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Gardening: Guest speaker at annual Master Gardener Foundation dinner will talk about the plight of native bees

A bumble bee forages among Cleome plants in a garden on 14th Avenue in Spokane in July 2010. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
A bumble bee forages among Cleome plants in a garden on 14th Avenue in Spokane in July 2010. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Last summer I was lucky. I seemed to have more than a few bumblebees buzzing around my garden. This after the cold, wet spring hurt many populations of pollinating insects in the area.

Bumblebees are one of the nearly 400 species of native bees we have in the Pacific Northwest that help pollinate fruits and vegetables in our home gardens and our state’s world class agricultural industry. Sadly, their numbers are declining and they need help to survive.

To help us understand this issue, the Master Gardener Foundation of Spokane County is bringing Rich Hatfield of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation to Spokane on Nov. 2 as the speaker for an annual fundraising dinner at the Lincoln Center in Spokane.

Hatfield is a senior conservation biologist with Xerces and has been involved in efforts to raise awareness of and then protect many of the native bees and other pollinators that are critical to our gardens and our agricultural industry. He was a major driver in the efforts to protect the rusty patched bumblebee, an eastern North America native bumblebee that was placed on the endangered species list on March 10, the first native bee to be placed on the list. Hatfield will share his insights about his research and field work, about pollinator endangerment and what we can do to help to preserve our pollinators.

When Hatfield was asked what ordinary people could do to help protect native pollinator insects, he had three suggestions for gardeners and homeowners. The first step is to stop using pesticides. These chemicals not only kill the bug you think you must kill, they also kill many other beneficial insects in the process.

“Change what you think is beautiful and learn to tolerate some insect damage,” he said.

Second, plant a succession of flowers that are attractive to pollinators that bloom from early spring through the fall. Pollinator insects need a steady source of protein and carbohydrates through the season.

Lastly, leave some undisturbed areas in your yard to provide insects with nesting and resting places out of the weather and away from predators. Leave flower stalks and spent plants standing in the garden to provide winter hibernation places. Bumblebees winter under leaf litter and garden debris. Create shallow spaces near water the bees can land on to get water through the season.

The Master Gardeners Foundation of Spokane County supports the WSU Spokane County Master Gardener Program. The program provides gardeners with research-based information on all aspects of vegetable and ornamental gardening through education classes, on-site Plant Clinic at the WSU Spokane County Extension Office and through a wide range of outreach programs for youth and adults.

In addition to Hatfield’s talk, the dinner will include an extensive silent auction, a fun-filled dessert dash, a raffle, and a no-host bar and buffet dinner. Hatfield will be available at 4:30 p.m. on the day of the event for questions on protecting bumblebees and other invertebrate pollinators.

Pat Munts, Spokane Valley gardener and author, can be reached at pat@ inlandnwgardening.com.