Native bees offer an alternative to European Honey Bees and an increasing number of people are discovering their benefits. There are approximately 4,000 species of bee native to the US
. Many of these bees specialize in plants that honey bees either ignore or do a poor job of pollinating - that's because they evolved to serve these plants and live more in harmony with their bloom cycles.
Orchard Mason Bees, Blueberry Bees, Hornfaced Bees, and many others are ideal alternatives to Honey Bees. These are solitary bees. They live alone, so their nests take up far less space than Honey Bee Hives. They also aren't as territorial, because they don't produce honey. All of this means that you're less likely to be stung by a native bee, and if you are stung, you are unlikely to be stung by more than one bee. Unlike European honey bees or Africanized honey bees, native bees don't swarm, and they have no evolutionary benefit from going kamikazee on you. Several species of native bees don't even have stingers!
For many crops, native bees are much more effective pollinators than Honey Bees. Some species of bees are roughly 100 times as effective at pollinating flowers as European Honey Bees
. According to Jeff Brady, research assistant at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station:
"Two hundred alfalfa leafcutters can do the same amount of pollination that a 20,000 honeybee hive could."
The watermelon alone attracts about 20-50 different bee species
. A diverse population of native bees will promote fuller fruit and vegetables due to multiple pollination incidents. Deborah K. Rich explains:
The question is less "was a plant pollinated,'' than "how well was it pollinated.'' The fruits of many plants have the potential to bear more than one seed; a fully pollinated apple, for example, will have 10 seeds. Plants will shunt more resources toward those fruits that have received enough pollen to fertilize the fruit's maximum number of seeds, and fully pollinated fruits will be relatively larger and better formed. And when bees carry pollen between different plants of the same species, stirring the plants' gene pool, seedlings grow more vigorously in a wider range of crop conditions.
Native bees have other advantages over honey bees. Honey Bee populations have been decimated by varroa and tracheal mites, but native bees have natural resistance to these parasites. Native bees are different enough from Honey bees that they are immune to some of the viruses and molds that attack European bees. Unlike honey bees, they don't require expensive medication or supplements to keep alive. Solitary bees are also immune to attack from Africanized Honey Bees. Since they don't have hives or raise honey, there's nothing to attract raiding parties of these so-called "Killer bees".
These are some of the reasons why you might consider promoting Native Bees in your garden. Best of all, there's no need to handle live bees or coccoons. Many native bees already visit your garden, and you can increase their numbers with a bee nesting block from Clean Air Gardening