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In Your Garden: It’s not always bees

University Of Minnesota Entomologist Marla Spivak was recently in Edinburg, Scotland, speaking about bee pollination. She noted that more than 1/3 of the world’s crop production is dependent on bee pollination with an estimated market value of between $18 and $27 billion annually. The number of managed honey bee hives dropped from 4.5 million to 2 million from 1945 to 2007. She blames several things: farming practices, disease, and the use of pesticides and herbicides. Ms Spivak says monocultural farming creates food deserts for pollinators, not just bees. Another factor is the use of synthetic fertilizers instead of the cover crops of alfalfa and clover. The most frustrating and, to her mind, avoidable cause is road side mowing and spraying. It kills off many native flowering plants in crucial pollinator habitat.

Ms Spivak is among the leading bee researchers in Minnesota and has a 2 part vision for the future pollinator study. First, the construction of a $6 million Bee and Pollinator Research lab on the St. Paul campus. This would be funded by state bonds and private donations. Second, the Tashjian Bee and Pollinator Discovery Center at the landscape Arboretum. The research lab is for the scholarly study and research of pollinators. The Tashjian center will focus on interactive education and would have year-round programs for the public to learn more about bees, pollinators and their landscape needs.

A $100,000 project, led by the Pheasants Forever director, Matt Holland, will restore a minimum of 40 acres of prairie land across the state in the next 3 years. While this seems an odd group to be concerned about bees, Mr. Holland says,” there‘s just a lot of pressure on the landscape between farming and foot traffic. But great pollinator habitat is also great pheasant habitat. There is a nexus between the two and that is what we want to focus on.”

This nexus, where both pollinators and birds flourish is prairie land that has a variety of pesticide free flowering plants. Only 2% of these areas are left of once was a third of the state.

DNR Entomologist Chrystal Boyd is involved with the $370,000 Wild Bees Surveys in Prairie-Grassland Habitats project. This is a 2 year project proposed by Animal Survey Supervisor Gerda Nordquist. This is a complete census of the wild bee population in Minnesota. That last survey was done in 1919 and documented 88 species of wild bees. The current survey will document distribution, habitat tendencies and traits of pollinators.

There are many causes and solutions in the plight of pollinators. Gardeners should be in the forefront of recognizing the crucial role pollinators play in our lives and the effects humans have on the landscape and pollinator population. All of us should work at removing invasive plants, planting native flowering plants and not indiscriminately using insecticides and pesticides to help improve the habitat for our pollinators. By the way, did you notice that 3 of the 4 projects are led by women?

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