My first vegetable garden where we now live had pollinator problems. Sometimes I have thought about keeping a bee hive to promote pollination. Alas, I have a sting reaction more reactive than most, and I also live in a neighborhood where people might question the value of my new hobby. So I determined, instead of beekeeping, I would do bee hosting. I would provide plants that other people’s bees enjoy, to facilitate them visiting my vegetable garden. A happy effect of this has been that I have learned to also like the plants bees like. That was my utilitarian introduction to flower gardening.
Now I enjoy planning my “landscape feature” more than I enjoy planning my veggie garden every spring. Primary agenda: Keeping the pollinators happy. Secondary agenda: Producing some herbs for cooking and some cut flowers to take inside. Tertiary agenda: Having something in the front yard to look at when I get home from work and I’m talking with my mom on the phone. Quaternary agenda: Impressing the neighbors. One way or another, I’m sure they are impressed.
The oregano I planted a couple years ago for my own culinary use has expanded to a large patch in the front yard and it is the pollinator party house. This thread-waisted wasp has been difficult to photograph because they rarely sit still. Maybe they are looking for their prey, caterpillars. They also seem to chase around in an amorous or territorial way… I can’t really discern what is going on. I read up and found they are the ally of gardeners and plants in our fight against caterpillars. They sting caterpillars to paralysis and carry them back to their underground lairs. Disgustingly, the young of the thread waisted wasp hatch and feed upon the paralyzed caterpillars that the mother wasp has stocked for them. This fragile-looking insect can fly while carrying a relatively large caterpillar. Though I have not witnessed this, there are plenty of photographs on the internet to prove it. No wonder she needs the nectar!
Now that the oregano is in flower, I see honey bees too. Some are golden striped and some have more brownish stripes. Based on the varied appearances I think there could be more than one hive represented, although I don’t know which neighbors are keeping them. I don’t have any great photos of these, and it turns out, they are a little more boring than the solitary* bee visitors I get.
These wasps are also at the oregano party. The internet says they are parasites of the beetle grubs. That is, the female bee lays an egg on a beetle grub and the larval bee will consume the larval grub, or something to that effect. Grubs and beetles are both garden pests so it is nice to see some of these wasps around.
A leaf cutter bee prefers to nest solitarily in a cavity, like an existing crack in bricks or easily-excavated rotten wood and she prepares this home to house her young. As building material she uses circular pieces neatly cut (chewed) from a leaf. Each of her young will have a separate room and meals (not grubs in this case, but pollen and nectar balls called bee bread) that she prepares in advance for them. Either she has been subtle about cutting these circles or she’s not seriously building yet. Or maybe she’s not really a leafcutter… I have not found the tell-tale signs, leaves transformed into crescents by the circles cut out on the side.
Finally, here are the darlings of pollinator photography, the bumble bee. Firstly, they are cute, being as fuzzy as a tiny teddy bear. Secondly, they are big enough to spot at a distance and to easily see what they are doing. Thirdly, they fly slowly and I can sorta follow them with the camera. In my garden, i see bumble bees of different types. I like them all and haven’t yet attempted to identify who is who. I also have carpenter bees. They are photogenic as well and I haven’t found them drilling into the walls of my house so I am happy to host them as well.
These I somehow managed to capture in flight. The left picture shows a bee amongst the vitex. The other shows a bee heading for delicious bee balm (bergamot).
Speaking of vitex, these large bees love it. They climb up each flowered branch and appear to pause and drink from each blossom. It’s fun to watch them at their working lunch.
I wish I had planted these flowers close together, because the blossoms would contrast nicely. Alas, the dahlia on the left was grown from seed and flower colors range from orange to this reddish-purple. So I didn’t know in advance. The bee on the pincushion flower, top right, is standing up to take flight, and the bee on the turk’s turban is just rolling around in the delicious thistle-y pollen that she has found.
*Solitary bees don’t have a hive to defend. They generally keep busy with the other things they do and don’t worry about maintaining a militia. Most are civil, mild mannered, peace-loving, and I have not been stung or even threatened in my flower garden where we coexist, even though I am being nosy and bothering them with my camera.