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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Jan 31, 2017

Garden Club R.F.D. Learns “Bee Friendly Practices”

As a member of Garden Club R.F.D. in Middletown, you learn about the flowers that grow in your garden or how to arrange flowers for flower show presentations and your dining room table or entranceway, but members also learn to be aware of our environment. To that end, the club became concerned when it was recently announced that because the rusty patched bumblebee population had dropped 87% since the late 1990s, it had been placed on the endangered species list for the first time in a “race against extinction,” according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The bee was once found in a great numbers across 28 states, from Connecticut to South Dakota, and now is in small, scattered populations in 13 states.

Bees, in general, are responsible for pollination of plants that require insect pollination to produce fruits, seeds, and nuts. These particular bees pollinate blueberries, clover, cranberries, and peppers and are almost the only insect pollinators of tomatoes.  Bumblebees are more effective pollinators than honeybees for some crops because of their ability to “buzz pollinate.” The economic value of pollination services provided by native insects (mostly bees) is estimated at $3 billion per year in the U.S. Their dramatic decline in numbers is putting our food supply at risk. As Environment America’s Christy Leavitt has said, “If bees go extinct, it’s simple: no bees, no food.”

How can you help? Grow a flower garden or add a flowering tree or shrub to your yard. Even small areas or containers on patios can provide nectar and pollen for native bees. Use native plants in your yard such as asters, bee balm, spring blooming shrubs like ninebark and pussy willow, and perennial flowers that come up in spring and then die back, like daffodils and tulips. Avoid non-native plants and remove them if they invade your yard. Provide natural areas, as many bumblebees build nests in undisturbed soil or grass clumps. Limit the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizer whenever possible, or avoid entirely.

Why are the numbers declining? There is habitat loss and degradation as areas are developed, particularly in the upper Midwest and the Northeast. It is because of intensive farming.  Farm size has increased and technology advances have improved the operating efficiency of farms, but have led to practices that harm bumblebees. That has included the increased use of pesticides, loss of crop diversity with flowering crops available for only a short time, and a loss of legume pastures. Bumblebees can absorb toxins directly through their exoskeleton and through contaminated nectar and pollen. And global climate change has caused a problem in the timing of bumblebee spring emergence and the flowering of plants. Today’s Endangered Species listing is the best, and probably the last, hope for the recovery of the rusty patched bumblebee.

Garden Club R.F.D. is a member of Garden Club of New Jersey, the Central Atlantic Region and the National Garden Clubs, Inc. For more information, contact membership chair Nancy Canade at (973) 452-4846 to join them at a future meeting so that you can enjoy the company of those that share a love of gardening and understand the importance of caring for our pollinators. In March, Master Gardener Bob Magovern will present a program on hydrangeas, and at the May 12-13 Annual Plant Sale, hydrangeas will be a featured plant, along with Lavender Phenomenal, a plant that was named a “Must-Grow Perennial” by Better Homes & Gardens. In addition, a Master Gardener Help Desk will enable you to visit and get your gardening questions answered.