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time to replace the European honey bee?

 
Dale Hodgins
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I thought that provocative title would bring you in.                       Honeybees have been decimated in many areas by hive collapse.There are many working on this problem. But we can't wait for somebody to fix the problem, since there's no guarantee of success. It seems to me that we should actively promote the establishment of colonies of other pollinators. Honey is nice but we can live without it. We can't live without pollinators. Depending on where you live that means everything from bats to hummingbirds to bumblebees to the many native insects which were dominant pollinators before European honeybees arrived.

    There has been much in the news about the demise of honeybees but they always relate it to the price of honey. Crop losses due to poor pollination are the much greater worry.

   I'd like to see some photos of the various techniques we can use to cater to the needs of all of these other pollinators. I remember a guy who simply drilled little holes into scraps of wood and he had a type of small bee(potter or mason?) which used them. There must be plenty of other methods of attracting and housing polinators out there.I'm particularly fond of the idea of growing whatever native plant they prefer for food and nesting.

       Thank you: Dale
 
Pat R Mann
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Solitary bees (the type that will lay eggs in holes in a wood board) are good pollinators, but with a limited time window (mason bee) or specific to certain plants (alfalfa bee). Bumble bees on the other hand are active all season long, similar to honey bees. To replace the honey bee you'd probably want to encourage all of these.

I think a better approach is to improve conditions for both the honey bee and alternative pollinators. What benefits one will likely also benefit the other.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I find simply including a lot of flowers in my garden attracts tons of native pollinators; both planting decorative flowers throughout the garden and letting various vegetables such a radishes, carrots, arugula etc mature and flower.  Of course the european bees like all these, too. 

 
John Polk
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A serious problem in most orchards is that other than the crop trees, all other vegetation is removed.  There is no habitat for the wild pollinators.  This is why they need to import the honey bee hives.

The California almond industry uses most of the available US hives at blossom time.  Their demand is so great, that each year cargo planes of bee hives are flown in from Australia to service the almond orchards.  That cannot be sustainable!

Some of the more progressive orchardists are beginning to replant native plants around their trees, in hopes of attracting native pollinators.  The monoculture model is failing.  If "we" cannot reverse the trends, it will indeed be a hungry world.
 
Hugh Hawk
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I found a paper wasp nest under a passionfruit leaf yesterday.  Just looking up info on them, apparently they secrete a chemical that repels ants.  I guess they play a role in pollination as they do eat nectar and pollen, but mainly other insects.

Speaking of ants, they pollinate too.

This article in our local paper talks about methods for making "bee hotels" appropriate for Australian native bees.

"The majority of Australian bees are solitary as compared to honey bees, which are social," he says. There are a number of groups of bees, with some nesting in the ground and others in hollow stems, such as lantana or reeds. Native bees nest by collecting pollen, nectar or a similar food source, putting it in a single cell chamber, laying an egg and sealing it. They do this repeatedly.

To make a bee hotel, drill a series of holes in a piece of Australian hardwood, such as red gum. The holes need to be at least 100mm in depth and 4mm, 6mm (most popular with the resin bee) and 8mm in diameter. Place the bee hotel at eye height on an easterly-facing aspect.

"Over summer, from December to late February, a range of bees, particularly leafcutter or resin bees, will take up residence within these holes," Mr Smith says.
 
                                  
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I think solving the reasons for colony collapse while also encouraging other pollinators is probably a better solution than replacing ones that already do a terrific job. Back when I was looking heavily into becoming an apiarist (future goal, no land as of yet) I had a few ideas. There are people now who reduce the size of the cells the bees are laid in, thus reducing the size of the bee (which was unnaturally enlarged to increased honey production), and this seems to have had an increase in health. Also there are people creating more hygienic strands of bees capable of sensing and dealing with parasites more efficiently (much like the African bees). I wonder if anyone has ever combined the ideas and created smaller more hygienic bees. Interesting point John about the lack of habitat for other pollinators in orchards.
 
jacque greenleaf
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"I wonder if anyone has ever combined the ideas and created smaller more hygienic bees. "

Yup. Start here - http://www.beesource.com/point-of-view/ed-dee-lusby/

As for native pollinators, just google mason bees. Lots of info. Or just look at http://www.crownbees.com/
 
                          
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I make a large part of my income selling bee's as pollinators and have seen this issue from many angles and in my opinion useage of honeybees or any introduced pollinators limits the productivty of a permaculture style agriculture for the following reasons:

- they limit locally adapted  and diverse native pollinators by competing with them for available pollen and nectar sources.  Honeybees also often pillage native pollinators honey stores.

