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A Mighty Humble Bumble

Honeybees are the well-sung heroes of agriculture. Not only do they do a job that would be insurmountable for humans to do (think thousands of people going from flower to flower with q-tips), but along the way they also produce one of the best natural sweeteners we have. However, honeybees are not the only pollinators in town, and when you’re snacking on fresh Florida blueberries this spring, I invite you to consider a Florida native pollinator: the bumblebee.

Honeybees are a lot like most of us. When you wake up on a cold, cloudy, or rainy day, you want to stay home and sleep in, right? Bumblebees aren’t like that. Bumblebees are like Alaskan sled dogs, tough workers to the core when everyone else wants to stay in. Adapted to handle colder and wetter environments than the non-native honeybees, they are often the last pollinators in the field approaching winter and the first pollinators in the spring. On an overcast February day, you can be standing in a blueberry field not 300 feet from a block of honeybee hives and the only bees on the flowers are bumbles. For these reasons they are prized by blueberry growers. Research has shown that bumblebees in an experimental plot excluded from other pollinators “can pollinate ‘Emerald’ and ‘Millennia’ varieties of highbush blueberry to produce similar berry formation as that of open pollinated plots.”

The best way to attract honeybees is by planting high diversity flower plots in clumps. 1/4 acre of high mass flower resources per colony is a general rule of thumb, though there is not enough scientific evidence to consider this a hard rule. They are especially attracted to walters viburnum and chaste tree, along with azaleas and false rosemary. They are also attracted to weeds such as spanish needle, thistles, spiderwort, and goldenrod, so be sure to mow flowering weeds before spraying pesticides to limit contact.

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