by Connie Oswald Stofko
Let the clover and dandelions grow in your lawn. Minimize your pesticide use, too, especially on flowers that are attractive to honey bees.
Those are ways gardeners can help with the problem of Colony Collapse Disorder, said Reed Johnson, assistant professor in the Department of Entomology at the Ohio State University.
Dr. Johnson will speak at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 3 at the Honey Bee Festival at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, 2655 South Park Ave., Buffalo. Dr. Johnson does research on how to protect pollinators, including honey bees, from the pesticides and toxins they encounter. A question-and-answer period will follow the lecture.
The festival begins at 10 a.m. See the entire schedule at the end of this article.
The cost for Botanical Gardens members, Master Gardeners and students is $10 and for non-members is $15. You can buy tickets online.
Colony Collapse Disorder, where worker bees abruptly disappear, has become a serious concern in recent years. A report released last year by the US Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency cited four factors for Colony Collapse Disorder, and one of the factors is poor nutrition.
“One of the key components is the lack of flowers during parts of the year, and gardeners can play a key role in providing flowers,” he said.
Spring is an easy time for bees, he said, but summer and fall are harder. That surprised me because when I think of flowers in Western New York, I think of all those gorgeous blooms during our summertime garden walks. The problem is that some of the flowers that steal the show in the garden don’t have the nectar that bees want.
“The process of breeding beautiful flowers has bred out nectar production,” he said.
You can find lists of flowers that are appealing to bees on the Pollinator Partnership website. Dr. Johnson also recommended the book Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies by the Xerces Society.
“Honey bees take advantage of weedier things,” he said. “Clover is fantastic for bees. It’s unobtrusive, but it’s quite important, actually.”
Honey bees need flowers in summer and fall because during the spring, the colony has been growing and there are lots of mouths to feed. But as the summer moves into fall, a lot of the really good sources of nectar, such as dandelions and black locust trees, are finished.
Gardeners can help by choosing to plant flowers that are attractive to bees, and they can help by being less aggressive with their weed control. You might already have white Dutch clover in your lawn– It gets little round, white flowers.
“That’s excellent forage for bees,” he said. “They can make some good honey with that. I would argue that they’re beautiful flowers and not weeds at all, but that’s my perspective as a bee person.”
However, if you use chemical pesticides on your lawn, for example, grub control, you should use weed control to kill those clover and dandelion flowers.
“The pesticides can get into the nectar of the flowers,” Dr. Johnson explained. “You’re potentially attracting the honey bees to their doom.” (If you use milky spore for grub control, that shouldn’t be a problem for honey bees, he said.)
I had to admit to him that I don’t like clover in my lawn because I’m afraid of stepping on a bee.
“If you step on one with your bare feet, you could get stung,” he conceded, “but it’s rare. They’re concentrating on their work. They’re not going to come up and sting you out of spite.”
When it comes to facing environmental issues, we can sometimes feel overwhelmed and think that our actions don’t have an effect. When it comes to helping pollinators, Dr. Johnson said that gardeners can play a role.
“If everyone gave up herbicides and let their lawns go to clover and dandelions, I think it would be very beneficial,” he said. “That’s the philosophy I’m taking in my yard. Grass doesn’t do anything for bees.”
Learn more about pollinators and pesticides in Dr. Johnson’s talk at the Honey Bee Festival. Here is the entire schedule:
10 a.m.– Vendor Fair – Check out all the offerings folks have available, from honey samples to beekeeping supplies.
11 a.m.– Dr. Reed Johnson – Lecture
Noon – Lunch – Hot dogs and more will be available for purchase
12:30 & 2 p.m. – Film Screening: More than Honey
or Guided Visit to the Botanical Gardens’ Demonstration Hive
The Honey Bee Festival is made possible by Mercy Hospital of Buffalo.