms; this is hardly efficient.

I firmly believe mistakes are opportunities to grow.  It was later discovered that the surrounding neighbors used pesticide and the homeowner was using a weed killer.  This killed the native pollinators.  After a great deal of research, I found I was too late in the season.  Next year, however, I will be armed with knowledge and a small army of pollinators. (Avoid pesticide that kills pollinators by consulting The Xerces Society)

The pollinators that will survive in this area; that I could introduce to a garden are (1):
  • Flies
  • Colony bees
  • Solitary bees
Search for pollinators and suggestions in your area using Pollinator Partnership.

Pollinating Flies

Tachinid and Syrphid flies are a good choice for those who do not want to have upkeep.(2)  Tachinid flies reduce insect pests.  Flies were ruled out because to attract them you want to grow pungent or offensive smelling flowers.(3)  Even then, flies are not attracted to every type of blossom.(4) Also, Tachinid flies will eat flower blossoms.

Colony/Hive Bees

Bumble bees and honey bees are great choices for those that:
Want honey or wax (bumble bees are far less productive on both counts)
Have space
Do not have city regulations against having hives
Have no allergies
Cost is not a large factor

I thought that neighbors would be a concern as well; however, several forums stated unless you tell neighbors they tend not to notice.  (Bees swarm around or near a hive, but thin from there.)  Honey bees would have been my first choice; however, bumble bees and honey bees are territorial and aggressive.(5)  Daniel is allergic to bees and my dog regularly tries eating bees.  Colony bees are more susceptible to disease and invasion.(6) Eventually, when I have an orchard I will have honey bees, a bee suit, and an emergency EpiPen.  For now honey bees are too high of a cost and risk.

Solitary/Mason Bees

Efficient Pollinators
Squash bees can have 135 bees per acre to sufficiently pollinate a crop.(7)  Honey bees need a hive (20,000-80,000 bees)(8) per acre.(9)  Solitary bees collect 60 times that of a colony-worker bee.(10)

There Bite is Weak
Solitary bees are nonaggressive.  Females do have stingers; however, unless you trying to squish them they will not sting.  Their sting is less venomous than a mosquito.(11)

The Solitary Life
Solitary bees are just that, solitary.  Each female solitary bee gathers nectar and produces offspring.(12)  She will collect nectar for herself and as a store for her offspring.  And she’s good at her job.  After belly flopping on as many flowers as she can, she will return to her reed to regurgitate the pollen she has been collecting.  The solitary female bee will fill up a cell with the regurgitated pollen (bee butter) and leave one of her eggs in that cell.(13)  She caps the cell off with a mud or clay wall.  She will continue to make cells until her life cycle is complete.  On average this leaves 5-6 eggs.  They will hatch as larvae, eat the bee butter, pupat, cocoon themselves for the winter, and emerge in the spring or summer.(14)

Solitary . . . Kinda
These little pollinators room and board in their own wooden reed.  However, there are several reeds stacked together to make up what is called a “bee hotel”.  These bee hotels ensure genetic diversity, breeding, and enough pollinators in an area.  A bee motel can be created from wood or paper or actual reeds.  Plastic is a no-no (it doesn’t breath). (15)

What You Need
  • Things you will have to provide for solitary bees
  • A Home
  • Clay or Mud
  • Water
  • Pollen if it's a rough season
There is very little time invested in upkeeping solitary bees.  Sometimes you will want to provide extra reeds or relocate the excess.  It is suggested that you keep the reeds from freezing otherwise leave them bee.

Not all Solitary Bees are Created with Equal Tastebuds . . . or Timing
There are over 4,000 types of native bees according to, to the US Forest Service.  They emerge at different times to feast on the pollen of different types of plants.  Please be aware of this when you order solitary bees.

Buying An Army
After scouring the interwebs I decide on a Crown Bees Starter Kit that has spring, summer, and fall solitary bees.  Solitary bees are adaptable.  So you can feel comfortable ordering from, located in California.  You will receive the bees in reeds.  These will be reeds will contain cocooned adult solitary bees waiting for their season.  Keep the reeds in a cool place during the winter.  Solitary bees have a travel radius of approximately 200 feet.(16)  It is suggested not order less that 20 if you plan on allowing the bees to come back the next year.  This provides enough genetic differences and calculates for loss.(17)

1 "Intermountain Semidesert - Pollinator Partnership." 2011. 25 Sep. 2016 <>
2 "Tachinid Flies - Nature and Environment - MOTHER EARTH NEWS." 2014. 25 Sep. 2016 <>
3 "Beetle Pollination - US Forest Service." 2011. 25 Sep. 2016 <>
4 "Intermountain Semidesert - Pollinator Partnership." 2011. 25 Sep. 2016 <>
5 "Mason Bee Pollination vs Honeybee Pollination - Lawn Care ..." 2013. 25 Sep. 2016 <>
"Episode 503 - Solitary Bees - Growing A Greener World TV." 2014. 25 Sep. 2016 <>
7"The Squash Bees! - USDA ARS Online Magazine." 2016. 25 Sep. 2016 <>
8"Honeybee Colony: Facts About Roles Within Honey Bee Hives - Orkin." 2014. 25 Sep. 2016 <>
9"How many bee hives per acre do I need to pollinate a crop? - eXtension." 2015. 25 Sep. 2016 <>
10"The Solitary Bees - YouTube." 2016. 25 Sep. 2016 <>
11 "Episode 503 - Solitary Bees - Growing A Greener World TV." 2014. 25 Sep. 2016 <>
12 "Episode 503 - Solitary Bees - Growing A Greener World TV." 2014. 25 Sep. 2016 <>
13 "The Solitary Bees - YouTube." 2016. 25 Sep. 2016 <>
14 "The Solitary Bees - YouTube." 2016. 25 Sep. 2016 <>
15 "Episode 503 - Solitary Bees - Growing A Greener World TV." 2014. 25 Sep. 2016 <>
16 "Mason Bee Pollination vs Honeybee Pollination - Lawn Care ..." 2013. 25 Sep. 2016 <>
 17  "Episode 503 - Solitary Bees - Growing A Greener World TV." 2014. 25 Sep. 2016 <>