What Not to Plant

Bradford Pear

For a time, the Bradford pear, a cultivar of the Asia-native Callery pear, was a landscape staple. Its symmetrical, pleasingly rounded crown, glossy green foliage and snowy white spring blossoms — not to mention its pest resistance — made it an appealing choice for many.


But over the years, the Bradford pear proved problematic. The tree is especially susceptible to storm damage. Strong winds can cause the wood to split and shed branches on sidewalks and power lines. The tree also is lacking in longevity, dying after about 25 years and necessitating replacement.


And despite its short lifespan, the Bradford pear has become an invasive species in many parts of the country. Birds that eat its fruit disperse its seeds in their droppings. Because most native insects won’t use them as a food source, the seedlings are able to colonize faster than native trees and plants, eventually edging them out.


With the Bradford pear overtaking native flora, the insects that rely on these plants for food begin to experience a decline in population. This, in turn, effects the rest of the food chain, resulting in diminished biodiversity.


The Bradford pear has become such a scourge that some municipalities, including Pittsburgh and Lexington, Ky., have banned new plantings.


To illustrate the degree to which non-native plant species can alter the food chain, Doug Tallamy, an entomologist at the University of Delaware who was the featured speaker at Mizzou Botanic Garden’s Native Pollinator Symposium last summer, recalled counting caterpillars on a white oak in his own yard and a Bradford pear in his neighbor’s yard. His tree had 410 caterpillars — representing 19 insect species — while his neighbor’s tree had only a single inchworm. If homeowners hope to attract birds to their yards, he explained, then they must first attract insects.


For those seeking to replace Bradford pears with other spring-flowering trees, Mizzou Botanic Garden Director Pete Millier recommends the Missouri-native Flowering Dogwood (Cornus Florida) or the Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa), a non-invasive species from Asia.


“There are also the reliable and native redbuds (Cercis Canadensis) with many varieties to choose from,” Millier said. “If you are OK with a summer bloom, the Yellowwood Tree (Cladrastis kentukea) is a spectacular native tree when in bloom.”


Although native plant species are the foundation for a flourishing ecosystem, it’s important to note that not every native is an ideal choice for every locale. Consider the Pin Oak (Quercus sect. Lobatae). Native to Missouri’s river bottomlands, the species thrives in rich and acidic soils. However, Pin Oaks planted in soils with a high calcium content develop iron chlorosis, an iron deficiency that leads to yellowish-green foliage and poor overall health. Because many urban and suburban landscapes have a significant deposit of crushed limestone from construction-site activities, the Pin Oak is a poor candidate for these areas.


But according to Grow Native!, a native plant marketing and education program of the Missouri Prairie Foundation, there are a number of other native oak species that thrive in such environments.


In the white oak group, possibilities include the Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor), the Overcup Oak (Quercus lyrata), the Swamp Chestnut Oak (Quercus michauxii) and the Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii).


In the red oak group, the Cherrybark Oak (Quercus pagoda), the Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra), the Nuttal Oak (Quercus texana) and the Shumard Oak (Quercus shumardii) are solid contenders.


Not only will these trees remain beautiful over the years, but they will provide sustenance and habitat to hundreds of species of moth and butterfly caterpillars, which in turn feed birds and other animals that make up Missouri’s beloved fauna.



Larry McMullen

Marilyn's Wreath Through the Years

For Larry McMullen, the University of Missouri’s gardens are more than a pretty scene. They are the backdrop to some of his most cherished memories.


“The gardens here hold great significance. They’re part of my love affair with the university that started when I was an undergraduate in 1950,” said Larry, a member of the Friends of Mizzou Botanic Garden.


It was at MU that he met his wife, Marilyn Lacey McMullen.


He first spotted her at Ellis Library in the education reading room.


“She was studying and I was passing through. I thought she was very attractive and very intriguing,” Larry said. “I never got over it, even after 53 years.”


Part of the intrigue was that she wasn’t initially interested in Larry.


“She always had her face in a book. I couldn’t catch her eye,” he said.


