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Bee Walk and Talk at Historic City Cemetery

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The bees were out and buzzing Saturday morning as two graduate students from the the UC Berkeley Urban Bee Laboratory spoke to 30 Sacramento residents about native bees and plants and their role in the environment.

The gathering was in the Hamilton Square garden inside the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery. It was organized by the Sacramento Audubon Society in conjunction with the Old City Cemetery Committee.

Those in attendance sat in the shade of the Mortuary Chapel as Sacramento Audubon’s Julie Serences introduced Misha Leong and Marissa Ponder from UC Berkeley.

"There are many things that are out of our control with climate change. It can be so abstract," Serences said, "The one thing we can do is work on the biodiversity of our little tiny pieces of land, and it does make a difference, it really does."

Serences also looked to the lighter side of taking an interest in native bees.

"I also want to stress the entertainment value,” she said. “If you have children or grandchildren … it’s just pure entertainment."

The group split into two led by Leong or Ponder for the bulk of the morning to observe some of the 40 bee species the garden hosts.

Ponder pointed out several types of bees buzzing about the cemetery.

"The three things bees care about are pollen, nectar and sex. That’s it," Ponder said to laughter.

She made distinctions between plants that attract a lot of bees, and others that receive less attention. She carried a cooler over her shoulder which housed an ice-pack and an assortment of bees inside plastic tubes.

Ponder said that if you put bees in a cool place for about 20 minutes they’ll fall into a deep sleep because they can’t regulate their temperature. She placed a bee in the palm of her hand for all to see up close. It took only a minute or two for the bee to wake up and fly away.

One of the gardeners in the group expressed concern that he had seen only a few bees in his vegetable garden this year, but Ponder told him not to worry.

"Overall, we find it’s been a low bee year," she said, "but that’s not necessarily a bad thing."

Berkeley’s bee lab observes the insects across California and Ponder said there’s nothing to worry about regarding urban bees. The low and late bee activity can be attributed to the high levels of rain in the past months, she said. It causes plants to bloom later so bees emerge from their nests later.

Ponder stressed that for gardens to thrive in urban settings, it is important that native plants are prevalent.

"Native bees tend to be attracted to native plants; they have co-evolved for over thousands of years together," she said.

Leong, who studies bees across human-altered landscapes, wanted the group to understand how important bees are in Sacramento.

"You find more diversity across urban areas than you find in agricultural areas," she said.

"Urban areas have such high potential for bees because there’s a lot of areas where they can nest and there’s a lot of diversity in plants."

Maureen Geiger became interested in native bees about two years ago. She lives behind C.K. McClatchy High Shool and cares for a five-by-10-foot garden plot with native and perennial plants. She encourages all gardeners to enlist bees in pollinating their plants.

"Take out the stuff that doesn’t attract bees, those are just junk plants, they don’t do anything for the environment at all," Geiger said.

Sharon Patrician is the main caretaker for the Hamilton Square Garden through the Old City Cemetery Committee and has been involved with this garden since its beginning in 1997. A friend introduced her to Dr. Gordon Frankie from UC Berkeley, who asked if he could use the garden to conduct research.

"I hadn’t planted with bees in mind, I had planted plants that were of interest to me," Patrician said. "(Frankie) was just amazed with the variety of bees there were."

Along with native species, Patrician has planted flora from Chile, South Africa, Australia and the Mediterranean.

"The native bees will sample non-native (plants), they’re curious and they might be a pollen source they don’t know about," she said.

"I think it was really successful," Serences said, "We had a waiting list of about 40 people, so there’s a lot of interest in the community about native bees."

If you would like more information about native bees and what you can do for your garden, you can visit the links above or contact Julie Serences at education@sacramentoaudubon.org.

Photos taken by Marissa Mortimer.

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