-yields of most pollinated crops are limited by incomplete pollination i.e. a fruit must have a specific amount of pollen deposited in order to reach it's maximum size.  Much more likely to reach that imo with 10 or 20 different types of pollinators visiting the flower than just honeybees which like all pollinators varies in performance depending on environment and plant species.

I always find lowbush blueberry growers a good example, these are primarily grown in cleared wilderness areas and farmers that have cleared big areas i.e. 300 acres are totally dependent on bringing in outside pollinators each year and in cold years they get poor fruit size becasue honeybees don't pollinate well in the cold.  Meanwhile smaller grower i.e 10 acres don't need to bring in pollinators and don't take as big a hit on cold years because area surrounding the field has enough native pollinators to support the smaller monoculture and the multiple native pollinator species provide more buffer as many are better adapted to cold weather.  Just another of the many weaknesses of monoculture.
 
                          
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Imo just  using common permaculture techniques like hugel, check logs, polyculture and no pesticides close to an ideal environment to support native pollinators is created.  Incorporating native plants into the polyculture will go a long way also as native pollinators have coevolved with the native plants.  

Everytime I fly and realize how little of canada and the US has not been cleared for monoculture  it makes me think how dangerous a line we walk when it comes to preserving native pollinators.
 
jacque greenleaf
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I agree, since I am not interested in honey production, attracting native pollinators is the way to go. Tomatoes, for instance, need bumblebees!
 
Thelma McGowan
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www.crownbees.com
this guy has a great web site and monthly emails for help with raising honey bees. I signed up for his emails so I can start encouraging mason bees to stay in my yard.
he is working closely with local gardeners to increase the mason bee population. his ultimate goal is to create a network of gardens with mason bee colonies that he can harvest and send to places like Wenatchee that are loosing honey bees as reliable pollinators.

he is very passionate about the mason bees and I am really excited to start this next spring!

 
jack spirko
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There is a lot we can do, much is very easy, here are some of my top steps.

1.  Everyone needs a "zone 5" even in that tenth of an acre back yard.  It can be 10x10 feet you just kind of let go.  I don't care if you don't even have zone 4 or 3 you can still have a 5, something you do almost nothing to except encourage growth.

2.  Basil, basil and then well, basil.  Nothing and I mean nothing seems to bring in a variety of pollinators like flowers on basil.  I grow it in pots, in my herb garden, in my main garden, basically everywhere.  I just moved to my Arkansas homestead and learned about a new awesome pollinator this year, the "mason wasp", here you go take a look at this little bugger.  http://www.biosurvey.ou.edu/okwild/misc/potwasp.html ; They are also predators to boot!  I never saw them till I moved here and they and it seems all other pollinators love the hell out of basil.

3.  Yep mason bees, set up colonies, give them a bit of mud and they fly in cold weather that honey bees won't even come out in. Peaceful little guys too, I hear they can sting but have never even talked to someone who knew a guy, that knew a guy who was stung by one.

4.  Buckwheat, I grow buckwheat as a cover crop and I grow it just all over my "yard", if you want to call it that.  We don't own a lawn mower, never will again the best part of leaving the suburbs is no lawn or neighbors that expect one.  We have a field or a meadow or something to that effect and buckwheat fits in well there.  When it starts to reach end of life I cut it with a scythe and use it as mulch or into the composter it goes.  When a bed is vacant during warm weather I always plant it with cow pea and buckwheat.  God do bees and all pollinators love this stuff.  Up here on the mountain I never even saw a honey bee till I planted this stuff.

5.  Plant sunflowers - nuff said.

6.  Plant cool weather cover crops too.  Vetch, favas, bell beans, etc.  Anything that will flower in early fall or early spring.  That is when our little buddies have the greatest need.

