Saturday, June 13, 2015

Pollinator Conservation - BGJftWT I1

Pollinator Conservation - BGJ for the Wild Things - Issue 1

Okay, so I'm finally digging in and getting to work on some things for BGJ for the Wild Things! This is the first of what I hope will be an ongoing series of posts that are relevant to my Wild Things initiative. If you're not familiar with BGJ for the Wild Things, please find the tab at the top of this page to open up and read about it. (If you happen to be on a mobile device, you may need to switch over to web view in order to see the tabs at the top of this blog)

I seriously can't decide which I'm more proud of, the BGJ for the Wild Things initiative, or the birth of my online eco friendly boho style boutique last month. Both of these took months and months of work to bring to life and I am overjoyed and thankful for their success so far. I'm able to work with a passion on both, so honestly the work doesn't feel like work. It makes me feel good and feeds my little hippie soul :)

My interest in pollinators started as curiosity. My curiosity turned to knowledge. Then that knowledge compelled me to make changes in my own life and to seek out even more knowledge and simple ways that everyone can help make changes for the better. I also strongly feel the need to share what I've learned and am still learning. My interest in all this was peaking at the same time as I was working hard on my new headband line and product ideas. These two things in my life became cosmically entangled in a way that I believe was just one of those things meant to be. BGJ for the Wild Things was born along with the launch of my new website and they will continue hand in hand into the future.

BGJ for the Wild Things encompasses more than just pollinator conservation. It also includes advocacy for backyard wildlife habitats, native and eco gardening, and donations from each product purchase from my new online boutique to a local wildlife rehabilitation center here in Oklahoma called WildCare. But, this particular post is dedicated to pollinator conservation!

So, what's all this buzz about bees??? Unless you've been living under a rock you've probably been hearing and reading a lot about bees and other pollinators lately. It's not exactly new news, but the issue is finally gaining the global attention it needs. Maybe you've heard about the dramatic decline in Monarch butterflies as well. Not only are Monarchs and other butterflies whimsical and beautiful, they are essential pollinators as well. What do I mean by essential you may ask... Well, it means we need them. And quite bluntly it means if they all die, we all die too. Einstein himself estimated that after all the bees and butterflies die, the last humans will die off within 4 years. Extinction. You see everything in nature has its place and Mother Nature knew what she was doing when all the plants and creatures evolved together in a woven web of interdependence. Life on earth is a beautiful dance of give and take, but we are in danger of stepping outside that dance. We've been pushing the limits of how much we can alter the game, but sadly the consequences aren't in our favor. And who knew those little bees were so important? (Besides Einstein of course)

My husband and I recently attended an all day pollinator conservation course hosted by the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Poteau, Oklahoma and presented by Anne Stine from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation as well as David Redhage from the Kerr Center and Josh Ketch from the Natural Resources Conservation Servive. It was a 3 hour road trip for us from Oklahoma City all the way to Poteau, but it was totally worth it. I wanted to go so that I could learn even more and to get some good ideas to share with you guys. Honestly, they presented WAY more information than I could ever fit into one blog post. I learned so much and came home with this armload of reading material!

Obviously, I haven't had time to read ALL of this. And, as you can see, some of it is specific to my home state of Oklahoma. Oh, and they gave us a thumb drive full of more literature that I haven't gotten around to looking at yet, but I really wanted to give everyone a summary of the key important points that I learned. I think the most major fact that I learned was that honey bees aren't native to the U.S. They were brought over way back when to make honey here. On the flip side, one of the major points for pollinator conservation is NATIVE pollinators. I don't know about you guys, but when I think bees my mind goes to the honey bee. Obviously, I needed schooling on this issue! Okay, so native bees are different from honey bees. Got it. But... when you think of bees do you think of an intricately built hive and honey? Well, so did I. But again, that's honey bees, not native bees...
"Of the roughly 4,000 species of bees native to North America, more than 90% lead solitary rather than social lives, each female constructing and provisioning her own nest without any help from other members of her species" Attracting Native Pollinators by the Xerces Society
Most of our NATIVE bees are solitary (and they don't make honey). They make little homes in the ground or little holes in trees or limbs. So if you see a bee in your garden, chances are it's a solitary bee with a little home nearby. Solitary bees don't travel far so it's important when thinking about what to plant to include native flowers and shrubs that have varying blooming times to provide nectar from early spring through late fall. Also, you may want to provide a bee habitat in your yard! They can be found online through many sources, maybe even your local nursery or garden supply. Here is a pic of the one we put up. Notice the various sizes of holes. Different species are different sizes so a variety is a good thing to look for. This one also has a butterfly hole up at the top and then home spaces for other insects such as beetles. One possible future project may be me trying to actually make one of these myself from scratch, but we'll see. Hey - it could be a fun family projects to include the kids in :)

insect hotel

(Oh, and fun fact... did you know that beetles are the sole pollinators of magnolias? Beetles and magnolias actually evolved together. Beetles were the first pollinators before the existence of other flying pollinators such as bees and butterflies. What pollinated before that? The wind was the sole pollinator! With the evolution of winged pollinators along with the evolution of flowering trees and plants came a major change to the landscape and biodiversity of the earth we know today!)