So he asked one of his Sigma Chi fraternity brothers to set up a blind date. Alas, Marilyn had a boyfriend at Harvard. After some persistence on the part of Larry’s fraternity brother, Marilyn finally agreed to go out with him. And after their first date, she agreed to go out with him again. The Harvard man was history.


Larry graduated in 1953 and Marilyn graduated a year later. The two married, then Larry spent three years as a Navy line officer in the Pacific Ocean while Marilyn worked as a second-grade teacher. After Larry’s time with the Navy, the McMullens came back to Columbia so he could attend the MU School of Law.


Uncertain that law school would be a good fit for him, Larry enrolled in summer classes. At the end of the summer session, Larry and Marilyn met on the north steps of Jesse Hall, where Larry presented to her the sealed envelope containing his grade card.


Marilyn opened the envelope and studied its contents.  


“She said, ‘These are pretty good grades. I think you’ll make a good lawyer,’” Larry said.


And so Larry continued his course of study at the law school, where he became editor in chief of the Missouri Law Review and graduated Order of the Coif and valedictorian.


After Larry received his JD in 1959, the McMullen family moved to Kansas City, Larry’s hometown. He spent more than 50 years with Husch Blackwell as a trial attorney with a specialty in professional liability. In addition to raising their two sons, Michael and Andrew, Marilyn, who had once dreamed of being a nurse, volunteered at St. Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City, where she became president of the auxiliary and became the first woman elected to the board of directors.


“She did a lot of good work. I try in a small way to honor her in places we loved together,” Larry said.


Many of those places are on the MU campus. Proud alumni, the two volunteered for various councils and organizations related to the university. These efforts brought them back to Columbia frequently, and the two enjoyed walking together through the campus. As they took in the landscape’s beauty, they came to be especially fond of the Jefferson Garden, located on the west side of the Chancellor’s Residence on Francis Quadrangle.


“There’s a beautiful tulip tree that sits just behind Jefferson’s tombstone. I fell in love with that tree. In the spring, it has the most gorgeous blossoms,” Larry said.


And so when he learned that the Mizzou Botanic Garden would allow it, he had the tree dedicated to Marilyn.


“On a special day, I took her to see it. Her eyes got wide and she said, ‘What have you done that you’re not telling me?’” Larry said.


That tree was only the beginning.


A few years later, the Jefferson Club Trustees donated a bench in honor of the McMullens’ volunteer efforts next to Thomas Jefferson’s tombstone. It is inscribed with “Marilyn and Larry McMullen, Extraordinary Volunteers for the University of Missouri.”


“That’s really special. I often sit on that bench and look out on the campus,” Larry said.


Marilyn died on Oct. 19, 2008, and McMullen had a garden dedicated in her memory in October 2014. Visitors can find the garden in an alcove just off the northeast corner of Jesse Hall’s front steps, where decades earlier Marilyn had delivered to Larry the good news about his summer-session grades.


“It suits her personality,” Larry said of the shade garden. “She wasn’t flashy. She was shy and did her good work in private.”


A bench with a plaque bearing only the name “Lace” — a nickname Marilyn’s girlhood friends had bestowed upon her — sits nearby. Larry said it’s an ideal spot to sit and take in the campus.


“You see the majesty of the Quad and the columns and then downtown,” he said.


Because Larry still serves on committees for the School of Law and Ellis Library, and he comes to the university often. It gives him ample occasion to sit in Marilyn’s garden or the Jefferson Garden and reminisce on their time together.


And at the start of every Homecoming, Mizzou Botanic Garden staff hang onto Marilyn’s tulip tree a wreath with a ribbon that says “Remembering Marilyn.” After Homecoming, the wreath is donated to a local hospital or nursing home so that others can enjoy it.


“I can’t do enough to remember her,” Larry said.



A Look at Mid-Missouri’s Community Garden Efforts

A host of factors has influenced the relationship the average American has with his or her daily fare. In the years after World War II, an increasingly workforce-engaged populace willingly embraced the rise of industrial agriculture and an accompanying sharp increase in the availability of inexpensive processed and pre-packaged foods.


