Bee habitat in agricultural landscapes is key element in any good strategy for pollinator health. But farmers have a lot going on and may not have clear answers to some important pollination questions.

Our guest is here to help us with these issues. Jessa Kay Cruz is the Senior Pollinator Conservation Specialist for California with the Xerces Society.

Based in Sacramento, Jessa works closely with landowners and farmers, developing strategies for overcoming misconceptions when it comes to pollinators and their habitats.

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“One thing that has happened with modern agriculture is that we really lost biodiversity in our agricultural systems..” – Jessa Kay Cruz

Show Notes:

  • How diverse agricultural landscapes are today compared to past decades
  • Why food deserts are being created for bees
  • How farmers can be stewards of the land
  • Some of the misconceptions about bees that growers have
  • How the Xerces Society provides support for farmers and growers
  • As a farmer, what are key considerations when you want to put in a pollinator habitat?
  • Why even some organic pesticides are harmful to bees and how to separate spray areas from habitat areas
  • How to select the plants to put in when making a habitat area
  • Why it’s important to plant a diversity of different types of plants
  • Why planting un-flowering plants can help create nesting areas for bees
  • How to prepare the habitat area before you plant
  • Why you might not want to till up the soil

“Bees are just like people that way, they have different preferences, and they eat a good diversity of different sources of pollen. And different pollen provides certain nutrients for bees.” – Jessa Kay Cruz

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Ruth Marsh is a multidisciplinary artist based out of Halifax, NS. Her work uses absurd and often comically deadpan narratives to address loss, absence and longing in the context of living creatures and the natural world. She is interested in investigating themes of environmental loss through labour intensive meditations on transformation: life to death, experience to memory and the surrealistic degradation of information that occurs with each successive change of state.

In this episode, we talk about her work repairing bees. She creates these labor-intensive repairs using found objects, and uses exhibitions of the work to bring together people from the scientific and art community.

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“I am hoping that when someone sees an individual bee that has been repaired with so much care that they can build an empathetic relationship with a creature that might not necessarily be seen as an individual and not necessarily relatable to in a human way.” – Ruth Marsh

Show Notes:

  • How Ruth creates her work and why
  • Why people send her bees in the mail
  • About her stop-motion video with the bees she repairs
  • How her work showcases the diversity of bees
  • The distinct rolls that scientists and artists can take in engaging people around issues in pollinator health
  • What it’s like to see one of Ruth’s exhibitions
  • The importance of amateur scientists
  • How to taxidermy a bee
  • How artists can be activist for change

“There seems to be a really strong grassroots movement making people aware of issues faced by pollinators, so there’s a more hopeful aspect to my work.” – Ruth Marsh

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Scott MacIvor is an Assistant Professor of Urban Ecology at the University of Toronto at Scarborough in the Department of Biological Sciences.

Scott is also a researcher at the Green Roof Innovation Testing (GRIT) lab at the University of Toronto in the faculty of Landscape Architecture. Scott has published 12 peer-reviewed articles on green roof ecology and performance, and works with the City of Toronto Planning Division on a number of projects, which have included the ‘Bees of Toronto’ Biodiversity Series book, and the ‘Guidelines for Biodiverse Green Roofs’.

Today we’re talking about the Bees of Toronto book, what makes the city special for pollinators, and why urban habitats are so important for bee conservation.

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“We are really interested in mainstreaming biodiversity.” – Scott MacIvor

Show Notes:

  • Why Toronto is a great place for bees
  • How the history of Toronto has made it a great place for pollinators
  • The different kinds of bees that you can find in Toronto
  • Is there such a thing as an invasive bee or not?
  • How they came about writing the Bees of Toronto book
  • The many different types of people who care for bees in Toronto
  • Why more and more of people’s experiences with nature are happen within an urban realm
  • How artists are being inspired by pollinators
  • Some of the threats to bee declines in cities
  • Why soil conditions are important for more than 75% of the bees in Toronto
  • The limiting factors of studying bees in cities
  • Why cities might act as a refuge for bees
  • How bees interact with their landscapes in different ways
  • Why all landscapes need to be conservation areas

“We know about our bees in Toronto than almost any other city in the world.” – Scott MacIvor

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Laura Taylor works for the West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District. In this episode, find what happens when a local government wants to do something to help pollinator health.

As a conservation technician and an educational coordinator, Laura created an innovative program to monitor wild pollinators around restoration sites.

Learn how she got the monitoring program off the ground, what you can do for landowners wanting to help create pollinator habitats, and how they teach people to identify pollinators.

