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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rock Stars in Rock Springs

Rock Springs, Wyoming is home to one heck of a pollinator enthusiast.  Bill and his wife Valjean have lived at their current house for 7 years, and have turned its yard from a barren, weedy wasteland to a lush, overwhelmingly productive heaven.  Seriously, I want to live in their garden.

Throughout their garden, you'll find dozens of brightly colored, oddly shaped, south or east facing boxes and bundles, all with tubes and tunnels, and decorated with flowers and glass beads.  Some call this garden art; but it has a greater purpose than that - these are bee houses.  Leafcutter bee houses, to be exact.  

In Laramie, we have a whole variety of bee species, many as common as others (bumble bees, masons, leafcutters, carpenters, sweat bees, etc.).  A variety of bees are found in Rock Springs too, but leafcutter bees are king.  You can ask me why, but I don't know.  Leafcutter bees are fabulous little pollinators that are solitary (don't live or work in groups), hairy (pollen collects on the bottom of their abdomen), usually striped black and gray, and have a scissor-like feature on their mouths that allow them to cut little half-circles from leaves to make their nests.  

A page from the "Laramie Area Pollinator Pocket Guide" -
available at Berry Center 231 or online here.

Who Cares?

When we asked Bill why he puts so much effort into keeping bee boxes in his garden, he said they had very low pollination in the garden before he started keeping native bees.  As in the cucumbers would flower but wouldn't produce any cukes - there was a critical piece missing.  And a good beekeeper knows that bees need primarily three things: food (flowers), water and... that's right, shelter.  Now that he's  providing all three components, their garden is flourishing!

These bee houses are all facing south or east to keep the nests warm without cooking them (west-facing houses would get hot afternoon sun).  They are at different heights, but the lowest is approx. 4 feet high, and the highest is approx. 7 feet high.  The blocks of wood are all at least six inches deep, with holes drilled into them perfectly horizontally (important for nesting), and they're secured firmly to whatever they're attached to (important for larvae).  

He uses a bunch of different mediums for nesting habitat: lumber, stumps, straws, styrofoam insulation, and lots of bamboo sticks.  The bamboo sticks seem to be very successful, as well as the insulation,  but the bees are actively nesting in all different mediums.  The holes that are plugged are active nests.

The Bigger Picture

Pollinators are the backbone to our food system and to our ecosystems.  Without pollinators, we wouldn't have things like raspberries, coffee and almonds, nor would we have places like flowering woodlands and prairies.  This example of proactively caring for pollinators shows that providing a little extra space for bees can turn a sad-looking yard into a beautiful garden, and maybe a sad-looking prairie into a beautiful meadow.

Check out this website for more resources:

Written by Brenna Marsicek, Biodiversity Institute

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