In the 1970s, environmentalists began to question the wisdom in losing touch with growing and preparing one’s own food, raising questions about related health, safety, economic and social issues — concerns that sparked a movement throughout the country to reintroduce people to growing and preparing their own food.


Some of these enthusiastic and passionate efforts have taken root in Missouri, and on Sept. 20, 2016, Mizzou Botanic Garden partnered with Gateway Greening, a St. Louis-based community gardening and urban agriculture organization, to host an Urban Ag & Learning Food Garden Tour in and around Columbia.


Bill Ruppert, a 1980 University of Missouri alum who serves as president of the Botanic Garden’s Friends board, coordinated the information-sharing event that brought professionals involved in several community gardening efforts in the St. Louis area — and others — to tour the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture’s (CCUA) urban farm; Southern Boone Learning Garden (SBLG), a school program in Ashland; the Daniel Boone Regional Library’s native plant landscaping project at its Ashland branch; and the MU Child Development Lab/Children’s Learning Garden on the MU campus.


The tour preceded the Mizzou Botanic Garden Friends’ annual membership meeting featuring a presentation on “How Community Gardens can Save America” by LaManda Joy, founder and executive director of the highly successful Peterson Garden Project in Chicago.


Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture


CCUA’s vision is a community transformed by good food for all and the skills to grow it — a mission it intends to tackle by working to enhance the Columbia community’s health by connecting people to agriculture and the land through hands-on learning opportunities from seed to plate. As many as 300 volunteers help with the effort.


Billy Polanski, CCUA executive director, and Adam Saunders, CCUA development director, led tours of the urban farm, which has spread to fill its current 1.3-acre tract. The no-till organic garden at this site is in its seventh growing season. The vegetable-growing mission of the farm is vibrant and highly visible, and in addition to a healthy composting operation it features a washing shed — including a water garden that mitigates the gray water from washing veggies — and on-site educational programs.


While much of what is produced goes to hunger relief, some produce is sold at the Columbia Farmers Market and some on-site with funds plowed back into the center’s efforts. In addition, a philanthropic “Planting for the Pantry” program launched in 2013 invites sponsor gifts of $1,200 to “plant a row” in the garden to aid in CCUA’s mission.


A number of additional programs expand CCUA’s reach.


CCUA’s onsite urban farm partnership with the MU Family Impact Center and Columbia Parks and Recreation’s Career Awareness Related Experience (CARE) “Camp Salsa” program for at-risk youth demonstrates growing and harvesting vegetables used to make salsa to 15 participants each summer. In addition to caring for the veggies, youths develop a recipe, create a brand and a business plan, and sell their salsa at Lucky’s Market.


CCUA’s Opportunity Garden program currently provides garden mentoring to 96 low-income clients.


“People apply and we go to their houses,” Saunders said. “For three years, we answer questions and give advice. We have a budget to provide families with something they need to make them successful. It can be something like a stockpot or a shovel.”


CCUA’s several community partnerships include an educational collaboration with seven elementary schools and the Kilgore Pharmacy Community Garden that supplies fresh produce to the Nora Stewart Early Learning Center and The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri’s Central Pantry. The garden serves to demonstrate nutritious and delicious eating habits to young children.


And in addition to a host of additional offerings, CCUA maintains The Orchards at The Gates, a neighborhood landscape planted with berry bushes, fruit trees, herbs, vegetables and native perennials.


Southern Boone Learning Garden


What started as a parent initiated after-school club 13 years ago has become a dynamic program that has been integrated into the curriculum at schools in the Southern Boone County School District. A five-year Missouri Foundation for Health grant includes funding to provide a salary to one of the two mothers, Jenny Grabner, who launched the effort and has stayed on to provide leadership for the endeavor.


“Even though a good percentage of our kids live in the country, they are not necessarily farming. Kids aren’t helping on the farm and families don’t have gardens like they used to,” Grabner said. “There’s a real disconnect that seeds become plants.”


