Toyon photo by Katherine Montgomery
I find it comforting to meditate upon the subtle evidence of life buzzing all around us: the mundane movements of ants, the funny chattering of birds, and the slow growth of plants. Even in the urban setting of Los Angeles, wildlife finds a way to nestle into the smallest cracks. Lately during the morning, I’ve observed a mating pair of red-whiskered bulbuls grooming one another while perched on the electric line outside my kitchen window. An introduced species brought from Southeast Asia as pets, the bulbul was once prized for its beautiful song.
In the evenings, I notice my Epiphyllum has grown new buds that will bloom while I sleep. The iridescent green Japanese beetles have arrived, and the pomegranate tree has large, unripe fruit growing already. Recognizing these signals of life has given me a deeper understanding of the layered ecosystem of Los Angeles.
Cercis photo by Katherine Montgomery
One detail of the landscape that always catches my eye is the perfectly notched leaves left by leaf cutter bees. Often mistaken for caterpillar bites, these notches look more like deliberately decorative edging, as if a hole-puncher was taken to the leaf. The bees cut these semi-circles from leaves with their mouths, adding the plant matter into their nests to protect their eggs. Numerous leaf cutter bees are native to North America, and they rarely sting.
Bee hotel photo by Linda Daley
A solitary species, they can sometimes be found nesting near one another in existing tree cavities. Gathering pollen on their bellies instead of their legs, leaf cutter bees are an efficient and important pollinator that should be encouraged in any open space. One way to invite them into your garden is to build a bee hotel (or mixed-use development) by stacking hollow bamboo or drilling holes in wood. They are difficult to spot in action, but you can keep an eye out for the evidence of their delicate handiwork on nearby greenery.
Everywhere I walk in Downtown Los Angeles, there is construction. Whether it’s a renovation of a historic building or new mixed use retail-residential buildings, it’s always fascinating to see the construction process during my daily commute to work.
The rooftop gardens of the Brooklyn Grange Navy Yard. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 photo by Gonzlaught.
The busy atmosphere of Downtown inspired another idea: Wouldn’t it be great if these new developments planned for the inclusion of pollinator gardens on their rooftops? Lately I been noticing articles about businesses planning and integrating pollinator gardens and bee hotels onto their rooftops. Imagine colonies of worker bees living and working in Downtown!
Across rooftops in Manhattan, Portland, and San Francisco business have established bee hives to pollinate green roofs and produce honey for restaurants below. Green roofs are installed in many new and existing buildings as a means to reduce the urban heat island effect, treat storm-water roof run-off, and help with the cooling and heating of the building. Various species of sedums are commonly planted in green roof trays; they can take months to establish and fill out the trays. The bees can be a cost-effective way to quicken the process though pollination. Also, the term “locally sourced” takes on a whole new meaning when honey is harvested directly from the roof (excellent for honey-infused cocktails, in my opinion).
In school, my fellow classmates and I proposed pollinator and habitat gardens for our local butterflies, fruit flies, and bees. But plan to introduce the idea of bee hotels for my next rooftop gardens project. Maybe I’ll make an elevator pitch to our building management. It can’t hurt to ask and spread the awareness about the wonderful benefits of bees!
More Related Reads:
Hike Up Taco Peak to the Not-So-Secret Griffith Park Teahouse: It seems all of Los Angeles is talking about the guerrilla art installation, The Griffith Park Teahouse, a structure which magically appeared seemingly overnight near Dante’s Peak in our city’s largest public park. Though it is still standing as of now, there are murmurs the hand-built structure is going to be dismantled despite the love and praises amongst city hikers who’ve made their way to visit and share photos via Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. There’s already a petition to save it, so hopefully you’ll make it over the holiday weekend for a visit and the view.
Turf Terminators Has Gotten Rich Turning Yards Into Gravel, But Is It Creating Blight?: “We’re creating an environment that is more paved over than the existing environment and doesn’t hold onto rainwater. We have to have living plants. If we eliminate that, we could easily be pushed into an extreme drought situation.”
Metro’s Launching a Big Bike-Share Program Downtown: “The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority today voted to launch an $11 million bike-sharing program in downtown L.A. They’ve awarded a contract to Bicycle Transit Systems, Inc., a company that has launched similar programs in Philadelphia, PA and Oklahoma City, OK. A second company, BCycle, will supply more than 1,000 bikes and 65 bike share stations to the area when the program launches next spring.”
Norway Aims For World’s First “Bee Highway”: Beekeepers, biologists, civilians, designers, and politicians in Oslo are teaming up to create the world’s first “Bee Highway”– an interconnected series of flower fields and green roofs that together form a “pollination route” across the city.
A New Playground in the Bronx Soaks Up the City’s Problematic Storm Water: A new Bronx playground is designed to capture between 500,000 and 700,000 gallons of storm water using a porous layer of gravel beneath the play yard’s turf field, alongside a long bioswale filled with plants designed to act as a giant sponge, soaking up storm water.
Photo: Linda Daley
The sustainability trend has spawned local production and do-it-yourself initiatives encouraging low-impact lifestyles and supporting local economies. We seem to have taken a step back in time with the rise of backyard chicken farmers, urban agriculture, and home-made products of everything from cheese to pickles. In certain areas, you can now even rent goats to mow your lawn!
Individuals’ interest in harvesting honey from their own beehives has been mainstream in the U.S. for some time. American beekeepers were the ones who first noticed a decline in honey bee populations. News about Colony Collapse Disorder seem to be everywhere these days. Why should this matter to us? Bees and other pollinating insects, such as Monarch butterflies, play an important role in ecosystems. We would not have food and flora without them.
Most of the attention is focused on the European honey bee species, Apis mellifera, and the impact of neonicotinoid – an insecticide – on bee health and their life cycle. Neonicotinoid is widely used in U.S. agriculture. However multiple factors such as chemical treatments, parasites, and crop monocultures are also contributing to the decline of all bee species, not just honey bees, and other pollinators.
We can do something to help encourage pollinator abundance. The U.S. Fish and Game Wildlife Service and the Pollinator Partnership, a non-profit with a mission to protect the health of bees, provides information and resources on the subject. If you are afraid of bees, these facts may take the sting out of your fear. Honeybee pollination alone adds more than $14 billion in value to U.S. crop production and some crops are 90% dependent on honey bee pollination.