During the pollinator conservation course, Anne went over many topics including pollination economics, pollination biology, role and value of beneficial insects, understanding bee life cycles, recognizing bees, the value of natural habitat, reducing harm from pesticides, and protecting nesting sites. It was an in-depth look full of information! And might I say that recognizing bees is a lot trickier than one would think. But, with 4,000 species and many look-a-like flies out there, it makes sense that misidentification is common. Fortunately, being able to accurately identify these guys is not necessary to help them.

Okay, so what's hurting the pollinators - specifically bees? It's a combination of factors. You may have heard the term Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD. This, we learned is a combination of these 3 things.

1. Insecticides. There is one insecticide in particular that has been devastating to pollinators: neonicotinoids - brand name RoundUp. (imidacloprid, acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, nithiazine, thiacloprid, and thiamethoxam). This particular type of insecticide attacks the nervous system of bees and is thought to confuse their internal GPS system. Essentially, they get confused and lost and die. So, what can you do?  Well, undoubtedly the crop industry uses the most insecticides by far, so consider buying organic whenever you have a choice. You can also reduce or eliminate your own use of pesticides in your own yard.

2. Loss of Habitat. This should be fairly self explanatory. We're taking away wild areas full of native pollinators and native plants for agriculture and urbanization. What can we do? Leave wild spaces! Also, make your own yard a little wild! Share your space by not making it so tidy. All the cool kids are doing it :) Let those dandelions grow tall and proud, don't cut your grass so short, plant some native flowers, trees and plants, leave a little brush pile or leaf pile. Got a bare spot under a tree? Bees love to tunnel under the ground so consider leaving it bare.

3. There is also a parasitic virus as well as an invasive varroa mite that are contributing to CCD , but from what I understand, these are issues mainly affecting commercial honey bees. Native bees seem to be more resistant. Interestingly many crop farmers "rent" honey bee hives for literally thousands of dollars to pollinate their crops. One very smart alternative that is being done, and is quite effective and profitable, is instead of relying on honey bees hive rentals, some farmers have successfully lured native bees to their crops with well thought out crop rotations and habitat installation close to or side by side with their crops. Don't get me wrong, this isn't common practice yet but with the success stories so far I'm sure more farmers will try it! They are saving thousands on bee rentals and the native bees are out pollinating the commercial bees! That seems like a no-brainer win-win to me! You can find the case study on page 10 of  Farming for Bees by the Xerces Society.

With what I've learned so far, I can easily give you a short list of what YOU can do as an individual that can help. These are the 3 things I would suggest...

1. Go organic with your yard. No insecticides or herbicides. (bees LOVE those dandelions!) Seriously, do you really care what the neighbors think? I've been a "trendsetter" in my own neighborhood for a few years now. I've actually gotten to the point that when I see lawns devoid of dandelions, clover, chickweed, etc., they look dull and drab no matter how green they are. They just look boring. I've grown to love my polka dots of color on my lawn and I would LOVE to see other people learning to love them too.

2. Plant some (or a lot) of native flowers and flowering plants and trees that bloom at different times of the year. This gives pollinators a source of food year round.

3. Provide some shelter/habitat for bees and butterflies. Whether its a small patch of bare ground for bees to tunnel in, a leaf pile, brush pile, or a constructed bee and butterfly "hotel". Remember, 90% of native bees are solitary and live alone in tiny little spaces! Don't over-landscape or over tidy-up. Leave things a little "wild". Again, Mother Nature knows what she's doing. Take your cues for how to be a good steward from her, not your neighbors. Mother Nature is the most knowledgeable and talented landscaper of all :) She'll teach you if you take the time to watch and listen.

Okay, so this post has gotten a little longer than I intended, but I think I've covered what I intended to. I just want to bring attention to one more tiny little detail before I wrap this up...

Bees are rarely aggressive! It's highly unlikely that they will sting you. If they're foraging for nectar, they probably aren't paying attention to you anyways. If one is buzzing around you then it's likely a male and can't sting you anyways. Females only get pseudo-aggressive if they are protecting their eggs, but won't actually be aggressive because, again, they're solitary-that means they're single moms! They aren't going to pick a fight with you. Bees are way less scary than most people think. If you've been intentionally trying to keep them way, please reconsider letting them share your yard!

Okay, I think that's enough for today. I literally have enough information to write a series of books but I hope I condensed it down to a short readable length for today while giving some solid tips and insight. I'm sure I'll have more posts in the future on some of the cool stuff that I've learned.

I'll wrap this up with a few pics I took while out at the absolutley beautiful Kerr Center as well as a few links that you may want to look into.


Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture
Xerces Society

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