Grabner said both the school district and the city of Ashland are big supporters of the project. Hoop houses allow the garden to remain viable during the winter.


Science lessons on topics such as solar energy, soil enhancement and geology also are part of the winter curriculum. Math classes use the garden to develop measurement skills.


“Fifth graders learn the scientific method and a world-cultures program is about the food and cooking of other cultures,” Grabner said. “A tall-grass area has increased the number of insects and birds. The kids have been amazed and engaged.”


A brief stop at the Southern Boone County Public Library showcased the library’s efforts to demonstrate the potential beauty in planting Missouri-native plants. As many who are aware of the recent emphasis on the decline of monarch butterflies and the efforts being launched to increase their numbers, native plantings increase an area’s biodiversity by providing habitat to insects and birds that are dependent on native plants as part of their natural life cycles.


An afternoon visit to the MU Children’s Learning Garden demonstrated one of the programs of the MU Child Development Laboratory, which provides an educational setting for kids and a teaching and research laboratory for university students, faculty and staff. The garden provides children with early access to the pleasures and wonders of gardening — planting, harvesting and maintaining garden spaces — pollinators and preparing food from the garden’s produce.


Joining Mizzou Botanic Garden Director Pete Millier, Friends President Bill Ruppert, special guest LaManda Joy and members of Gateway Greening for the community garden tour were representatives St. Louis Science Center’s GROW exhibit, St. Louis Public Schools, Kirkwood School District, Gateway Regional YMCA and the Missouri Farm Bureau, as well as CCUA board members.



University of Missouri Receives Bee Campus USA Designation

Beekeepers checking their hives

Mizzou Botanic Garden has been working diligently to recognize the importance of pollinators through programming, events, education and action. On Oct. 24, Bee Campus USA officially recognized MUBG’s efforts by naming the University of Missouri as the 15th educational institution in the nation — and first in the SEC and Midwest region — to the Bee Campus USA program. This signifies pollinator conservation as an official, campus-wide commitment.


The commitments MU has agreed to include establishing a committee with various stakeholders, hosting events and workshops, creating habitats and educating the community. MUBG has been a leading force in carrying out these agreements.


MUBG hosted a National Pollinator Week Symposium, educated groups such as Boys & Girls Club of Columbia youth and Columbia Public Schools teachers through pollinator day camps, supported Sustain Mizzou’s beekeeping project, planted native species in the landscaping and holds a seat on the statewide Missourians for Monarchs Collaborative.


MUBG’s interest in pollinators was piqued when Chip Taylor from Monarch Watch spoke about milkweed restoration. Since then, MUBG has continued to collaborate with various communities and engaged with them on pollinator conservation.


Each year, MUBG must reapply to retain its Bee Campus USA designation. This means that as the university learns more, it will continue to evolve and do more to protect pollinators. In the future, MUBG hopes to establish beehives at A.L. Gustin Golf Course, create more habitat areas and involve the community in more events.


For more information about Bee Campus USA and pollinator conservation, visit beecityusa.org.


Story by Megan Tyminski


Growing communities through gardens

Lamanda Joy


Anyone who doubts that one person can make a difference has not been introduced to LaManda Joy, a passionate gardener who, in 2010, launched the wildly successful Peterson Garden Project in Chicago.  


In just seven years, the Peterson Garden Project has grown from a single community garden on an historic plot to a full-blown educational organization reaching and inspiring hundreds of thousands of people.


And along the way — in her spare time — Joy became an award-winning author and a dynamic speaker who travels the country “teaching, speaking and inspiring people to use food gardening and cooking as a means to greater joy, better nutrition and stronger communities.”


Joy was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Mizzou Botanic Garden Friends Group in September 2016, leaving little doubt with her talk, “How Community Gardens Can Save America,” that a zealous, single-handed effort can change the lives of thousands.


Growing up in rural Oregon, gardening was woven into the fabric of her life at an early age. After living in a Chicago condo for a decade, homegrown food lust preyed upon her.


“We started looking for a yard with a house attached,” she said.


