Pollinators in the Backyard Garden

Guest blogger, Brenda Van Ryswyk, Natural Heritage Ecologist at Conservation Halton, explains why pollinators are “the bee’s knees!”

A pollinator, or in the simplest definition, an insect that carries pollen from one flower to another is also your neatest neighbour. Our native bees make up 70% of our pollinators and they don’t usually travel far from their nesting site. This means all the visiting bees in your garden are most-likely local.

Any flower that produces pollen and nectar will be beneficial to local pollinators and can provide them food. Flowering Kale, a foodie favourite, can become extremely busy with small native bees. Some of the bees seemed more interested in the pollen than the nectar and it was very interesting to watch these little bees land on the flowers and start collecting their pollen. It looked almost like they were just shovelling the pollen onto their ‘pollen baskets.’

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Seen above: a type of Sweat Bee (genus Lasioglossum) which is the largest of all bee genera with over 700 species. Small Carptenter Bees (genus Ceratina, a genera with over 250 species) were also spotted. Due to the small size of these bees, it is very hard to tell species apart based simply on a photograph. If you would like some help identifying the species visit http://www.BugGuide.net, a great resource.

I have left one corner of my garden as bare, undisturbed soil. This is where some ground nesting bees are nesting, possibly the Sweat Bees. These types of bees are solitary and do not pose any threat for stings, even if disturbed. They do not defend their nests. Besides the fact they are non-aggressive, it is physically not possible for them to sting because they are so small. Even if these bees attempted to sting, they would not break your skin.

Ground nesting bees dig small holes into the earth and create a small side chamber to place a bit of food into (usually a packet of pollen), then lay their egg on the food and seal that chamber, then dig deeper and create the next chamber and repeat the process.

You can help pollinators in your garden by planting a variety of pollen and nectar producing plants. Native plants are best and will be used by the widest variety of pollinators but even non-natives that produce pollen and nectar are beneficial as you can see from my kale example. The bees visiting my Kale plant are generalists, meaning they are not to picky about which plant they will feed on, but some bees can be specialists and only chose to feed from a few native plant species. See the attached list for some example of native (and non-invasive non-native) plant species you can plant in your garden to attract pollinators. http://www.xerces.org/pollinator-conservation/

 

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