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“What can we do to encourage people to convert their monoculture lawns into something more diverse that will support a myriad of wildlife including pollinators and beneficial insects?” – Laura Taylor

Show Notes:

  • How wild pollinators fit into the mission of the West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District
  • Some of the biggest challenges to pollinators in this area
  • How they work with land owners to set priorities for conservation and pollinator habitat
  • What initially drew her interest in pollinators
  • How they build their Meadowscaping Handbook
  • How their pollinator monitoring program works
  • What the program does to educate landowners
  • How long it takes to teach someone to be able to identify insects and bees
  • What they learned from teaching people about bees in the first year of their program
  • What the future holds for the pollinator monitoring program

“Our pollinator monitoring, citizen science program sounds like a data collection program, but the main inspiration for it was the education benefit it would have for participants.” – Laura Taylor

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Aimee Code is the Pesticide Program Director at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

During her career she has worked in urban and agricultural setting to mitigate the risks of pesticide use and promote integrated pest management programs.

She also works with communities ​around the country to implement policies and practices to restore dwindling pollinator populations.​

Today we discuss how to mitigate the use of chemicals and pesticides on farms and around pollinator habitats, as well as what to do when you have to use chemicals.

We talk about the best places to build and locate pollinator habitat, and more.

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“If we take step back we realize that about half of the US land base is agriculture.” – Aimee Code

Show Notes:

  • What the Xerces society is all about
  • The initiatives that they have to work with farmers to better preserve pollinators
  • How to look for habits in agriculture landscapes
  • What the society does to put pollinator habit back in place where it was lost
  • Why they are focusing on habit for pollinators instead of other aspects of conservation
  • How pesticide exposure commonly happens
  • How to create more resilient farming practices so that less chemicals are being used
  • The growing body of research on how harmful fungicides can be to pollinators
  • How to choose where your pollinator habits are going to be located
  • Why native bees are often more at risk to pesticides than honey bees

“He used to work to deter insects on his farm. Now he’s working to support beneficial insects. It’s a complete shift in his thinking.” – Aimee Code

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Dr. Meghan Milbrath began working bees with her father as a child over 20 years ago, and now owns and manages The Sand Hill Apiary, a small livestock and queen rearing operation in Munith, Michigan.

She studied biology at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, and received degrees in public health from Tulane University and the University of Michigan, where she focused on environmental and disease transmission risk. Meghan worked as a postdoctoral research associate under Zachary Huang at Michigan State University, studying nosema disease, and is currently an academic specialist at MSU, where she does honey bee and pollinator research and extension and is the coordinator of the Michigan Pollinator Initiative.

Meghan is active in multiple beekeeping organizations, writes for multiple beekeeping journals, and speaks about bees all over the country. She currently runs the Northern Bee Network, a directory and resource site dedicated to supporting queen producers, and she is passionate about keeping and promoting healthy bees.

Today, we discuss queen rearing, keeping healthy bees, and how to make the best use of the Northern Bee Network.

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“We need this national system of bees because we need to eat food. My little backyard operation doesn’t necessarily need to be a part of that national system.” – Dr. Meghan Milbrath

Show Notes:

  • Why genetics is such an important part of how a colony performs
  • What queen breeding involves
  • How people go about trying to make bees that can better handle different diseases
  • Why demand for queens is unbelievably high
  • What the Northern Bee Network is and how they provide access for bees in their area
  • Why Northern backyard beekeepers don’t need bees from the South
  • How to get involved in the network
  • What to do if you want to sell local queens
  • Other things you can do on the Northern Bee Network website
  • How bees are bred to develop resistance to diseases
  • Resources for small scale queen-rearing operations
  • How the trading and exchange portion of the network functions
  • What they are going to do with the Northern Bee Network in the future
  • Why it’s important when you’re starting out to find people who are raising bees really well

“The most important thing is to talk to people and work with someone who is already keeping bees really well.” – Dr. Meghan Milbrath

Links Mentioned:

Today on the podcast talk about bumblebees in agriculture.

Dr. Sujaya Rao is a Professor in Entomology at Oregon State University. Her research covers IPM in field crops and native bee pollinators in diverse cropping systems, and in native habitats. A serendipitous discovery made by her led to development of a new bee monitoring tool.

Dr. Rao has also documented the presence of overwintering sites and nests of bumble bees in agricultural landscapes. Results from her studies on native bee abundance, overwintering and nesting of bumble bees provide evidence that, contrary to the perspective that agricultural landscapes are detrimental to native bee populations, the diversity of cropping systems in western Oregon has enabled native bumble bees to flourish. Dr. Rao is also actively engaged in insect outreach in K-12 classrooms and at public events.

