May 5, 2013

Resources for the Wild Beekeeper

So...I'm not coming up with any new content in this post, I know.  But I've found myself in a little bit of a...situation...lately...
"Yawwwn...bedtime, hooray!  I'll just buzz through my Facebook feed real qui--hey lookie!  A neat little article about bee lifespans by Crown Bees!  Click click, oop, what's this?  An insect hotel photo gallery from all over the world?  Sweet sweet swee-oh my gosh I've been looking for some research on the evolution of bees and wasps! click click. Fascinating.  That reminds me, I need to find good instructions on insect collection techniques...and where to buy pins click click..."
Boom.  It's three in the morning, I'm wide awake with 15 browser windows open, and up to my ears in totally awesome resources for someone who can't get enough of native bees and other busy little pollinators.  Too much information and you just get lost down the rabbit hole.
So I've been wanting to pull together a compendium of sorts; a handy dandy list of what I've found to be the most complete, compelling, entertaining and useful tools available to all us budding apiologists.  These are the movers and shakers in the world of bees, with a special focus on western Montana's native species.  If you think of any I've left out, just give me a hoot!

*One quick note.  Sometimes it seems there's a savage war raging between the "native bee" people and the"honeybee" people.  I'm not going to get into honeybees much at all with this resource guide.  No time, no space!  But I highly encourage you to read this intriguing article on how native bees and honeybees interact and compliment each other's work.  I can't stop talking about it.

Helpful Organizations, Projects and Tools for the Wild Beekeepers of Western Montana

What IS that?!  Identification and Classification Tools
Insect identification can drive you bonkers!  I remember my first entomology class all too well.  The textbooks seemed to be written in a different language.  SO much new terminology, so many nit-picky little parts to learn, sooooo many insects species in the world!  We have thousands of native bee species in North America, and if you want to know which ones are buzzing around your garden, you have to learn to key them out.  This guide to bee families is a good place to start.  It gets easier, once you get the lingo down.  I promise.  For a refreshing, colorful, very readable guide to a few of Montana's poster-child bees, check out MT Bee ID.  This MSU extension guide gets a little more in depth, still specific to Montana.  For an all-around excellent insect ID tool, check out Bug Guide.  And if you really want to get into it, Discover Life lets you key out pretty much any living thing on earth using simple Q&As and lots of pictures.  Also check out Nico's photos...he's based in Belgium, but the photo sets are well put together and very helpful.

Burrowing in a little deeper...
Pete Hillman did a nice readable overview of the biology of bees-a perfect intro to what bees are all about.
Some of the best collaborative research and outreach in the country is being done at the University of MN Bee Lab--which is nice, because the majority of resources you find on native bees are coming out of western Europe (BWARS is worth peeking at, as is Hymettus.  Both excellent programs from the UK, with plenty of applicable info for the US.)
My favorite source of casual info on North American native bees is Our Native Bees.  This is the site that keeps me up till dawn.  It's filled with endlessly fascinating articles, tidbits and photos that I just can't get enough of.  You can buy bee supplies here, and learn so much about wild beekeeping,'ll love it.

You can spend countless hours toodling around on the computer, soaking up wild bee facts like a sponge, but eventually you're gonna wanna DO something!  You could build a simple nesting box--Montana Wildlife Gardener put together some handy instructions.  If you want to take on a slightly bigger project, visit my tutorial on building Pollinator Hotel installations in your garden.
Once you've got your habitat set up, you can Map Your Nest!  I really believe that citizen science projects like this are the key to building engaged communities and cultivating the collective knowledge base we need to save the world.  Just sayin'.
To see citizen science in action, check out the Yatton Area Bee Project--a collaborative, community-based approach to protecting local bee populations.  Models like these are totally applicable to any city or town...even yours!  Dooooo it...
I also love Resonating Bodies, which celebrates pollinator biodiversity through media installations and community outreach projects.  Very inclusive, very cool.

Pollinators in the Garden
The Pollinator Garden is great.  My particular brand of geekery has led me to become pretty well versed in the topic of gardening for wildlife and sustainability, and I still managed to learn a whole lot from this UK-based site.  Good pleasure reading, if you're anything like me.
If you're planning a pollinator garden, use this Pollinator Syndromes chart.  It tells you what types of flowers attract what types of pollinators, basically, and is super handy.  It's buried in the depths of the Pollinator Partnership, which, along with The Xerces Society, is without a doubt the go-to for everything you ever wanted to know about insects and pollinator conservation.
Be sure to check out the LA Times' take on why you need to get in on backyard wildlife habitat conservation...featuring Flora montana's Wild House of Bees!
I put together a nice compilation of wildlife gardening and native plant resources specific to western Montana, as well.  Here you go.  Visit the Wild House of Bees Frequently Asked Questions page to dig deeper.
Still need more?  Beautiful Wildlife Garden put together an Ultimate Guide to Attracting Native Bees that will definitely keep you busy.  Click click click...

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