Q: When you talk about pollinators you mean bees, right?
Answer: Many organisms contribute to pollination. These include bees, flies, beetles, moths, butterflies, bats, small rodents, and even some lizards. Of these, bees probably contribute the most to pollination. This is especially true for agricultural crops. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), “of the top 100 crop species that provide 90% of food worldwide, 71 are pollinated by bees.”
Q: What I should I plant in my garden to attract bees in Western Oregon?
Answer: Here is a list developed by Oregon State University.
Q: What do you mean when you say ‘managed bee’?
Answer: For over 9000 years humans have been collecting wild bee nests. These nests were used to collect products like wax and honey, and for pollinating crops. Overtime, people figured out how to raise some wild bee species using man made nests. These bees are called managed bees. In Oregon we have four types of managed bees: Honey bees (genus Apis), leafcutting bees (genus Megachile), mason bees (genus Osmia), and alkali bees (genus Nomia). A fifth type of managed bee available in other states, bumble bees, are currently not available in Oregon. Honey bees are used to make honey and wax and to pollinate crops. Oregon’s other managed bees are used only for pollination.
Q: What do you mean when you say ‘native bee’? Aren’t all bees native?
Answer: Native bee are indigenous species. Some bees, like the honey bee, which is native to Europe, were introduced to North America because of their beneficial qualities. Other bees, like the Alfalfa Leafcutting Bee, native to Turkey, made their way to North America unintentionally.
Q: Are honey bees at risk of going extinct?
Answer: No. Beekeepers are facing higher losses than they have had in the past, but the species as a whole is certainly at no risk of disappearing. Increased colony losses, however, are no insignificant matter and can substantially increase beekeeper costs. Like most farming, margins in beekeeping are not extremely high, so increased costs might impact the supply of colonies available for agricultural crop pollination. Consequently, even though honey bees do not face extinction, maintaining healthy and productive colonies is an area of concern. To this end, the national pollinator health strategy has set a goal of reducing annual honey bee colony loss to less than 15% by 2020.
Q: What is Colony Collapse Disorder? Is it still occuring?
Answer: Colony Collapse Disorder (or CCD) does not refer to the loss of honey bee colonies, but rather, a distinct symptomology whereby honey bee colonies become depopulated of adult worker bees and are left with large amounts of untended larvae and pupae. CCD appeared in colonies beginning in 2006. The distinct symptoms associated with CCD have become less prevalent over the years. Even though CCD has abated, beekeepers continue to experience higher than usual hive losses.
Q: Do honey bees compete with native bees?
Answer: There is anecdotal evidence suggesting that honey bees can complete with native bees when large numbers of colonies are placed in an environment with few floral resources. In this way, competition between managed bees and native bees can be understood as a symptom of inadequate floral resources in an environment and points to the need to increase the area planted to bee-attractive plants. But establishing competition between bee species is difficult to conclusively establish for a number of reasons, notably because native bee communities can change over time for a number as a result of other factors, not only changes in habitat, but also climate, parasitism and disease. Moreover, honey bees, as long-tongued bees, are often attracted to different flowers than many native bees, which are predominately short-tongued. In Oregon, if competition occurs it is more likely late in the summer, when bee-attractive crops live clover, mustards and radishes and orchard fruit, have completed their bloom. The Oregon Bee Project has identified the need to develop more floral resources in managed landscapes that bloom in August and early September.
Q: What is the status of pollinators in Oregon?
Answer: Oregon’s bees have been subject to some of the same pressures experienced by bees in other states. Honey bee colonies, for example, have been beset by significant new pest and disease pressures over the last few decades; this has led to poor colony survival and substantially increased beekeeper input and labor costs. Challenges with parasites and diseases have also been implicated with lower returns of alfalfa leafcutter bees and the rapid decline of some of our wild bee species, most notably the Western Bumble Bee (Bombus occidentalis) in Western Oregon. Unfortunately, our understanding of the status of most of our native bees in Oregon is poor and it is difficult to understand their status without additional contemporary and historic data.
Bees are also susceptible to some pesticides that are used in agriculture, forestry, vector control, and landscape management. In 2013 and 2014, a series of bumble bee poisoning incidents around the treatment of linden trees drew attention to exposure risks associated with not just foliar contact applications, but also the use of systemic pesticides. The treatments associated with these incidents included pre-bloom soil and basal bark applications of two systemic insecticides applied well before bees were ever visiting the treated area, which prompted pesticide applicators, pesticide regulators, and educators to rethink how these products pose a risk to bees.
In addition, research on honey bees has not been able to consistently identify that one single class of pesticides is associated with negative impacts on overall honey bee health. Scientists continue to study how pesticides may impact bee populations, including potential sub-lethal effects or synergistic effects from pesticide combinations.
