Parker Memo

JANUARY 1, 2022

Welcome to Parker’s Farm 2022, our 31st. year as a nursery in the East Mountains. Our seed greenhouse is almost full, and we are looking forward to sharing our old, steadfast seed varieties and introducing a few new ones. In the coming months, I’ll share our work with you and the progress we make. I do have one question from 2021 that I would like to address before jumping into the new year. Last season, many gardeners we talked with asked, “Where are the bees?” For those of you who did have bees, congratulations! You provided them with the resources they need in a challenging environment. I would like to help those who do not have many bees in their gardens and understand why.

Last week I finally made it to “What’s the Buzz? Why Honey Bees Matter.” at the Museum of Natural History & Science in Albuquerque. It was an excellent introduction to honey bee biology and their importance as pollinators. The exhibit also highlighted the problems they face because of human intervention, As managed bees, they are at our mercy. Native bees need our help, too, because native bees are also being managed. Bumblebees are bred to pollinate tomatoes in greenhouses, Leafcutter bees pollinate alfalfa to produce alfalfa seeds in Colorado, and Blue Orchid bees are sold to orchardists. All bees are under more stress than ever, which leads to fewer bees.

As it is for all life, the most crucial, primary need for bees is a reliable water source. They use it for drinking, diluting honey, cooling the hive, controlling humidity , metabolizing food and nest building. We have little rain and less humidity. A few simple bowls filled with pebbles or a purchased bee waterer will attract bees. Bees will not get their feet wet and will easily drown if not given dry islands above the water. The pebbles are necessary. You can also float pieces of wood. Place your water pans close to something blooming. Many native bees need mud for nest building which can be provided by watering the area around your spigots. Take the rocks away to expose the soil. The desert won’t bloom and the bees won’t come if it doesn’t rain or an alternate water source is unavailable, no matter what kind of plant or bee it is.

In New Mexico, we are fortunate to have many different climate zones, from low deserts to high mountains with many ecosystems in between. These ecosystems define what kind of bees frequent them and when. Many native bees forage close to their pollen and nectar sources. They hatch, feed, reproduce and overwinter within a few hundred yards of their nests. Blue Orchard bees, seen on the west side of the mountain, are not common at our altitudes, but Leafcutter bees, which emerge later in spring, are frequent visitors to my rose bushes. Most bees are not plant specialists who evolved to have a specific relationship with a few or just one type of flower. Most bees are generalist bees, those who visit a wide range of flowers. Growing native plants is essential to conserve water and encourage those bees who are specialists. Still, growing low water non-natives like Lavender, Caryopteris, Russian Sage, and Salvia benefit and are used by bees of all kinds. The same native Squash bees that pollinate our native gourds, pollinate our vegetable squash as well. Many people complained about deformed squash fruit caused by a lack of pollination as a problem in their gardens. The answer is to grow four or five or more squash to give them incentive to come. If you grow a smaller amount chances are you will have to pollinate the plants yourself.

Blooming trees and shrubs provide excellent habitat for bee nesting areas and provide pollen and nectar sources for all bees. Pinon and Juniper provide pollen and propolis, but not much nectar. The mid elevations have a number of blooming native trees and shrubs, but in a dry year, blooms will be few. On the plains, we do not have blooming native trees or shrubs. This year we recorded 7.46 inches of rain. We have been keeping records since 2002 and only 2003 was worse with 5.39 inches of rain and snow for the year. Our highest recorded yearly rain was 17.90 in 2006. Our average is 12 inches. Lack of habitat, little rain, and unpredictable weather patterns, equal less bees of all kinds

For those who do not have many bees, remember that many forces at play make it the norm. We can’t control the weather and sharing water with bees means less for ourselves. I always try to find the middle ground. My favorite Robert Frost quote: ” We dance round in a ring and suppose,/ But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.” The secret to having more bees is to give them what they need according to our ability. To look at the benefits of all plant life and all different types of bees and what we share as living beings, to include all of us in the middle.

Next month will be devoted to chores you need to do before spring. Happy New Year to you all!

Ricky, Andy and Monika

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