Pollinator Week events highlight ways to help the bees

Pollinator Week events highlight ways to help the bees

John Marsland, president of the Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone, and Bonnie Combs, of the Blackstone Heritage Corridor, stand by the pollinator garden at the BRWC/FOB’s headquarters in Lincoln. (Breeze photo by Melanie Thibeault)

LINCOLN – With fewer bee sightings so far this spring, local experts and organizations are buzzing with events and tips for how people can do their part to save this vital population.

Among the ways that the average citizen can help are by creating pollinator gardens filled with native plants and not using pesticides, say experts.

“All these pollinator gardens are great. More flowers equals more bees,” Steven Alm, professor in the department of plant sciences and entomology at the University of Rhode Island, told The Breeze. “Even one or two plants can be helpful because bees will find them.”

According to Jim Murphy, sustainability coordinator at Rhode Island College who is involved with the bee education program there, “of all of the pollinators, honeybees do 80 percent of the work,” pollinating one-third of everything we eat.

There’s been a noticeable lack of honeybees and bumblebees this spring, Alm said, noting it might have something to do with a small drought we had. “I haven’t seen as many (bees) this spring,” he said.

One of the major factors in the decline of honeybees is the varroa destructor, a parasitic mite that attacks the bees and transmits viruses, including one that leaves the bees with deformed wings. “That’s obviously a problem for honeybees,” he said.

Another factor, he said, is the colder temperatures in the winter. “If it gets too cold, they can’t survive,” he said. When beekeepers have to buy packages of new bees every spring and reinstall them, it takes a while for the colonies to build up again and people won’t see as many bees until later in the season.

According to Murphy, many beekeepers he’s talked with said they lost about 40 to 50 percent of their bee colonies over the winter. He also added that as far as pesticides go, the worst offenders are neonicotinoids, which ruin bees’ navigation skills.

Learn about pollinators at local events

To highlight the need to help the bees and celebrate National Pollinator Week, which runs June 21-27, the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor is hosting a series of events focused on pollinator education and protection.

The week kicks off with a pollinator walk with the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council along the Woonasquatucket River Greenway in Providence on Tuesday, June 22, at 9 a.m. From bioswales and rooftop gardens to pollinator meadows and a custom-seed blend, there’s a lot to see and learn from WRWC’s efforts to support healthy pollinator habitats, states a press release. Meet at Riverside Park, 50 Aleppo St., Providence. The walk is approximately two hours long. Register at bit.ly/PollinatorWalk622 .

Join the Audubon Society of Rhode Island on Thursday, June 24, at 6:30 p.m., for a virtual skills workshop on pollinator protection via Zoom and learn what you can do on your property to encourage, assist, and help save pollinators. Register at bit.ly/PollinatorWorkshop624 .

On Saturday, June 26, volunteers from the Rhode Island Wild Plant Society will host a garden tour at the Kelly House Museum’s native pollinator garden in Blackstone River State Park, 1075 Lower River Road in Lincoln. Stop by between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. for a personal tour and learn about the importance of native plants for a healthy ecosystem.

Also on Saturday, June 26, join the Blackstone Heritage Corridor for the return of Corridor Chats from 1 to 4:30 p.m. at the Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone’s headquarters, 100 New River Road in Lincoln. The event will celebrate not only Pollinator Week but also National Rivers Month and National Great Outdoors Month.

There will be meet-and-greet, speaking, and networking portions where people can learn what’s new with BHC, including programs, volunteer opportunities, and more.

At 2:30 p.m. visitors have the option to join a bike ride down the Blackstone River Bikeway to the Kelly House Museum for a tour of the native pollinator garden. The 6-mile round trip ride will return to BRWC/FOB for a special pollinator garden blessing with the Eastern Medicine Singers at 4 p.m.

People can also choose to canoe or kayak along the Blackstone River or join a walk on the nature trails at the BRWC/FOB’s Sycamore Landing property. Register at bit.ly/CorridorChats626 .

For more information, visit blackstoneheritagecorridor.org/events or blackstoneheritagecorridor.org/protect-our-pollinators .

As far as the pollinator garden at Sycamore Landing goes, John Marsland, president of the BRWC/FOB, said he’s noticed a shortage of bees so far this year but added that they’re waiting for more of their plants to bloom. There’s also a separate garden of milkweed for monarch butterflies, he noted.

Take part in bee survey

Historically there have been 11 species of bumblebees in Rhode Island, Alm said, but researchers have only been able to find six of them since 2015. In Rhode Island, there are approximately 250 species of bees.

One of the goals of Alm’s research team, he said, is to find key plants that pollinators like and “get people to plant more of them.”

A lot of plants nowadays are genetically modified and don’t attract bees. “Those are obviously not helping,” he said. “We need to plant more native wildflowers.”

Planting early, mid and late season plants is also very helpful, he said. Check out the Rhode Island Wild Plant Society, which grows and sells native plants, he said.

Another great resource, Murphy said, is the Rhode Island Beekeepers Association. Visit ribeekeeper.org for more.

One tree that people can plant, Alm said, is basswood, which is alive with bees when it’s in bloom. Blueberry bushes and crab apple trees also attract bees. Even clover, he said, which people try to get rid of on their lawns is actually very important for bees.

Alm and his team are actively looking for citizens to help their research by recording short videos of bumblebees visiting flowers. “We’re trying to see what species are out there and what types of flowers they’re on,” he said. Participants can record a 15- to 30-second video and send videos with dates, locations, and flower identification to bombussurvey@gmail.com . If possible, he said, identify the type of flower the bee is visiting; the apps “Picture This” or “Seek by iNaturalist” can be helpful for this, he said.

Alm and Murphy noted that people often confuse bees with wasps, such as yellow jackets and hornets, but said that bees are not likely to sting. “They’re interested in gathering nectar and pollen,” Alm said.