Loving our pollinators in September
We’re celebrating the humble bumble this month with our friends at NZ Gardener.
1.BEES NEED POLLEN, NECTAR AND FRESH WATER
Pollen gives the bees vital proteins and fats, and the sugars in nectar provide the energy source they need to make honey. Without them, bees not only become malnourished, they are also weaker and more vulnerable to pests and diseases.
In the early stages of their life cycle, when they are helpless larvae, they are voracious eaters, consuming each day some 1300 meals of ‘‘bee bread’’, a mix of pollen, honey and bee secretions. Female worker bees live for about six weeks, during which their most exhausting job is visiting plants to gather food for the colony, spreading pollen as they go. Bees will also seek out shallow ponds and puddles.
Put a birdbath or simply a saucer of water on a window ledge. Somewhere to perch while drinking is appreciated too, so put in some stones or clean gravel.
Plant lots of bee-friendly wildflowers, herbs, shrubs and fruit trees. Even flowering vegetables such as winter savory, cucumber and broccoli contain the pollen and nectar that bees need.
2. HONEYBEES, BUMBLEBEES AND NATIVE BEES ARE ALL GOOD POLLINATORS
Whereas honeybees are active throughout winter, keeping their hive warm and safe, the bumblebee hibernates.
The last bumblebee brood of the summer colony contains a number of queens. Each of these new-generation queens mates, before hibernating underground over winter. In spring she emerges and begins looking for a new site to start a new colony. The bumblebee nest is developed by a single queen, who lays her eggs and forages for food to store for her young. Once hatched, the larvae feed on the stored food. After a period the larvae stop feeding and pupate; about two weeks later, the adult worker emerges. Eventually, these adults take over the foraging duties from the queen.
A honeybee hive, on the other hand, can survive many years. During winter the bees typically stay in their hives. Honey stored in the hive during summer and autumn feeds the bees during the winter months.
New Zealand has a number of native bee species. Most lead solitary lives and don’t produce honey, but they are good little pollinators and can often be found on native Asteraceae (such as olearia and senecio), Myrtaceae (rata and manuka), and Fabaceae (kowhai and clianthus), among other plants. Most of our native bees make their nests in holes in tree trunks, soil or sand, with only one family in each nest. Each female lays three to 10 eggs before dying. Any females from those eggs go on to build their own nests. Our native bees overwinter either as adults or prepupae.
When honeybees and bumblebees emerge from their nests or hives as the weather becomes warmer, it is important they find a source of nectar and pollen immediately. Without it, their populations will decrease and crops will suffer.
Acknowledge that even bees which don’t give us honey (and many other insects otherwise considered pests) are important pollinators.
3. BEES AREN’T ALONE IN PROVIDING THE CRUCIAL TRANSFER OF POLLEN BETWEEN PLANTS
Other pollinators include...
• Wind: Pollen can be blown through the air for fairly long distances but it’s down to luck whether it reaches another plant. Wind-pollinated flowers usually have little scent and no nectar, and are on tall stalks that are easily shaken. Native examples include rimu, toetoe and kauri.
• Flies, butterflies and moths: Insects like plants that are white, pink or green with lots of nectar and a strong scent. Small, open flowers in clusters make it easier for them to reach the nectar, and mass-planting in groups means they don’t have too far to travel. They like korokio (Corokia cotoneaster), astelia and karaka.
• Birds: Few birds have a sense of smell, so flowers don’t need to be strongly scented. Birds do, however, look for lots of nectar and are attracted to large, brightly coloured blooms. They can fly long distances, so you only need a single specimen in your garden. Try kowhai or harakeke (flax).
Local bees need all the help they can get.