At a Pollinators Workshop hosted by Eastern Sierra Land Trust (ESLT) on Saturday, April 8, Michelle Hunt of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) told participants that there are over 1,600 species of bees native to California. These bees are 2-3 times more effective pollinators than honey-producing European Honeybees.
According to Hunt, pollinators, or insects that carry pollen grains from a flower’s male part or stamen to the female part or stigma of the same species, are responsible for the reproductive success of at least 75 percent of the world’s flowering plants. They are essential to the production of over 150 food crops in the United States, and their numbers are declining. “Roughly 40 percent of invertebrate species [such as bees] are facing extinction,” said Hunt. Hunt said pesticide use and habitat destruction are factors in their decline.
In 2013, The Eastern Sierra Land Trust partnered with Metabolic Studio to start the Eastside Pollinator Garden Project in order to create more habitat for native pollinators in the Eastern Sierra. Funding for the program has since been provided by USFWS. Gardeners can register to have their gardens certified as Pollinator Gardens by Eastern Sierra Land Trust. The certification process is free, as are staff consultations. In order to qualify as a Pollinator Garden, a garden must have three pollinator food sources, water conservation measures, a water source for pollinators, and minimal artificial lighting. Within the designated Pollinator Garden area, at least 50 percent of the plants must be native to California, preferably to the Owens Valley. Once the garden is underway, the applicant is eligible to receive a $100 voucher for native plant purchases in addition to five Showy Milkweed plants at the end of season Plant Sale in August.
Examples of native bees include Squash Bees, which live inside of and pollinate squash blossoms, Blue Orchard Bees, which pollinate fruit trees, bumblebees, and carpenter bees, which have been known to head-butt hummingbirds when competing for food. There are also Leaf-Cutter Bees, Mason Bees, and Globe Mallow Bees, which only pollinate the orange flowers of Globe Mallow plants, and are native to The Owens Valley.
Since 2013, Eastern Sierra Land Trust has certified 75 gardens as Pollinator Gardens in The Eastern Sierra. Steve Blair, Co-Owner of Chalfant Big Trees Farm and Feed, was inspired by ESLT’s Pollinator Garden Project to start keeping honeybees on his property. “We’ve had fruit trees in our yard since 1982, but never had any fruit until I started keeping bees. We had fruit within the first year. Our neighbors trees have fruit now too, and they love it,” said Blair.
According to Blair, it’s pretty easy to keep a hive. “It is absolutely something the average gardener could take on. When you get into honey production—that’s where it gets complicated.”