Plight of the bumblebee

From an LA Times article on the vanishing honey bee. They start off mentioning a poorly understood phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder that has afflicted commercial honey bees in recent years, then segue to other information. My front yard meadow attracts bees by the 100s and I was fortunate to provide homes for some Megachile last summer.

...DESPITE all the gardeners who appreciate bees' importance, the bugs have a long-running image problem with most folks. PR highlights have been few and far between Rimsky-Korsakov's "The Flight of the Bumblebee" and Bit-O-Honey. Bees are written off as sting-from-the-hip automatons, more menacing than ever thanks to the hype about Africanized bees. Although Africanized bees can be a hazard, a honeybee swarm definitely isn't.

"You can walk right into it," says Mace Vaughn, an entomologist for the Xerces Society, a nonprofit in Portland, Ore., formed to protect habitat for bees, butterflies and other pollinators. "They don't have anything to defend. Bees only sting when they feel they've got something to defend, like all their food and young in the hive. When they're at flowers or swarming, they're actually harmless."

Bees are blamed for breaking up picnics, barbecues and campsites when the perpetrators are actually wasps, which are carnivores. Bees are strictly vegan. "We lump them all into this pest category that we need to destroy or be afraid of," Vaughn says.

"People have this automatic association with killer bees," says Lisa Freeman, a Mar Vista publicist who got to know the real bee story when a hive took up residence on her front-porch patio. After the colony went to work in her yard, a huge avocado tree that had been barren for years started to sprout fruit, and her plum tree was "bursting."

Bees can make a vegetable patch yield so many zucchini, "you hardly know what to do with them," Mussen of UC Davis says. "If you put a net over some of those female zucchini flowers and don't let the bees in there, it'll be very short and crooked. None of them will grow right if they don't get pollinated well."

If you want a thriving garden or fruit tree, you need bees. You can hope scouts find your flowers, though the bees may not like some blooms, including roses. Or you can hope that someone in the neighborhood has a beehive. Or you can make your own yard more bee-friendly....

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