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Cover Farming for Bees

Thanks to Adrianne from our NOFA-NY Certification office for this practical and helpful blog!

honey_bee_bee_insect_218160.jpg As farmers and gardeners we know how important bees are  for pollinating our crops, maybe you even have a honey bee  hive. Native bees are responsible for the largest percentage  of crop pollination, yet often overlooked when considering  natural resource management and conservation measures  for agriculture. There are 4,000 species of native bees in  North America and like all wildlife they are deeply affected by  changes on the landscape, from hedgerow composition to  tillage practices. In the last several years, the public has  become aware that honey bees have been declining because of Colony Collapse Disorder, but most people don’t know that native bees are also suffering from population decline and range reduction from disease, nutrition and pesticides.

Where do native bees live?

Bees are savvy navigators on the landscape. When suitable habitat is available they are able to utilize the most unlikely of options. Nests can be built underground, hollow places such as dead reeds, dead wood, or created by biting holes into living wood. Bees environmental needs are as variable as there are species. Some solitary bees prefer to have their own nest hole, but be surrounded by neighbors of the same or different species. Some need small rodent holes to start their underground tunnels. Most bees prefer sunny places that are unlikely to flood. Look for potential nest sites on your property to get started.

 

Helping to provide native bee habitat can be exceptionally simple!

1. Build a nest box! Drilling holes on an old post, wooden block, or even a tree trunk to make a good nesting site. The holes should be 3/32” to 3/8” in diameter (7-8mm) and 4 to 5 inches deep. Another method is tying a bunch or hollow sticks, such as elderberry, or paper drinking straws together, placing them in a protected south facing location, and covering the back of the tubes.

2. Choose cover crops that provide lots of pollen and nectar; allow crops to flower before plowing them under. Consider planting canola, red clover, hairy vetch, or buckwheat.

3. Leave standing dead trees and down logs on your property (as long as they are not endangering people). Bees love to use the burrows and holes of beetles to create their own nests. It will also create habitat for other beneficial insects that prey on crop pests. Your forests and field edges don’t have to look neat and tidy to be bursting with biodiversity!

4. Diversify your hedgerows. Many bees are generalists who need flowers blooming throughout the year to survive. A well managed hedgerow with many different native plant species of flowering herbaceous plants and shrubs can provide a great habitat for bees to live nearby crops. The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Service Agency (FSA) both offer financial assistance to support pollinator conservation efforts.

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