Their search eventually uncovered a home with room for a 1,700-square-foot food garden — The Yarden, as they call it — that in a very short time became something of a head-turner in an area where few other people were engaged in any sort of gardening. 


“I started blogging about The Yarden,” Joy said. “I found that nobody knew how to grow food but they really wanted to learn. I suddenly realized that I might have a skill to share and that skill was very dear to me.”


Because of her experience building The Yarden, she began to have what she called her "medical condition": lot lust.


“I’d see an empty lot and I’d want to put a garden in it,” she said.


In her local butcher shop, Joy noticed a photo of a World War II victory garden on Chicago’s Peterson Avenue.  One of those wide-open spaces she'd been lusting after was the site of an original victory garden. She began thinking about community gardens as a way to teach more people how to grow their own food.


“My parents were Greatest Generation, so I grew up with the American ethos: We’re Americans. We can solve our problems.” She went to the city aldermen and got permission to start a community garden at the Peterson Avenue site.


Joy said that some who expressed interest in getting involved hadn’t even seen a seed before, so she knew she had her work cut out for her.


“We had to remove the complexity to make it simple for new gardeners,” she said.


The organic raised bed garden plots were 4 feet by 8 feet. As soon as she launched the project, it quickly became a vibrant community effort and has been ever since.


The original location was so successful that Joy and her growing flock of gardeners and volunteers realized they were really onto something, and the lot lust became contagious every time they passed vacant city lots.


“We knew that buying a piece of property wasn’t an option,” she said.


And so the idea of pop-up victory gardens was born. Over time, the Peterson Garden Project collaborated with various Chicago neighborhoods to start gardens on 13 lots with the understanding that if a lot were sold, the garden would have to move. And that was fine with her.


“We were aiming for long-term gardeners, not long term gardens,” she said.


Today the project shepherds gardeners at eight sites. The group’s rallying call became “Recruit. Educate. Inspire.”


Education programs and uniform training methods were paramount with the already trained taking over work at each site as new sites were launched. Each had “block captains” to manage the day-to-day workings of the gardens. Joy became a facilitator as the gardens expanded and full-time staff was hired.


These days, Peterson Garden Project employs the support of 1,500 volunteers and engages as many as 4,000 gardeners annually. Education programs focus on food awareness, nutrition and home cooking, among other relevant topics. The organization also has more than 35 partners who facilitate programs for refugees, youth, seniors and adults with disabilities in the gardens using PGP curriculum.


Modeled after WWII victory garden promotional pamphlets, Joy and crew began to develop their own simple, how-to materials as well as short "Garden Minute" videos. She said she frequently sees people gardening with one hand in the soil and the other holding a phone playing a video that shows them how to tackle the next task.


In 2013, she co-authored “Fearless Food Gardening in Chicagoland,” a month-by-month gardening guide for beginners.


“People garden for different reasons,” Joy said. “Some garden for social justice and empowerment, community improvement, some for therapy and others for food awareness or teaching their kids. Some just want to have a reason to be outside all summer.”


But community gardens are certainly not without challenges.


"Community gardeners need to be cognizant of how their actions impact others. In a home garden, you just have yourself to deal with. In a community garden, you need a big dose of diplomacy and common sense to go along with the growing skills,” Joy said.


In 2014, a 3,000-square-foot culinary center became available for the Peterson Garden Project’s use. The Community Cooking School became a game-changer. Joy and crew began doing hands-on demo classes for the general public on evenings and weekends and working with partners to provide classes for children, refugee families, seniors and others during daytime hours.


“People are willing to listen to someone from another culture when they show them how to cook something. That piece is really powerful. Friendships happen,” Joy said.

“We thought our gardeners would be our main audience, but cooking is a back door to gardening.”


Joy also wrote the award-winning “Start a Community Garden: The Essential Handbook” in 2014. These days she is an in-demand — and spirited — speaker, sharing the success of Peterson Garden Project, lessons learned along the way and encouragement for others to change and improve the lives of those in their communities with gardening projects.


