Tag Archives: bees

Lazy Lawn Mowers Providing Habitat For Bees

Supporting your local bees and bugs at home just got easier. With pollinating insects on the decline, homeowners in western Massachusetts are looking to their own backyards as a way to help boost these populations. And you can too!

Pollinators are essential to the foods we eat and healthy ecosystems, and it’s important we protect them by providing habitat and food resources they need to survive. One way to improve habitat in suburban areas is by changing the way you manage your lawn, something we routinely mow every week without giving it a second thought. With new research, scientists are giving lawns new life.

A bee on clover. Photo by Brad Smith, Creative Commons (https://goo.gl/fK1nf5)

Ecologist, Susannah Lerman at the USDA Forest Service and University of Massachusetts and other colleagues found that taking a “lazy lawn mower” approach to your lawn and mowing less frequently could encourage more bee habitat in suburban areas. Mowing every two weeks instead of weekly allows lawn flowers like clover and dandelions to bloom and gives a variety bees time to utilize them.

Lerman’s team, including Joan Milam at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Alix Contosta at the University of New Hampshire and Christofer Bang at Arizona State University, and her research was supported by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) and Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES) program. They discovered that lawns mowed every three weeks had as much as 2.5 times more lawn flowers and lawns mowed every two weeks had the greatest number of bees, though the bee species were less diverse.

Researchers Joan Milam and Laura Hilberg use a sweepnet to sample insects.

There’s other benefits too! Lerman says, “Mowing less frequently is practical, economical and a timesaving alternative to replacing lawns or even planting pollinator gardens.” By helping pollinators, you’re also helping the environment and cashing in on some extra summer R & R.

A bee habitat for solitary bees.

Don’t have a lawn? No worries! You can help in other ways too. Help a local school or community building reduce their mowing or plant a pollinator garden. Reducing your use of pesticides will also help our pollinating critters. Additionally, our native bees enjoy living alone, and bee bundles are the perfect nesting material for solitary bees. Learn how to make one here.

Learn more about this research here.

You wouldn’t have these, without the bees (and other pollinators)!

Pollinators are insects or animals that move pollen from one flower to another…but did you know that 1 out of every 3 bites we consume comes from food that has been grown with the helping hand of a pollinator? That about 75% of our agricultural crops depend on pollinators such as bees, bats, wasps, flies, moths, hummingbirds, and butterflies? That without pollinators, we would lose many of our favorite foods?

Credit: Whole Foods Market

As a Student Conservation Association (SCA) intern at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,  I had the opportunity of putting together a pollinator exhibit booth at the local Whole Foods in Hadley, MA during Earth Day on April 22nd. I couldn’t have done it without the help and guidance of many others, and it was a success! On a cold, cloudy Saturday, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Visitor Services Coordinator, Chelsi Burns, and I spoke to about 75 visitors, many of whom came into the Whole Foods classroom where we had numerous activities set up from 11-2pm.

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The goal of this project was to engage children and adults alike in a hands-on activity that will get them thinking about pollinators, make them aware of the importance of pollinators, and show what they themselves can do to help some pollinator species of concern. Reading is an important tool across all ages, and on one side of the giveaway bookmark, there is an intricate black and white (pollinator related) design, and the other side has facts about pollinators , and what you can do to help. I received three very diverse art submissions on top of having one that I drew, and I left some bookmarks blank for the little artists out there who wanted to do their own designs. One of the submissions was even from local art student, Amy Hambrecht, who currently attends the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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From left to right: chosen pollinator art submissions from Thi Tran, Amy Hambrecht, Chloe Doe, and Greg Corbin. Thanks to all who contributed!

I also had an interactive PowerPoint with questions and facts about pollinators. Monarch butterflies, a pollinator, lay their eggs on milkweed, but much of milkweed has been lost due to pesticides and herbicides. Monarch caterpillars are specialists, which means they solely rely on one food source, milkweed. There were milkweed and dwarf sunflower seed packets, as well as very detailed instructions on how to plant milkweed. Milkweed plants undergo a process called vernalization/stratification, which means they sprout faster after they have cooled.

At the Whole Foods event on Earth Day, there were bumble bee posters, bumble bee “Save the Pollinators” stickers, and garden books to peruse through. There were numerous families with kids, a large college group, and a couple of older individuals who came in to enjoy the coloring fun and ask some questions. We had a very diverse audience and a wide range of ages of individuals who were really inquisitive about what they could do to help. Seemed like there was something for everyone!

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A discovery of finding out that the carrots growing in his yard were in fact pollinated by bees! Credit: Tash Lynch

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Kids coloring in their bookmarks, one of which was doing her own pollinator design of a flowering tree. Credit: Tash Lynch

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Justin Sokun checking out the selection of bookmarks. His friends and he were intrigued to come in after they were given “Save the Pollinators” bumble bee stickers. You can never be too old for stickers, right? 🙂 Credit: Chloe Doe

Pollinators annually contribute billions of dollars to the U.S. food economy supply, and without them, we wouldn’t have so many of delicious foods we eat today. Apples? Nope.. Carrots, blueberries, avocados, chocolate, wine, coffee? No way! Thanks to our pollinator friends, we have all of these foods available to us, so a huge shout out to them. The Rusty patched bumble bee population has declined 87% and Monarch Butterflies by 90% from 1990.  Their population numbers have drastically declined due to pesticides and loss of habitat/food sources, so it is time for us to take action and show our appreciation by helping them out! Listed below are a few ways how:

1.) Bee a proactive gardener and plant native plants native to YOUR area. Include a diversity of plants that also bloom during different seasons, so that pollinators have an abudance of food sources. If you are unsure about a specific plant, you can always reference http://www.plants.usda.gov.

2.) Avoid or reduce your use of pesticides.

3.) If you do not have the yard space, you can always create a window box. 

4.) Reduce the number of Invasive species.

5.) Get involved in your community, spread all the buzz about pollinators with friends!

The Plight of the Pollinators

Imagine a world without apples, bananas or avocados. Or a world without chocolate. Or even coffee. Who wants a world without coffee?!

That’s a world without pollinators.

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This is a pollinator. Without it, there’s no coffee. Credit: USFWS

Pollinators, like honeybees, butterflies, moths and other insects — even birds and bats! — move pollen between plants, enabling fertilization. This transfer is critical for not only our natural ecosystem, but also for the agricultural system as well. In fact, 1/3 of all food and beverages are the result of the pollen transfer process.

Check out this video we produced last year for thanksgiving, highlighting what food wouldn’t be on the table without pollinators!

Because every year pollinators help produce nearly $20 billion worth of food and other goods, the balance of ecosystems worldwide depend on these industrious pollinators to ensure a healthy harvest.

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Without coffee, why bother. Credit: USFWS

But, populations of pollinators are declining, and have been for decades. Scientists believe this decline can be traced to several sources, including pesticide misuse, the rapid spread of pollinator diseases and parasites, as well as habitat destruction.

The plight of pollinators affects all of us, so don’t be afraid to tell your friends about it.

Want to know more about what you can do to help? Go to pollinator.org for more ways to get involved and check out our national website about pollinators.

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Another pollinator, different angle though. Guys, coffee is really great and I don’t think I can handle going without it. Let’s do something about these pollinators. Credit: USFWS