September is National Honey Month, so today we focus today on bees. While we enjoy the fruits of the their labor, not many of us want a swarm of them settling in the backyard, especially since the Africanized “killer” bees are a fact of life across the Southwest — in Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and southern California.
The Food We Eat
Even if you never eat honey, you still enjoy how hard bees work. Bees pollinate an amazing number of crops that we use. Food for us (almonds, apples, berries, buckwheat, cantaloupe, and through the alphabet to zucchini), forage for our livestock (alfalfa, clover, vetch, etc.), and even oil seed crops like canola and sunflower. The USDA says that about one third of our daily diet relies on bees.
Pollinator bees are not just honey bees. There are numerous species of native solitary bees that work diligently as pollinators, even on imported food crops. Our Southwest region has the highest diversity of solitary bee species in the world. The diversity is due in part to the diversity of the land — low deserts, soaring mountains, and everything in between, including many unique species of plants to feed on.
Sadly, all bees are dying off — honey bees and native solitary bees alike. There are a number of studies that show that organic farming practices might be the only solution to saving all bees. That’s one more reason to support organic farmers. Plus, we can grow some of our own fruits and vegetables in our own yards. [Note – You can use the “Search” bar on our website to look up past blogs on growing your own vegetables and fruits. Example: almonds.]
The fact that native solitary bees also are dying off points to the need to include native plants in our yards. There are so many lovely flowering native plants, we need never plant non-native species. We featured a number of native plants in past posts too — including in how to make a moon garden.
Bees in Your Yard
Even with Africanized bees in the area, bee specialists tell us there is no need to panic if you see bees visiting your yard. Foraging bees are looking for food or water and should be left alone. They might have flown up to six miles to get to your yard for a drink, especially here in the arid Southwest.
Swarms of bees in the yard are a different matter. Several thousand strong, they represent the mating flight of a queen and her large court of drones and workers. Let them fly on by, and keep children and pets indoors. If you see a swarm settling into a tree, or the eaves or walls of your house, don’t panic yet. They might be resting. But if the bee swarm is still there the next morning, then call a bee removal specialist. Do not try to deal with them yourself — this really is a job for experts.
Chances are good that the bees in your yard are (relatively) harmless. You might see them on flowers, beside the pool, or on the hummingbird feeder. Next time you see some bees, try this: mentally thank them for all the hard work their kin folk do to help put food on your table. Life wouldn’t be the same without them.
Want to learn more?
Jacqueline also writes for Savor the Southwest – SavorTheSW.com. She is joined on that site by a third generation beekeeper and other writers that share some tasty recipes for meals, drinks, and many other ways to use the bounty of the Southwest. (Including honey and beeswax!)
Jacqueline offers numerous presentations across the Southwest. The next is October 6 at the Southwest Festival of the Written Word (Oct. 4-6) in Silver City, New Mexico. Also look for her at National Parks across the Southwest, local libraries, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event she will be signing copies of her books, including Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press).
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