Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Rally at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture 12-16-2014

Assistant Commissioner Matthew Wohlman, MDA's neonic point person who greeted us outside the MDA building today, said that he would be happy to receive scientific studies addressing the dangers of neonicotinoids to pollinators as part of his review. He might also be interested in studies addressing dangers to the environment (birds, aquatic invertebrates, fish etc) and human health as well. Send studies/comments to Matthew at 625 Robert St N, St. Paul, MN 55155 or matthew.wohlman@state.mn.us  .

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mason Bee Mania

A self-professed "Bee Nerd", Lori Bergmark enlightened us on Mason Bees.  Lori lives in an area where they do not allow honeybees (silliness!), but she has managed Mason Bees on her property, and no one is the wiser.  Except us.  Lori gave us a glimpse into the life of the Mason Bee.

Mason bees are in the genus Osmia.  Species include the native Osmia lignaria, (Orchard Mason bee), O. atrinventris, (Blueberry bee, and the Japan native O. cornifrons (Hornfaced bee). In 2014, Lori worked with the Blue Orchard and Hornfaced bees.

Aptly named, their nests are mud compartments in hollow stems, reeds, or existing holes left by wood boring insects, or in snail shells.  They are not destructive. For their nests, they collect materials such as mud, leaf pulp and gravel.
No Monarchy
Solitary and queen-less, Mason bees do not make honey, but like many other bees, make a pollen ball, and lay an egg on top of the pollen.

Each Kid Has Their Own Room
The female Mason bee creates a mud partition for each egg and pollen ball.  This is done in an orderly fashion with the girls in the back and the boys in the front.  Once they are all snug in their rooms, she plugs the entrance.  After a month-long larval stage, they spin a cocoon.
Mason bee cocoon
The new bee emerges in about March, and just hang until the weather warms.  The males emerge first and go get some food, then the females come out.  Mating occurs and the males die in spring.  Then the females collect pollen and the process starts again.

Mason Bee Behavior
Mason bees are not aggressive, and forage within 300 feet of their nest.  So, if you see mason bees in your yard, you can be sure they are nesting pretty close by.  They need a source of mud to build their nests, and better if it contains more clay than sand.

Power Packed Pollinators
Mason bees are amazingly efficient pollinators.  They can pollinate fruit trees 3 times better than Honey bees.  Unlike Honey bees, Mason bees will fly during cool, cloudy weather, however, they fly more randomly among the trees.  Honey bees are more systematic pollinators, so the combination of Mason and Honey bees in an orchard seems to be the best pollinator combo!
set up for Mason bee pollination in Ukraine
Managing Mason Bees
A newish concept in the United States, the Hornfaced Mason bee has been managed in Japan since the 1940's.  80% of apples in Japan are pollinated by the Hornfaced bee.

If you want to try to manage Mason bees, you will need a nesting area.  For this, you can make it yourself or purchase one.

Here is a link to the U of MN Bee Lab with instructions on how to make super simple native bee houses:

In the fall, although not strictly necessary, Lori brings her cocoons in and keeps them in her fridge until they break dormancy (one spring it was early and Mason bees were flying around the refrigerator). Bringing in the cocoons allows you to clean out the nests and minimize the incidence of disease.  You also need a supply of mud, lots of nearby pollen plants, and a fresh water supply.

Not Managing Mason Bees
Of course, you can just attract Mason bees to live in your yard naturally.  You need some undisturbed areas, smallish brush piles, dead wood and fibrous materials. Provide diverse pollen plants nearby, areas of exposed soil and mud for nest building, no pesticides, and you're set to attract some native bees!  Create a "not so tidy" garden!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Bee A Pollinator Hero!

On December 16th, tell the Minnesota Department of Agriculture:
Be a #MNpollinatorhero!

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has shown its interest in pollinator health by launching a review of neonicotinoids and calling on every Minnesotan to be a #MNpollinatorhero. On December 16th, join us in calling on MDA to become a true #MNpollinatorhero by restricting or suspending neonicotinoid pesticides, which are a driving cause of pollinator losses.

When: Tuesday, December 16th, 11am
Where: Minnesota Department of Agriculture
  Meet at East Columbus Ave & Central Park Ave E, St Paul, MN
  **parking and transit directions are below**

What: We'll gather outside MDA for a few brief speakers & colorful performances (please come bundled and ready for about 20 minutes outside!). Then, we'll march together into the MDA building to deliver a basket of pollinator-dependent foods that grow here in Minnesota. This basket represents our gratitude for the work that MDA has done so far, and our hopes that the Agency will suspend neonics in its current review.
*Please wear yellow, orange, and black if you can; bee and butterfly costumes and bee suits are encouraged!*

Why: Pollinators are in trouble. In recent years, Minnesota beekeepers have lost upwards of 50% of their honey bee colonies annually. Native bees and butterflies are also facing dangerous decline. These losses threaten Minnesota's agricultural economy, including many delicious Minnesota-grown food that rely on pollinators, like apples, melons, cucumbers, squash, strawberries, apricots, berries--and of course, honey!

According to independent scientists, systemic insecticides like neonicotinoids are a driving factor in declining bee populations. And neonicotinoids aren't just harming insect pollinators: birds, fish, and plants that are important for Minnesota hunting, fishing, and outdoor communities are also at risk, because neonics impact entire ecosytems.

Right now, decision-makers at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture are reviewing neonicotinoids and considering whether to restrict or suspend these pesticides. Beekeepers, gardeners, farmers, and many others who love Minnesota-grown food are delivering a message to MDA: be a #MNpollinatorhero and suspend neonicotinoids!

Can't be in St. Paul on December 16th? Join our efforts by posting on Facebook or Twitter using the #MNpollinatorhero hashtag.
    .@MNAgriculture thank you for reviewing neonics! Please be a #MNPollinatorHero & suspend bee-harming pesticides! #saveourbees
    Data from 800+ ind. studies finds "neonics pose serious risk of harm to honeybees, pollinators" http://bit.ly/1lzN9fc #MNPollinatorHero
    Neonic pesticides harm pollinators w/o increasing yield. Time for action, @MNAgriculture! http://1.usa.gov/1uckhy9 #MNPollinatorHero
Sponsored by Pesticide Action Network; Healthy Bees Healthy Lives; Organic Consumers Association; Pollinatorfriendly.org; Honey Bee Club of Stillwater

Parking & transit information:
Park and Ride: Free parking is available at Uni-Dale Mall at the Dale and University Green Line stop. Take the train two stops East to Robert Street and the MDA.  2.5 hour ticket for $1.75.  For train schedule visit http://www.metrotransit.org/route/902
Parking at MDA: Metered parking is available at Centennial Parking Ramp at Columbus and Central, and 14th Street Ramp, Lot U and Lot W, all on 14th Street between Robert and Jackson, with rates of 1.25/hr.