Thursday, May 23, 2013

Bugs, Hunger and Food (Part 4): Welcoming the Blue Orchard Bee (BOB)

(Editor's Note: This is the fourth and final segment of a series on the importance of insects in the fight against hunger  Part 1 and Part 2 examined the role of insects as sources of protein.  Parts 3 and 4 examine the very significant impact that insects have on food production.  In this piece, guest author Hank Bruce talks about the activities of bees in New Mexico and a project to introduce simple ways of beekeeping to young people in our state).

 By Hank Bruce

It all began when a friend of ours in Ojo Encino,  (on the Navajo Reservation), asked about some ways to attract pollinators to their fruit trees and gardens. We mention bees and some people reach for a spray can of poison, others think of the pictures of bee hives and the imported European honey bees. But they are under threat as a horrendous disease often called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) devastates the populations and our crops from apples in New York to almonds in California and a lot of commercial and family gardens and orchards between. This and the drought we are currently experiencing here in the southwest are creating shortage of bees.

When we plant our gardens, fruit trees and berries we are hoping to grow our own healthy fruit and vegetables. To be successful though, we need a few bugs to help us. What we really need are pollinators, including bees, some flies and moths, even bats and hummingbirds. but particularly bees. While everyone is thinking honey bees, we forget that New Mexico has over 500 species of native bees. But even their numbers are declining with the drought and pesticides. What this means is that when our fruit trees, berries, grapes and vegetables bloom, the flowers don’t get pollinated and the plants and trees don’t produce fruit. Making friends with bees is a good idea, and we can give them a helping hand. We discussed this problem with some of the students and teachers at the Ojo Encino day school and they spread the word to other schools. They decided to put out the welcome mat for a friendly native bee they call BOB, the Blue Orchard Bee. This can be a fun project that doesn’t take a lot of extra work and cost absolutely nothing.

Making Bees Welcome
Our native bees come in many sizes and shapes. Most of the honey bees were imported from Europe and need more care than the one designed by Mamma Nature to live here. Most of the native bees are solitary or “small town” bees rather than forming large hives or colonies with thousands of bees. For this school project we focused on BOB because she’s not aggressive but does work hard. Each BOB may visit over 60,000 flowers in its life span of about 3 months.

Home Sweet Home for this little blue bee isn’t a big complex condo apiary and their needs are simple.

1. Water - even desert bees like BOB get thirsty. One of the best ways to give them a drink is to put a small pan with stones in it on the ground near your garden or fruit trees, or some wild flowers. Then keep it filled with water when you are watering your plants or trees.

2. What’s for BOB’s dinner? These bees will need lots of flowers in bloom, both for them to eat and stored food for the baby bees while they are growing. This means both pollen and nectar, and that comes from the flowers on your trees, vegetables, rose bushes and New Mexico’s beautiful wild flowers. When we plant some flowering plants for the BOB everyone can enjoy the beauty. The native plants are a great idea because they are better able to handle the drought and an important role to play in the environment.

3. Planting a garden for BOB and BOB’s cousins. We have lots of trees blooming in the spring, but After they are done blooming BOB is still hungry. You can provide more snacks when you plant for the seasons.
Spring: choke cherries, sand plums, Willow, New Mexico Olive, scorpion weed, bladderpod, mustard and almost every other wild flower that blooms early in the spring.

Summer: Rocky Mountain beeplant, basil, blanketflower, clover, Mexican hat, Navajo tea, mint, rose and fernbush, sunflowers, globemallow, verbena,
Late summer - autumn: goldenrods, sunflowers, asters, rabbitbush, cosmos, daisies, sneezeweed
Plant where you want BOB to be. This means near the garden, fruit trees, water and nesting sites.

4. Mud - BOB’s like to play in the mud. They use the mud to make adobe walls between the spaces for each egg in the nests you are building for them. If you can provide a little mud near where your trees and plants are your BOB’s will be happy.

Nests for BOB’s kids
You can have fun making a home for BOB’s kids. And this can be a great family project. You will need a block of wood, a drill and some drill bits.

1. A piece of pine or fir wood about 6 to 8" thick is ideal. Do not use treated wood, cedar or redwood.
2. Drill holes like these in the block. The size can range from 3/32" to 5/8" and should be at least 5-6" deep.
3. You can make a back and roof like the one in this picture.
4. Some of the BOB experts say that singing the front of the nest box helps attract the bees.
5. Place your nest box on a wall where it is sheltered from strong wind or rain, near your fruit trees or garden.
Some students like to use pieces of logs, or scrap lumber and make the holes up to 8" deep.
But the favorite for the younger students is the Coffee Can Nursery. This is easy and provides opportunities to work together. It’s simply paper straws in a coffee can. This is what they did.

1.Start with a coffee can. Be creative and paint it and decorate it.

2. Now take some craft paper or recycled newspaper from home. Cut this paper into 5" x 5" squares. Roll the paper around a pencil and secure with a small piece of tape. These tubes should be between 1/4" and 5/8" in diameter. You will need enough tubes to fill the coffee can.

3. Secure the can to a wall or sheltered place near your fruit trees, berry plants or garden. It should be protected from strong wind or rain.

4. Put the tubes in the can and watch for BOB’s to visit and lay their eggs. Mama BOB will place some pollen and nectar in the tube, lay an egg, gather some mud to seal a space just big enough for a baby BOB. Then place more food, lay another egg and make another mud door. She will do this until the tube you made for her is filled with eggs, each in it’s own little space.

5. The baby BOB’s eggs will hatch in a couple weeks and eat the food Mama left for them. They they will form a cocoon and when they emerge they will visit the flowers on your plants plants, lay more eggs and the cycle continues.This is an example of a BOB nest made by students. On the right is a BOB nest made commercially for sale in garden centers, but, don’t you think it’s more fun to make your own. You can also use pieces of bamboo, reeds, cattail stems, and other materials for nests. Be creative and have fun inviting BOB to your garden.

(The author is a writer, horticultural therapist, advocate of sustainable gardening, anti-hunger activist, teacher and speaker from Rio Rancho, New Mexico.  Check out his Web Site, Horticultural Therapy with Hank Bruce)

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