7.  Ponds, water is something all creatures need.

8.  Parsley, this biannual belongs in all permaculture systems anyway.  In the second year it has tons of tiny flowers.  When they are in bloom they are literally coated with bees, flies, etc. 

9.  Clover, in your yard (white dutch and white new zealand) or cover crops like red, crimson, etc.  Plant clover.  Of course you also get nitrogen, I don't care what Helen says about that, 



Hope that helps,


 
                                
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Someone said "tomatoes need bumble bees". I wonder if you would expand on this. Tomatoes are for the most part, self-pollinating.
 
jacque greenleaf
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Tomatoes and some other solanaceae are self-pollinating - they don't need pollen from another plant to set fruit. But the pollen must still be transferred from the anthers to the stigmas, and in these plants, that transfer requires vibration - buzz pollination. Here's a neat site with videos that explain this - http://www.anneleonard.com/buzz-pollination

There are parthenocarpic tomato varieties which don't need pollen at all to set fruit. If you are growing tomatoes in a greenhouse, you would want to grow these varieties. Otherwise, you have to vibrate the flowers somehow. Fans can do it, shaking rhe plants can do it, or my favorite, stimulating the flower trusses with an electric toothbrush is very effective.
 
Dave Miller
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John Polk wrote:
A serious problem in most orchards is that other than the crop trees, all other vegetation is removed.  There is no habitat for the wild pollinators.  This is why they need to import the honey bee hives.

The California almond industry uses most of the available US hives at blossom time.  Their demand is so great, that each year cargo planes of bee hives are flown in from Australia to service the almond orchards.  That cannot be sustainable!

Some of the more progressive orchardists are beginning to replant native plants around their trees, in hopes of attracting native pollinators.  The monoculture model is failing.  If "we" cannot reverse the trends, it will indeed be a hungry world.



My neighbor is an "almond farmer by proxy" near Fresno, California.  i.e. his parents are farmers in the area and he purchased 20 acres next to his parents property, and converted it from grapes to almonds a couple of years ago.  His dad's crew does most of the work on the land, but my neighbor does go down several times a year to perform certain work on the farm.  He was telling me all the work that is required to produce almonds (including renting bees) and how the timing has to be just right otherwise you won't get a crop.  And of course everyone needs the bees at the same time, so they are super expensive to rent.  I tried to encourage him to plant some native pollinator host plants around the edges of his property, but I was not able to sway him, mainly because the ground has to be completely bare in order to harvest the almonds with some kind of sweeper machine. 

I am wondering if anyone knows of any almond orchard that uses native pollinators?  I think if he could see a successful example he might give it a try.
 
Dave Miller
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Here's another thread on native bees, with some photos of my stem bundles.

http://www.permies.com/bb/index.php?topic=520.0
 
John Polk
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The main reason bee hives are so expensive to rent for the almond crop is that from past experience, the bee keepers know that they will lose 90% of their hives, and therefore automatically add in the cost of repopulating all of their colonies.

The almond industry is one of the largest (ab)users of Gaucho pesticide, which the French research pinpointed as the cause for the French CCD.

When it cost a beekeeper $150,000 to repopulate after the almond season, he has 2 choices:  take a huge loss, or charge accordingly!  One keeper raised his price from $50 to $150 per hive in order to clear a profit!
 
                          
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Tomatos only need bumblebees in greenhouses where there is insufficient wind to trigger pollination.  They may yield larger fruit outdoor with a pollinator but set just fine without insect pollination.  Tomato breeders/seed savers cover flowers with reemay to prevent accidental cross pollination and they still set fine.
 
Dale Hodgins
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pv_agroforest wrote:
I make a large part of my income selling bee's as pollinators and have seen this issue from many angles and in my opinion useage of honeybees or any introduced pollinators limits the productivty of a permaculture style agriculture for the following reasons:

- they limit locally adapted  and diverse native pollinators by competing with them for available pollen and nectar sources.  Honeybees also often pillage native pollinators honey stores.

Do you have any photos you could share with us? And do you know of a publication which lists the best native plants for various pollinators?

