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After mass die-offs and gloomy reports, new hope for bees in Seattle

By Martha Baskin

Read about pollinators, including Seattle Tilth's work at Rainier Beach Urban Farm.

The queen is buzzing and vibrating. First she’ll need to find a suitable nesting spot, then store and collect pollen. She’s come to the right place; a pesticide free, restored urban landscape with flowers and fruit trees, native plants, crops and wetlands. It’s perfect for pollinators of all kinds, honey bees, bumble bees, native bees and butterflies. Like patches of urban refuge everywhere, the Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands in South Seattle, is doing its part to stop a disturbing trend. Forty percent of all pollinators are at risk of extinction, according to a recent report from a U.N.-connected group.

The report, which assessed dozens of earlier studies, focused largely on the loss of habitat and possible threats from pesticides. It’s the latest in a series of studies and reports indicating that bees, which also face threats from pathogens and parasites, are struggling in much of the world. The report, by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, noted that the the problems faced by pollinators could hurt some of the highest-value crops, including fruits and vegetables, which would create job losses, according to the New York Times. Scientists at the University of Minnesota say that while critical cereal grains like rice, wheat and corn are wind pollinated, a third of the world’s crop species depend on bee pollination, posing risks for declines in production of some of the most nutritious parts of human diets.

Bee-friendly counter-strategies have become a rallying cry for gardeners, farmers, entomologists and others eager to reverse the trend. Pollinator power patches and unique bee housing schemes, such as a “pollinator post project” to build small spots for bees in neighborhoods, are all in the mix.

At the Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands, Ivy Clark guides a group of volunteers in the art of mulching new native plants and trees: spirea, red twigged dogwood, thimble berry. “In two years that whole field will be bushy and beautiful like the one behind us,” she says, pointing to willow trees, red flowering currant and Indian plum, already in bloom and rich in pollen and nectar, the food pollinators rely on. “If you give them the habitat, they’ll be here,” she says, pointing to piles of rocks and woody debris that provide nesting sites for some bees.


Among the pollinators Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands wants to attract are native bees, wild bees that nest on the ground, under logs, in rocky crevices and in the hollows of trees and eaves. They do the bulk of pollination and are especially important for pollinating berries, says Chris Hoffer, education manager for the farm and its parent organization, Seattle Tilth. The best way to attract them is with native plants, because they’ve essentially co-evolved.  “When the native pollinators are waking up,” Hoffer says, “that’s when the native plants are blooming.” What’s more, native bees are active in cloudy weather, which makes them a good fit for the Northwest. Honey bees, by comparison, prefer warmer weather.


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