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Why Raise Native Bees?By Wendy Nadherny Fachon      Farmers and gardeners are increasingly turning to native bees for help with pollination. The keeping of native bees has many advantages over the keeping of honey bees, which are non-native. There are over 4,000 known bee species that are native to the United States. Native mason bees are designed to pollinate, and they pollinate every flower they visit. In comparison, a honey bee only pollinates about 5% of the flowers it visits.      Why is this? The anatomy of a honey bee and mason bee are designed for different purposes. The honey bee has a pollen basket formed from stiff hairs on each of its back legs. It transfers all of the pollen it collects back to these baskets to take back to the hive. Pollen provides protein for the hive community. The honey bee’s job is to get as much pollen as it can back to the hive. A honeybee usually needs to visit a flower 7-10 times before the flower becomes fully pollinated.      A mason bee, on the other hand, will pollinate a flower in a single visit, gathering and spreading pollen from flower to flower with its whole body. The mason bee belly flops into the flower, gets its fuzzy body all covered in pollen and moves on to the next flower. It spreads pollen generously.      A honey bee visits a flower to sip nectar into a special honey stomach where enzymes begin the process of turning nectar into honey.  They bring back the sweet liquid back to the hive where other members of the hive transform it into honey. Honey bees also have wax glands, which they use to make honey comb for storing pollen and honey. Mason bees, on the other hand, produce neither honey nor wax. While honey bees gather the abundance, mason bees spread the abundance, which makes them more efficient than honey bees when it comes to pollinating the food supply – fruit trees, berries, herbs and vegetable gardens.Native beekeeper Susannah Otocki considered raising honey bees and then changed her mind when she learned about native mason and leafcutter bees. She found the work of keeping native bees to be easier, less costly and more productive. Otocki grew up on a small farm in Massachusetts, where her family raised their own vegetables and meat. This is where she developed a deep connection with the seasonal cycles of the earth and where her lifelong love and respect of nature began.Raising native bees has brought Otacki even closer to the seasonal cycles. During the growing season, her bees live inside hollow reeds that are arranged within a special bee house. The bee house is placed in a sheltered area where it receives early morning sun to wake up the bees. At the end of the season, she gently removes the reeds, cracks them open and extracts the bee larva. Through the winter, Otacki keeps the larva in her refrigerator, and, in the spring, she helps the new bees hatch out of their cocoons and introduces them to their hew homes in the bee house.The seasonality of raising native bees, makes it a wonder-filled science activity for teachers and students of all ages. Otacki is quick to point out the cuteness and gentleness of these precious little creatures. Native bees need people to help them overcome their environmental challenges, including pesticide use, habitat loss and climate change.Otacki shares her passion and wisdom in the Story Walking Radio Hour episode Why Raise Native Bees? And how? (May 2023). She talks about how the mason and leafcutter bees earned their common names and discusses what they need for their own housekeeping inside the reeds – mud and leaves, respectively. She explains how very few bees can do much work in the garden, and she provides resources for native beekeeping instruction and material.

Tune in to Natives Bee on the Dreamvisions 7 Radio Network

Listen to Story Walking Radio Hour with Wendy Fachon every Monday 9am & 9pmET on global syndicated Dreamvisions 7 Radio Network. Listen Live or Get our Apps Listen online, mobile, in cars and by asking “Alexa play Dreamvisions 7 Radio ”

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