      Your expertise is likely to be valuable to many here so this might be a great opportunity for you to sell some of your services. If you go into the account management section you can create a box under your name which would allow you to advertise. I believe you can create links and everything.
 
John Polk
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honey bees pillage from other honey bees.  The native pollinators have nothing for the honey bees to steal.
 
Dale Hodgins
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    In searching the Internet I discovered that many people have tried bumblebee honey. They only store up to one thimbleful at any given time. honey bees steal from them.

    There is also a mountain of information concerning Honey bee theft of pollen and nectar from bumblebees, Mason bees and other pollinators. Seems to be enough material that there must be some merit to it as some of them where scientific studies of the practice.

   There's also information available concerning how the mobile nature of commercial honey production can spread plant and insect diseases. While native pollinators reside in their local area, bees can be transported from as far away as Australia to pollinate almonds in California. It stands to reason that something could go wrong with such an unnatural state of affairs.
     
 
M.K. Dorje
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I live in Oregon, and for the past ten years I've been using mason bee houses around my farm. I use untreated wood blocks or posts (4 X 4s) and drill holes in them that are 5/16ths of an inch in diameter and about an inch apart. ( I also like the idea of using teasel stems, but that plant is not common on my farm.) I like to make new houses every few years in the late winter and then in early spring put them in my garage or barn, which are near my orchards and garden. Be sure to keep your blocks dry to prevent fungus problems. In years with cold, wet springs, I move one of my older blocks into the greenhouse to heat it up a bit so that the bees hatch out a little early and can pollinate the early bloomers, such as cherries and Japanese plums. At my girlfriends place, we noticed a dramatic improvement in pollination after we put a mason bee house on her porch. I also grow lots of blueberries and huckleberries on my farm as well, and I've found that bumblebees are the best pollinators for these crops. I've got lots of old, thick logs lining the blueberry garden, especially on the downslope side and the bumblebees seem to like to live underneath them in or in holes along the sides. The bumblebees start with the manzanita flowers in late winter then switch to the blueberries and huckleberries by mid spring. You can also make houses for them as well.
 
jacque greenleaf
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"You can also make houses for them as well."

From all I've heard, people have a hard time getting bumblebees to use built houses. Have you had much luck with them?

Thanks for the tip about the logs - I've been relying on bare ground, but I don't really like purposely leaving ground bare.
 
Kirk Hutchison
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Feral honeybees seem pretty vigorous. They are all over my yard. And they love my plants, especially mint and carrot flowers.
 
kent smith
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I was reading an interesting discussion on our local beekeeping site about hive health and honey production in relationship to hive location near corn fields. This was not a scientific study, but observations from the locals. All agreed that hives nearer corn feilds and corn pollen did not do well. Makes me wonder about all the GMO corn the farmers around here are raising, and the spraying on these crops.
kent
 
John Polk
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Corn is primarily wind pollinated.  That is why it is typically planted in blocks vs rows.
A 10 foot by 10 foot block will produce many times more corn that a 100 foot row.
 
                          
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Dale Hodgins wrote:
Do you have any photos you could share with us? And do you know of a publication which lists the best native plants for various pollinators?

       Your expertise is likely to be valuable to many here so this might be a great opportunity for you to sell some of your services. If you go into the account management section you can create a box under your name which would allow you to advertise. I believe you can create links and everything.


Dale, this aspect of what I do for a living does not apply to permaculture (I make my living from monoculture farmers) and is not something I am interested in promoting here.  I doubt that any photo's I have would be relevant to this thread, I am in the process of planting several native plant pollinator beds at our own farm though but live on the other side of the rockies to you so they will not be particularly relevant, the rockies is a reat divide when it comes to both.  I used to have the information you are looking for on native plants west of the rockies but threw it out recently, pretty sure it was from an Oregon organization, should be easy to fine online.
 
                          
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Dale Hodgins wrote:
    In searching the Internet I discovered that many people have tried bumblebee honey. They only store up to one thimbleful at any given time. Honey bees steal from them.

    There is also a mountain of information concerning Honey bee theft of pollen and nectar from bumblebees, Mason bees and other pollinators. Seems to be enough material that there must be some merit to it as some of them where scientific studies of the practice.