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“Bee behavior is really complex. They may go to a particular flower today, and tomorrow go somewhere else.” – Dr. Sujaya Rao

Show Notes:

  • How Dr. Rao came to work at OSU
  • Why she started working on bees by accident
  • The specifics of the traps used when Dr. Rao trapped bees in field crop study
  • Some of the amazing discoveries made while doing her research
  • Why bee behavior is very complex and what assumptions can’t be made
  • What are some of the hotspots for bees in Oregon
  • Why agriculture in some cases can help bees instead of hurting them
  • Thinking about agriculture from the farmer’s point of view
  • The pollination services that Dr. Rao has observed in Oregon

“We have to think about bee conservation at the landscape level.” – Dr. Sujaya Rao

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Today on the show we explore bees and their social impact.

In 2012, Sarah Common co-founded Hives for Humanity Society, alongside her mother, Julia, in response to a gap she saw in opportunities for connection to nature, to community and to meaningful work for marginalized citizens.

She has coordinated partnerships between a variety of organizations and businesses, developing programming that builds self-worth and community pride.

We talk about how it got founded, how it works, and tips for other groups looking to do something similar in their communities.

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“We are looking to enhance communities through apiculture.” – Sarah Common

Show Notes:

  • How beekeeping can keep people healthy as well
  • What her organization does to bring together marginalized communities
  • How planting seeds creates a transformative moment for disadvantages communities
  • Why you have to be focused when handling bees and how it helps people stay present
  • What’s been the hardest thing about getting this garden project growing
  • How she pulled together the resources to get this projected started in the community
  • How the beekeeping community has responded to this project
  • What is specific about keeping bees in this part of Vancouver, BC
  • What the project is doing to collaborate with professors and other experts
  • Where they want the Society to be in the future
  • How to get the project to a point where it will be self-sustaining
  • What foundations could do to better support the organizations

“Holding a frame of hundreds of living, vibrating, colorful bees creates an interaction and a responsibility that builds self worth .” – Sarah Common

Links Mentioned:

Dr. Dave Smitley is a professor and researcher at Michigan State University.

He works with the turf grass and nursery industries to deal with emerging pest problems, and the greenhouse industry to grow plants in ways that are safe around pollinators.

In this episode we talk about practical tips as well as national initiatives to protect pollinators in urban landscapes.

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“You want to avoid putting in certain plants that you almost are required to use an insecticide on to keep it healthy.” -Dave Smitley

Show Notes:

  • How Dave began to research the safety of plants at garden centers for pollinators
  • How pollinator health is different in horticultural industries than in agricultural industries
  • How butterfly species are also part of the research into nursery plant health
  • Strategies that people can take around their garden to protect pollinators
  • What the modern threats to bees are
  • Why people end up with pest problems in their gardens
  • The products you can use to get rid of pests that won’t bother bees
  • How the largest plant centers have been pressured to change how they get their plants
  • What to look for when you are buying plants at the garden center
  • How nurseries have developed pollinator friendly plant lines
  • About the GrowWise BeeSmart initiative
  • Why lawn care effects bees as well
  • Some of the most pest-prone plants to keep your eye out for
  • How invasive pests change the game

“We have a lot of education to do for protecting pollinators.” – Dave Smitley

Links Mentioned:

Mike Burgett is the Emeritus Professor of Entomology at OSU, where he has taught since 1974.

He has conducted a huge amount of work on apiculture research, including a survey of beekeepers and growers in the Pacific Northwest of the US, which is our main topic for today.

Today we’ll discuss pollination markets as they are today, the history of beekeepers in this region and the unique pollination scenarios in the Pacific Northwest.

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“I wanted to know how much of a beekeeper’s income is dependent on pollination rental.” – Mike Burgett

Show Notes:

  • Where bees are being used for pollination in the Pacific Northwest
  • The fruit industries that need controlled pollination
  • Why the almond industry in California has an effect on commercial beekeepers in Oregon and Washington
  • How many colonies are needed to pollinate certain crops in the Pacific Northwest
  • Why Mike started the survey of local pollination markets in the Western US
  • The trends that he has seen in the last 30 years, and how commercial beekeepers stay profitable
  • How the price of pollination fees has changed
  • What has happened to the almond industry and why prices have increased so much
  • Why it’s a profitable time to be a beekeeper
  • The work that he has done in Southeast Asia with bees

“Your renting bees not to guarantee a crop. You’re renting bees to guarantee against crop failure. Pollination is the cheapest crop insurance a grower can get.” – Mike Burgett

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