“Everybody eats,” Joy said. “… that's a simple common denominator that doesn’t need much explanation — people can naturally fit into a groove together in the garden or the kitchen. And the social benefits touch every area of human need: increased safety, increased access to better food, socialization, exercise, therapeutic benefits. These are all things we generally need to turn to an outside agency to get but, a community can create these benefits for participants — often without thinking of it they reap the rewards regardless. Plus... tomatoes.”


Story by Jan Wiese-Fales

Sustain Mizzou Beekeeping nurtures honeybee habitats

Students working with bee hives


People are always asking me, “Why did you get into bees?” But to me, it’s not a simple answer.

I remember sunflowers towering over me as a child at my grandparents’ acreage in Indiana. I see my mom giving a backyard garden tour to her brothers. I taste the honey samplings at Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory.

Bees, and pollinators in general, are important. They are responsible for pollinating around 75 percent to 95 percent of flowering plants and 1/3 of our food. Without them, ecosystems would not be as healthy or diverse. I wanted to start a beekeeping club because I wanted to learn more about them, and I wanted other people to learn about them with me.

When I came to the University of Missouri as a freshman, I was running around campus trying to find an organization that would take me in. Sustain Mizzou welcomed me with open arms and encouraged me to add the idea to the rest of its projects. Thus, Sustain Mizzou Beekeeping was formed.

We currently manage two hives at Eckles Butterfly Garden thanks to mentorship from Sarah Cramer of Jefferson Farm and Gardens and support from Mizzou Botanic Garden.

In the early stages when I pitched the idea, Mizzou Botanic Garden Director Pete Millier was always so enthusiastic about pollinators. I remember being worried that I would have to convince him on the significance of the project, but I was instead given anecdotes about cicada-killer wasps and carpenter bees.

New bee-ginnings

By the end of my sophomore year, just this past spring, our group of 40 members had grown to 70 on our Facebook page. We had attended a beginning beekeeping class at Jefferson led by Leslie Touzeau and Sarah Cramer. After ordering the hives from Mann Lake Ltd., we assembled and painted them.

The day Cramer and I set up the hive boxes was very exciting – partially because my trunk was overflowing with beekeeping equipment. Everything felt a little more tangible, and it was almost time for the bees to arrive. Before we left the butterfly garden that day, I found a four-leaf clover near the hives. It felt like a good sign.

I was out of town when the group installed the bees from Crooked Hill Beekeeping. We ordered nucs, or the start of a hive with workers and a queen. In our case, we received five pre-existing frames. You can also order bees in packages, but we figured nucs would be easier to work with because the bees have a head start.

The first thing I did when I got back to Columbia was visit them. It was an overcast and cooler day, so the bees weren’t especially active. I waited outside the entrance and finally a single bee crawled out. I wanted to hug the hive.

The ladies get to work

Our group named the queens for the two hives. The hive with lots of flowers painted on it is home to Queen Flora and the one with turtles and abstract patterns is Beyoncé’s domain. There should only be one queen per hive, and her sole job is to lay eggs. Without her, the hive cannot survive.

There are two more roles in a beehive as well. The worker bees divvy up important roles such as cleaning, guarding and ventilating the hive. They also forage for pollen, water and nectar to feed the brood, or baby bees and queen. Drones are the only male bees in a hive. Their sole job is to mate with the queen. Other than that, they are pretty useless. During swarm season, it is normal to see drones that might mate with the queen of a new hive, but they are unwanted for the majority of the year.

Having two hives to compare has been interesting. We keep an updated GoogleDoc for notes because it’s really important to know your hives’ history when moving forward with management.

At first, the “Beyhive” was more active. Forager bees were coming in and out of the entrance with a mission. Every time I would ride my bike past, it seemed like Queen Flora’s bees weren’t as busy. But after a month or so, the behavior of the hives seemed to flip-flop.

An inside peek

We do most of our hive checks from the outside. It’s best not to disturb them too often because it takes the bees a couple days to rebuild after an internal inspection, where most of the beekeeper’s work comes in.