Finally, while some areas of Oregon provide nectar and pollen resources for bees, these resources can be scarce in other areas or at critical times in the season. Good nutrition increases bee survival and leads to higher reproductive output, which in turn mitigates stresses associated with diseases, parasites, and pesticides.
Q: What are neonicotinoids?
Answer: Neonicotinoids are among the most widely used insecticides globally, particularly as a result of their exceptionally low toxicity to mammals and effectiveness against difficult to manage sucking insects (e.g., aphids) and insects that feed on plant roots. These products were developed in the 1990s, in part due to concern of the safety of older pesticides to humans and the additional problem of the development of resistance of insect pests to these pesticides.
Q: Are they responsible for bee die-offs?
Answer: The benefits of some neonicotinoids have been under scrutiny because of the long persistence of these compounds in the soil and in woody plants (e.g., ornamental shrubs and trees), the ability of these products to leach into the environment due to high water solubility and their high toxicity to beneficial insects, which not only includes pollinators, but aquatic invertebrates. In 2013 and 2014 neonicotinoids used on ornamental linden trees (Tilia spp.) led to bumble bee poisonings in several areas of Western Oregon. Oregon Department of Agriculture restricted the use of four neonicotinoid compounds on linden to protect bumble bees. But contradictory findings around the effects of neonicotinoids on bees in other situations has caused them to become a controversial topic for policy makers. A key aspect of the controversy revolves around the exceptionally complex field of risk assessment, which involves assessing specific patterns of pesticide use (e.g., using product X on crop Y at dose Z) to determine whether bees contact enough product in the field to affect them. Some products in this class (particularly those in the cyano-substituted subgroup, such as acetamiprid) can be important tools for pesticide applicators to manage pests safely around bees because they are less toxic to bees and remain active on plants for a far shorter time than other neonicotinoids.
Q: What effect do herbicides have on bees?
Answer: With very few exceptions (e.g., herbicides containing the ingredient paraquat), few herbicides are toxic to bees. Bees are likely most impacted by herbicide use through indirect effects, specifically by the loss of flowering plants that produce nectar and pollen. Many weedy plants, such as dandelions, can be highly beneficial to bees. In fact, there are a number of bee-attractive plants that are listed noxious weeds in Oregon (e.g. scotch broom (class B noxious weed), gorse (class B), Himalayan blackberry (class B), bachelor’s button (class B), hawkweeds (class A)). Herbicides, in this sense, can be a useful tool for establishing pollinator habitat with non-invasive bee attractive plants, by eliminating weedy species, as well as other competing species such as grasses, during the establishment phase of the habitat.
Q: What effect do fungicides have on bees?
Answer: Fungicides are often used in agricultural settings when the crop is bloom as a means to reduce blossom and fruit rots during bouts of cool wet weather. For this reason, fungicides are frequently detected in samples of pollen collected from honey bees used to pollinate these crops. Our knowledge about the effects of some fungicides on bees is poor and has only come to the attention of researchers over the course of the last decade; much remains unknown. While fungicides are largely not toxic to adult bees, some products have been shown to have toxic effects to the developing larvae feed on the contaminated pollen. Moreover, there is evidence that mixing some insecticides and fungicides together can increase the toxicity of the insecticides to bees. There is active research underway to identify which fungicides applied at bloom pose problems for bees and how to applicators can mitigate the negative effects of these products.
Q: I want to learn about beekeeping, where do I find help/information?
Answer: Keeping bees, whether they are honey bees, mason bees, leafcutting bees or alkali bees, can be a rewarding, both as a hobby and an occupation. Bee husbandry, however, is quite different from managing other livestock and can require a significant amount of training. Being able to manage honey bees competently requires hands-on training and mentoring, so before purchasing bees, new beekeepers should sign up for a course or work alongside an experienced beekeeper. There are numerous private and public programs around Oregon for those interested in learning about beekeeping. These include hands-on beekeeping education through the statewide Oregon Master Beekeeper program (www.oregonmasterbeekeeper.org) and classes from providers of honey bee equipment and supplies. A listing of many other educational opportunities, including basic beekeeping classes, can be found on the Oregon State Beekeepers Association (OSBA) website (http://orsba.org). While people managing mason bees lack a state association, there are a number of trainings available through the Oregon Master Gardener program on how to clean cocoons and equipment, as well as an annual event held in Linn County (BEEvent). Many garden centers around Oregon offer trainings on mason bees.
Q: What are bee boxes or what type of wild bees can I ‘rear’ on my property?
