Pollination Pets for the Garden.
May 11, 2001 2:49 AM   Subscribe

Pollination Pets for the Garden. The UK bee population has almost halved in the last 10 years due mainly to the spread of a mite called Varroa from Asia. The loss of such a large proportion of the bee population has implications for agriculture, horticulture and nature, bees pollinate the majority of plants with no intervention from man, there isn't a more reliable fertilisation method. However an Oxford company has come up with a simple kit to attract Mason bees to nest in your garden requiring no effort and no protective clothing, they're pretty docile too, so it's unlikely you'll get stung. BTW, the US is affected too.
posted by Markb (7 comments total)
some other reasons that the native pollinators are better than the imported/non-native honey bee:
-they are many times more effecient - less pollen wasted per blossom
-also they tend to be species specific pollinators that co-evolved with a particular plant and don't waste pollen by randomly pollinating in-compatible species.

The honey bee has become human-dependant to the extent that without the intervention of beekeepers with antibiotics and new mite-resistant strains, they easily suffer pretty serious population loss.
posted by DixHuit at 5:52 AM on May 11, 2001

Very true, the Mason bee isn't as festidious a groomer as the honey bee, it doesn't move all the pollen to it's back legs (it just leaves it on it's body) and can pollinate many more plants. As a rule, it takes 3 hives of honey bees to pollinate a hectare (2.5 acres) of orchard, 3 times as many bees as the Mason bee would need.
The other advantage of Mason bees is that the are solitary insects, therefore they won't swarm and need no intervention once the colony is established (females will return to their birthplace to lay eggs where possible). Their sting is mild in comparison with other bees and wasps too.
I already have a number of different bees visiting my garden and spending the night in a 'bee motel' I made after a suggestion from Thirteen here on MeFi about 6 months ago, I can't wait to get some Mason bees laying eggs now and seeing them hatch next spring.
posted by Markb at 7:54 AM on May 11, 2001

Hmm...could this Varroa mite be a possible defense against "Killer" Africanized Bees? I don't like bugs to begin with, and I remember the warnings about killer bees terrifying me as a child.
posted by dnash at 8:42 AM on May 11, 2001

Mason bees are great, but you don't need a kit to attract wild ones. Here in the US you can just order kits with both the hives and the bees themselves in the mail.

The biggest problem with mason bees over honey bees is that while they work great for small gardens and orchards they're not feasible to replace the existing migratory pollination industry, where truckloads of hives move all over the country pollinating large farms as needed. And, of course, they don't produce honey.

Also, while varroa mite was incredibly damaging to the honey bee populations over the last ten years, with the worst of it somewhere around 1998, some resistance is beginning to appear now. Feral bee populations are reappearing in various areas. And lots of work is being done amongst queen bee breeders to help along that natural resistance. We're nowhere near in the clear but there are some positive signs.

Africanised bees are just as susceptible as European bees to Varroa, but they swarm more often and are more likely to survive an infestation.
posted by mourning-glory at 9:10 AM on May 11, 2001

The hope is though, that in time the Mason bee will be able to fill the shortfall in the UK's current bee population. Since it doesn't swarm, it is less susceptible to Varroa. The nesting kits are a great way to keep bees in areas where a hive would be seen as antisocial (most people's gardens - mine included) and while not a solution, the immediate need is for pollinating insects this summer.
I understand there is a high level of resistance in mainland European Varroa mites to the (chemical) methods traditionally used, though a form of fungus is being tried out which is harmless to bees.
posted by Markb at 11:35 AM on May 11, 2001

I can't believe I did not see a bee related thread! And one posted by MarkBee, the offical beekeeper of 13 island to boot. I don't have time to post much now, but I am grateful for the good reading. I have several kinds of nomadic bees that live in my garden, and most varieties don't have a sting at all. Even if you don't like bugs, you should remember that without bee's you don't eat. Helping out the bee's is certainly easier than manually pollinating fields of crops with a feather.

The housing looks pretty cool, much fancier than a 4x4 with holes drilled in it.

Love the Bees people.
posted by thirteen at 3:12 PM on May 11, 2001

I've been keeping tabs on the busy bumblers in my back garden (and the frogspawn-turned-tadpoles in the pond), and they seem fairly on-song. But this is just lovely. We're already attuned to helping out the birds and the hedgehogs and the other (admittedly cute) animals in our locales, and it's about time that the bees (of all varieties) got a look-in.

Varroa descended upon the apiarists in the UK like a Biblical plague, I remember. (Especially in Oxford, where beekeeping is so donnish an activity it beggars belief.) But these are small victories, won locally, that we can all agree on.

(As for me, well, I'm cultivating native herbs in my corner of the garden. If it's in anything written before, say, Shakespeare, it's in.)
posted by holgate at 5:03 PM on May 11, 2001

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