My garden-partner-in-crime and good friend Barbara introduced me to a really neat place today, Pollinate Farm and Garden, in Oakland (in the Fruitvale neighborhood).

I went to hear a talk on native bees, but whoa - this place was amazing! They had everything you could possibly want for beekeeping, chicken keeping, canning, preserving, and fermenting food, garden starts, compost, books, crockery - and even a fertilizer bar! Yes, you could buy different fertilizers by the pound, all organic. I was geeking out. Jewelry stores? Nah. Show me a store with a fertilizer bar and this girl is happy!

The talk was by Jamie Pawelek, from the UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab. She was amazing, and I learned so much! But a couple of things stuck out in my head:

1) We have 4,000 native bee species in North America, and 1,600 of those reside in California! While we tend to think honeybees (which are European, of course) do most of our pollinating, quite a bit of it is done by these native bees.

2) Native bees make nests in undisturbed dirt (bumble bees), hollow logs (carpenter bees), and hollow tubes (mason bees). They line their nests with leaves (leaf cutter bees) and soft plant material (wool carder bees). Some are social and some are solitary. Some are incredibly beautiful (green metallic bees).

3) All female bees sting, because they also lay eggs. So the stinger is primarily an ovipositor, but can be used for venom as well. No male bees sting, because of course they don't lay eggs.

4) All collect both pollen and nectar. Nectar is the main source of sugar and carbohydrate; pollen is the main source of protein and vitamins. Most bees only eat pollen at the beginning of their lives.

5) Native bee mothers make a sort of 'loaf' of pollen and nectar, and lay one egg upon it. Once the egg hatches, the immature bee eats the loaf, then pupates. The adult can stay dormant until spring, when some instinct tells them that the flowers are blooming, and it's time to come out. They then eat themselves out of either the mud or leaves blocking the nest, and start to forage.

6) These pollinators are incredibly important to our existence.

7) Neonicotinoids, the pesticide getting all the press now, is truly evil stuff. Companies produce GMO seeds impregnated with the neonics, and these pesticides within the plant are water soluble. So as the plant grows, the neonics become part of the foliage, part of the flower, part of the soil around the plant. Bees eat the pollen and nectar from these plants, and are poisoned. They feed their babies this poison. They get confused and disappear. This is considered one of the main reasons for colony collapse disorder, which is happening not just with honeybees, but with native bees. Please, please, please don't use pesticides in your gardens. Buy organic seeds and starts, and plant lots of native plants in your gardens!

The speaker recommended a few websites. One is Help A Bee, which has plant lists for California, by season. SO helpful! Another is Pollinator Partnership, which has lots of good info. I found this great chart there to help identify native bees: Native Bee Identification.

After the talk, we moved out back and planted some raised beds for the store, filled with pollinator plants. Then we made mason bee habitats out of old bamboo. Just clip the bamboo into sections, different sizes are best, and band them together. Hang them somewhere protected from rain, that gets morning sun and afternoon shade. Here's mine:

After that we made seed bombs. Just mix together a little compost, a little clay, some seeds, press them into balls, and let dry. Then throw them in your garden to germinate. (Or, if you're feeling subversive, throw them in empty urban lots.) We made some with California bluebell seeds and I brought home six of them to throw in my garden.

I bought a bee feeder (for winter), some fire starters for my bee smoker, books on gardening for native bees (signed by the authors, whom I met there!), a couple pounds of fish meal for the raised vegetable beds, and some acid fertilizer for the blueberry bushes. What a great place, I will definitely go back soon, and there were some things in there that I'll put on my Christmas wish list, for sure!

This weekend we pulled all the rest of the vegetables from the beds (reserving a few last cucumbers for Tom to make pickles), and hoed everything well. Next week I will plant winter seeds and bulbs. We are starting to get a little rain, which is exciting, and I'm hoping that will start growing some plants in the hills, so the deer will leave my little lot alone. It's definitely starting to look more like autumn, here. The berries on the Toyon and the Chinese Pistache are starting to change color.

November will soon be here.