With the threat of flurries and the temperature threatening to drop below freezing, you’re probably not thinking about bees. Most of us won’t waste a thought on them until that first buzzing bee insists we share our refreshing glass of sweet tea. But before you decide not to share and swat that pest with authority, consider all it has to offer with its life.
That pest, also known as a pollinator, is essential to our environment. A pollinator is simply defined as any insect that pollinates flowers, such as bees, butterflies, moths and midges. Nearly 70 percent of the world’s flowering plants, including more than two-thirds of crop species, depend on pollinators such as this for reproduction.
The annual economic value of native pollinators for the U.S. crop industry is estimated at $3 billion. Outside of the agriculture industry, insect pollination is an essential service to ensure the diet (fruits and seeds) of approximately 25 percent of all birds and mammals.
Cucumbers, vibrant asters, juicy strawberries and other summertime delights depend on the loyal services of these pollinators. The previously noted benefits could potentially be lost due to a disturbing trend in declining populations of pollinators such as honey bees and monarch butterflies.
The reason for decline could be one of several issues such as pesticide use, habitat loss, introduced diseases and pests. In the mid-1980s, two new species of predaceous mites established themselves in the U.S. Since their arrival they have been infesting and killing both managed and wild honey bee colonies.
Across the U.S., most wild honey bee colonies have been killed, which leaves only managed colonies to provide honey bee pollination services. Fortunately, the mites can be controlled in managed colonies.
Most crop systems are protected from destructive insects and diseases using pesticides, therefore placing pesticide poisoning as the number one problem for pollinators in agricultural areas.
There are precautions that can be followed to reduce the number of bees and other pollinators killed during an application. Applicators should use the pesticide least hazardous to bees that will control the pest involved. If all recommended pesticides are equally hazardous, choose the one that has the shortest residual effect. (A list of highly toxic pesticides can be found on the OSU Honey Bee Lab’s website under “Fact Sheets” — www.honeybeelab.com.)
There is less drift with spray pesticides compared to dust pesticides, especially when applied in the early morning or evening when the air is calm. Also, bees are generally not as active in the evening.
It is always a good idea to keep a positive working relationship with your neighbors. Notify beekeepers in your area several days before making an application that could be hazardous to their colonies. A prior notification will give them a chance to protect their colonies.
Darr Farms, of Coshocton County, is a local business with primary crops of vegetables and pumpkins that strongly rely on nature’s pollination services. Farm manager Roy Patterson said the honey bee population is not large enough to support the size of their fields. Last year they planted 150 acres to produce the desired pumpkin crop. Darr Farms uses one honey bee hive per acre.
The pumpkin seeds used came from Chile where the seeds are produced by hand pollination, which ensures the desired hybrid cross. The employees at Darr Farms understand the importance of natural pollinators. In order for pollinators to thrive there must be an appropriate habitat to support them. Natural or somewhat undisturbed areas of land are most desirable for pollinator diversity.
In many cases, these habitats don’t exist due to urban development, agricultural practices, pesticide/herbicide use, extreme manicured areas and land disturbance in general. A clean water source free of pesticide drift and other chemicals is essential for pollinators. Any area that has lost native pollinators due to disrupted habitat or pesticide treatments can benefit by providing an adjacent natural area.
Some ideas for natural areas are: Create hedgerows with a variety of plants that have overlapping bloom times; refrain from mowing or spraying road and field borders to support flowering plants; include legumes in cover crop mixes to supply a food source; maintain a vegetable, flower or herb garden with an assortment of plants; allow native flowers to thrive on fallow land or sow seeds to give the area a boost; create a small pond or ditch as a water source including clumps of native plants nearby; and provide an artificial nest such as a wood bee block to attract pollinators.
Locally, Crossroads Resource Conservation & Development Council was involved in two projects aimed at increasing honeybee population. The first established 110 new beekeepers in 12 counties in the Appalachian region of Ohio and increased participation in local bee clubs.
The second sought to educate youth age 14 – 18 in the Youngstown area and Mahoning County. The objectives were to encourage them to become interested in beekeeping as a future generation of beekeepers and provide pollination for urban gardens. Both projects were funded by grant money from various agencies.
Crossroads RC&D continues to promote beekeeping as they are currently involved in two projects with Ohio State University Bee Lab at Ohio Agriculture Research & Development Center and the Ohio State Beekeepers Association to develop an online beekeeping course and queen rearing education and establish pollinator habitat test areas.
These projects are being funded by Natural Resource Conservation Service Conservation Innovation Grant and Ohio Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Program.
Presently a database is maintained for people interested in beekeeping education. Call the Crossroads RC&D office at 330-339-9317 to be added to the list. If you are a landowner interested in taking a more proactive approach there may be resources available. NRCS may have financial and technical assistance to support conservation efforts for pollinators and other wildlife on farms.
The 2008 Farm Bill undertakes a broad range of incentive-based conservation programs on agricultural land. Many of these programs rely on conservation practices that can be used to create or improve pollinator habitat, such as cover crops and hedgerow planting. Conservation programs such as Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program could be available to help agricultural producers establish pollinator-friendly native species plantings.
Contact your local NRCS office for more information on these conservation programs.
(Jennifer Fisher is a District Technician for the Tuscarawas Soil and Water Conservation District. She is a graduate of the Ohio State Agricultural Technical Institute with a degree in Environmental Resources Management. Tuscarawas SWCD is located at 277 – B Canal Avenue, New Philadelphia, OH 44663 and can be reached by calling 330-339-7976.)