   There's also information available concerning how the mobile nature of commercial honey production can spread plant and insect diseases. While native pollinators reside in their local area, bees can be transported from as far away as Australia to pollinate almonds in California. It stands to reason that something could go wrong with such an unnatural state of affairs.
     

I have tried bumblebee honey, tastes good (depending onthe food source) but highly doubt it will ever bee viable even for personal honey production, a full size hive would likely produce barely enough to spread on one piece of bread, also the brood is mixed in the same area as the "honey pots", so the honey cannot be pressed without pressing a bunch of baby bumblebees at the same time.
 
                          
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John Polk wrote:
Corn is primarily wind pollinated.  That is why it is typically planted in blocks vs rows.
A 10 foot by 10 foot block will produce many times more corn that a 100 foot row.


corn is wind pollinated but many bees still really like to collect the pollen for their own use.  Bt corn is one of the suspects in "colony collapse disorder" as is the neonicitinoid systemic insecticides that are sometimes applied to the seed.  Personally I find it hard to believe the trace amounts in a seed treatment are sufficient to have this effect on bees (they are exposed to it via the pollen) but for sure neonicitinoids have extremely deleterious effects on bees.  I have seen native bumblebees directly exposed to bt in high concentrations (not from GM corn) and from an unscientific observation it seemed to have drastic effect on the colony so could be a possibility imo.
 
Dave Miller
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Has anyone here made a bumble bee roost that was successful?  I found a bumble bee nest in my yard but it is in a buried car (another story) which I plan to remove.
 
M.K. Dorje
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Apparently, commercial bumblebee houses only attract occupants about 30% of the time. But some people make their own with coffee cans and fibrous material, not sure if these work, as I just put lots of old logs around my berry plants. My old garage, which is located about 12 feet from the main blueberry patch, has lots of nooks and crannies filled with fiberglass insulation, which they seem to like as well, although that stuff is real bad for your lungs.
 
Jeff Hodgins
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Hi big bro. It all goes back to diversity. more means more X more.
diversity diversity diversity
 
jacque greenleaf
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Dale, go here - http://www.xerces.org/

They have bunches of regional info on native pollinators and forage plants.
 
Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame
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Our new place is well populated with wild pollinators - mostly bees and hummingbirds.  I spend entirely too much time watching the hummingbirds dart about, ambushing each other, and sometimes ambushing me!  Their favorite forage seems to be the pineapple sage, which is a lovely looking plant, but they also like the citrus blossoms a lot. 
 
Len Ovens
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We have lots of bumbles. I have seen honeys at only one place here... I am not sure if they are tame or feral though... I haven't seen so many masons, but that may be their short season.

I'm in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island.
 
miere buna
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I am apiarist and farmers in my country still did not understand how important culture is to be pollinated. So until you understand them pollinate crops free. I think bees are quite important and can not be replaced with something else. The temperature at which bees begin to be active is 12 degrees Celsius.
From polen proaspat din flori, Miere Buna

 
Dale Hodgins
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If you are in Europe, then this species fits naturally into the environment.

I like honey just fine but I believe pollination to be far more important. Public policy on these matters should therefore not be concerned with the honey end of the business. The international shipping of bees is something I'd like to see curtailed or stopped.
 
Cj Sloane
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Two years ago a friend put 2 hives on my property. One hive did great and the other is mediocre (2 different types of queens). It has not had a detrimental effect on the other bee populations/pollinators as far as I can tell but the whole area is very wildlife friendly (pond, brambles, mints, thistles, and so on). My LGDs keep the bears away.
 
Michael Radelut
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Dale Hodgins wrote:If you are in Europe, then this species fits naturally into the environment.


Unless you're talking about Germany, of course.
The title of this thread has already been answered in the affirmative in the past ...
 
Dale Hodgins
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I read every news story concerning bees and the news is seldom good. When I first bought my place I was keen to get some bees. But I don't like problems that toss money into the toilet. I'm going to wait a few years while others deal with all the financial risk. If mite problems and other issues are resolved through breeding or in some other way, I'll eventually try some bees
 
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