Answer: Honey bees naturally live in hollows in trees. Beekeepers have managed to coax the bees to live in square boxes that contain moveable frames that enable the beekeeper to inspect and manipulate their bees, as well as to remove honey from the colony without destroying the comb. As the colony grows beekeepers expand the nest by adding additional boxes. Consequently, a stack of boxes is a single colony and contains one queen, several thousand female workers and a few hundred male drones. Honey bees do not hibernate, but remain active year round, living on the honey they store up during the summer. Orchard mason bees, in contrast, are solitary bees that live only for 6-8 weeks. These bees do not produce honey and live in narrow grooves where they raise their young. The young are provisioned with a mixture of pollen and nectar and then sealed off in mud-lined chambers, where they develop for the next 12 months. There are around 20 species of mason bees in Oregon, but only one species is managed, Osmia lignaria. There are hundreds of other bee species that nest on both urban and rural property that require minimal management. These bees are excellent pollinators of garden and crop plants and can be attracted by managing surrounding habitat.
Q: How can I attract and keep a diversity of bees in my yard?
Answer: Here are ten tips to attracting a diversity of bees to your backyard:
Plant a diversity of flower types. There is not one flowering plant that will attract all the bees. When planning your garden make sure to have plants with flowers with a variety of shapes (e.g., urn-shaped, bell-shaped, pea-lik, two-lipped, umbels, discs, etc).
Ensure flowering overlaps. Strive for as continuous a blooming period as is possible, so that as blooming ends for one plant it begins for another. After bees make a nest they cannot readily move it, so by having something always in bloom you will ensure they don’t run out of resources.
Include native plants, not just exotics. There are certainly many great exotic plants that are terrific flowers for bees. But the odds of attracting an odd and interesting bee go up when you include native flowering plants that our bees evolved with.
For exotics - use single-flowered cultivars. Some plants have been bred to have multiple tiers of petals. Take roses for example; the pollen shedding stems are clearly visible, whereas in multiple petal varieties some or all the stemens have been replaced with petals. While multiple petal varieties are often stunning and beautiful, they provide less to bees than single petal varieties.
Don’t forget trees. Some of our most important early sources of nectar and pollen are trees (think maples, lindens and willows). Plus trees pack a lot of flowers into a small footprint.
Plant in clumps. Bees like a continuous patch of the same flower. Rather than a few small patches, consider a larger contiguous patch.
Deadhead plants, especially annuals and perennials. Deadheading flowers as they fade can extend a plants bloom period, allowing you to get more bee benefit per plant.
Create nesting opportunities above ground. We have around 100 species of bees in Oregon that nest in above ground cavities, like the tunnels burrowing beetles make in dead wood or the pithy cavity left in last year’s raspberry stem. In some environments there are not enough suitable nesting material to allow the bees to thrive. Arranging some elements in your garden with some 6” long pithy stems or dead wood can increase nesting opportunities. There are also specially-made drilled blocks that are specially sized for specific types of bees.
Create nesting habitat below ground. As OSU’s Dr. Gail Langellotto puts it: “a lot of [people] don’t recognize the importance of nest sites for bees, and in particular, the importance of nest sites for ground nesting bees.” Over 70% of Oregon’s bees live in the ground like tiny little gophers. The bees prefer bare ground, so leave at least some portion of your garden unmulched with exposed soil.
Use pesticides carefully. The first step is to make sure that the plants you use are not pest prone. Some plants, like linden trees, may require ongoing maintenance so you can avoid the need for pesticides by choosing an alternative shade tree with few or no pest problems. The second step is avoiding the use of insecticides and fungicides on bee attractive plants and weeds when they are in bloom. If you have to use products on these plants, treat before bloom or after all the petals have dropped. Finally, systemic insecticides can persist for a long time in woody ornamentals and trees. Avoid using these products on bee attractive plants at any time of the year. Also avoid allowing pesticides to contact water sources that may be used by bees.
Q: Can I place my honey bee hives in the forest?
Answer: In addition to having an ODA-issued honey bee hive permit (if owning ≥5 hives), other permissions/permits/fees may apply depending on who owns or manages the forest. Contact the following directly to obtain local information:
- State forests (Tillamook, Clatsop, Sun Pass, Gilchrist, Santiam and Elliott SFs) ODF local field offices: http://www.oregon.gov/ODF/Working/Pages/FindAForester.aspx
Other state-owned lands, contact Oregon Parks and Recreation Development: tps://dasapp.oregon.gov/statephonebook/display.asp?agency=63400&division=04§ion=04
Industrial lands should be contacted directly.
BLM local field offices: https://www.blm.gov/contact/oregon-washington
USFS local field offices: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/r6/about-region/offices