During a hive check, we check the frames for brood, honey and pollen. Their presence indicates that the bees are making babies for the next generations, and that they’re being fed.

The first time Cramer and I checked the hives, I was a little nervous. I had been to an apiary before, but had never opened a hive or handled frames. It had been about a month since we had installed the bees, so we figured they were ready for another deep box with 10 frames, or an “upstairs.”

Cramer prepared the smoker and started with Queen Flora’s hive. The bees were very docile and began stuffing themselves with honey as soon as we opened up the boxes. Bees eat honey when they are smoked because they’re trying to save as much of their hard work as possible from the beekeeper.

Looking at Queen Flora’s frames was magical. There were larvae, eggs, capped honey, pollen and even some drones. We filed through the bottom deep’s 10 frames to check on their progress and were even lucky enough to see Queen Flora in all her regality. We added the upper deep box so they could continue with their construction.

Then it was my turn to work on the Beyhive. We smoked the bees and I grabbed my hive tool to pry off the propolis, or “bee glue” the bees make from tree resin. My earlier observations were right: The hive had been recycling the five frames it started with, and the only new construction was on half of a frame.

We checked each of the frames to make sure Beyoncé was laying eggs, and everything seemed to be healthy. The bees were a little pissy, and right as I was holding a frame in mid-air, one of the bees stung me on my leg.

I had never been stung before, so I let Cramer know. She smoked my leg so the other bees wouldn’t get any wise ideas.

“OK, well we can hang out for a bit to make sure you don’t stop breathing,” she said.

I’m relieved to say that I am not allergic to bees. I’m also relieved that my first sting is out of the way.

Upkeep and care

About a month later in late June, we checked on the hives again. Queen Flora’s hive has started construction on all 20 frames and is still calm in its demeanor. Beyoncé’s hive still was using the same five and a half frames, so we decided to “checkerboard” some of the empty frames in between the active ones to encourage construction.

The Beyhive still was healthy with all stages of brood and honey dripping off the frames. The bees were also still very protective and started head-butting me to get me to back off. When we closed up the hive, Cramer said she smelled bananas – a sign the bees are alarmed. They release a pheromone that smells surprisingly similar to the sweet fruit.

It’s endearing to know that the bees care so much about their homes. We care, too. To help them through the winter, we will refrain taking any honey this season. We expect our first harvest next year, but might have a small taste test from time to time. Pollinators do a lot of good in this world, and I feel so lucky to watch them work.

Story by Megan Tyminski



Protecting pollinators, ensuring food security

Though small, pollinators play a big role in our day-to-day lives. They make our world more beautiful — most flowering plant species rely on pollinators to reproduce. And pollinators also are responsible for keeping us fed. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, more than 75 percent of the world’s food crops — fruit, vegetables, seeds and nuts — rely on pollination by insects and other animals. Without pollinators, there would be no coffee, no chocolate, no tomatoes and no apples. There also would be no milk, cheese or ice cream — dairy cows eat alfalfa, which is pollinated by leafcutter and honey bees. Even Spring Break would take a hit. The agave plant, which is used to make tequila, is pollinated by bats. 

Unfortunately, pollinator populations have dwindled over the years, in large part because of practices that threaten their food sources. National Pollinator Week was established nine years ago when members of the U.S. Senate unanimously approved to create the designation as a means of creating awareness of pollinators’ importance and encouraging Americans to take action.

As part of Mizzou Botanic Garden’s National Pollinator Week activities, Gary Nabhan, an agricultural ecologist, ethnobotanist and writer from the University of Arizona, spoke on preventing food-chain collapse and the value in investing in pollinator habitats during a fundraising dinner. Here, Nabhan gives a closer look on just how important bees, butterflies, birds and other pollinators are.

Q: What role do pollinators play in our food production?

A: One in every three bites we eat of a typical American meal comes from food crops that require insects and other pollinators to visit flowers for fruit set, seed viability and flavor in the fruit or vegetable's flesh. Pollinators should be thought of as allies or collaborators of America's farm labor force that brings us our daily bread. Pollination ecologists have found that on average, wild bees contribute more than $8,000 an acre to crop production, ahead of managed honeybee colonies, which were worth about $7,000 an acre. Of some 1,400 crop plants cultivated for food and fiber around the planet, four out of five require pollination by animals. In the United States, the pollination services of food and fiber crops offered by bees and other insects is valued at $10 billion annually. Globally, pollination services are valued at more than $3 trillion.

Q: What factors have contributed to declining pollinator populations?

A: For decades, the fragmentation of diverse habitats around our farms and gardens has contributed to pollinator declines. But for the last 50 years, the "chemical fragmentation" of these habitats has particularly taken its toll, as herbicides decimate nectar sources and larval hosts plants while insecticides directly kill or disrupt the behaviors of the pollinators themselves. In addition, the effects of climate change through drought, heat waves and catastrophic weather events have also diminished the availability of food and shelter for pollinators. The introduction of exotic diseases and pests like varroa mites have also impaired pollinator health.

Q: Have we already begun to see the effects of pollinator decline in food production?

A: Pollinator declines have already begun to raise the prices of some food crops more than others. For instance, California almond farmers must now rent more than 90,000 bee colonies for $140 to $200 a colony to ensure profitable yields. For 13 other food crops, including squash, melons and watermelons, pollinators are essential to preventing crop failure. That's why melon farmers themselves lobbied to ban DDT in my home state of Arizona well before Rachel Carson spearheaded the national ban on DDT use on farm crops. Thirty other food crops, from apples to persimmons, are highly dependent on pollinators, meaning that a tree crop's yield could decline as much as 65 percent without them. In Midwestern farmland, where pollinator numbers have dramatically declined, the average cost of creating new pollinator habitat with wildflower mixes suited to crop pollinators is about $560 per acre.

Q: If current trends continue, at what point could food security become an issue?

A: Forgive me if it seems like this is a dodge, but we need to take positive actions to prevent such worst-case scenarios from ever happening. The dozen or so farmers on our Make Way for Monarchs advisory board have already taken tangible, cost-effective steps to bring back local populations of native bees, bats, hummingbird and monarch butterflies. In my county, with the help of a USDA Western SARE grant, we have helped plant a dozen diverse pollinator hedgerows on farms, in orchards and around community gardens. Farmers need to proactively engage in being part of the solution, rather than waiting to see if the problem will get worse. It might mean cutting back on the use or modifying the timing of agrichemical chemical application and adopting integrated pest-management strategies that are more efficacious over the long haul. But more than half of all farmers in the U.S. set aside and enhance habitat for wildlife, so this is nothing new. They just have to remember to target the species and management of that field-side habitat in conservation reserves to benefit the little but colorful wildlife species that add value to our crops.

Q: To that end, what actions would help replenish pollinator populations?

A:Ultimately, we need entire north-south corridors of pollinator-friendly plantings to benefit a host of pollinators, not just monarch butterflies or hummingbirds. Within the next 10 years, we need to get 1.5 billion native milkweeds back into American landscapes from northern Mexico, through the Southeast, Midwest and Southern Plains in particular. To amp that up, we need Native Plant Societies and botanical gardens collecting site-specific seeds of particular milkweeds and their associated wildflowers. That's because milkweeds not only benefit monarchs, but more than 100 kinds of native bees use their nectar as well. Then we need to give farmers financial incentives greater than those offered by ethanol production subsidies to keep their conservation reserve lands in wild, perennial cover with diverse wildflowers and grasses that attract all kinds of wildlife — gamebirds, deer, butterflies and bees. If farmers do not get involved, it’s doubtful we can save a handful of endangered bumblebees or keep monarchs off the threatened species list. But it is high time that farmers and other kinds of conservationists begin to row in the same direction, because most of us agree that we want healthy landscapes, healthier pollinator populations, healthy high-yielding crops and healthy children who can find green jobs that can help them stay in our rural communities. Collaboration conservation — not divisive, litigious politics — is what will make America great, healthy and diverse again.

Story by Caroline Dohack