Durham County

As bee populations plummet, pollinator house builders buzz around ScrapEx

Gail Plaisance, left, of Raleigh, and Sarah Beard, right, of Durham, work on their pollinator hotels Sunday at The Scrap Exchange. The hotels attract bees and other pollinators that help flowers and vegetables grow.
Gail Plaisance, left, of Raleigh, and Sarah Beard, right, of Durham, work on their pollinator hotels Sunday at The Scrap Exchange. The hotels attract bees and other pollinators that help flowers and vegetables grow. arizarry@heraldsun.com

Bee-pollinated plants account for $15 billion in annual U.S. agricultural production, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Bees and other pollinators such as bats, wasps and butterflies, however, have been in decline in recent years. In 2007 beekeepers reported a decline in their hives by as much as 90 percent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

As part of the U.S. Senate-declared National Pollinator Week — June 19 to 25 — The Scrap Exchange hosted a pollinator hotel construction class Sunday.

Amelia Freeman-Lynde, a Scrap Exchange instructor, taught the class how to create habitats for pollinators to burrow and lay their eggs using natural re-used materials from the center. She said most people think of pollinators as just honeybees.

“There are a lot of other — like wasps —bee insects that tend to be solitary, that don’t live in, you know, group hives, that still do a lot of heavy lifting in gardens and pollination,” Freeman-Lynde said. “So they need places to live.”

The class used bamboo, cork, scrap wood and wire to construct their pollinator “hotels.” Freeman-Lynde said pollinators will crawl into holes in the materials to lay their eggs and then seal the holes for the larvae to hatch and grow.

Freeman-Lynde said the pollinators are attracted to natural materials and she advised the class to stay away from nails and screws and instead try to wedge the materials together in the frame.

“It’s a little bit like a Tetris game,” she said.

Many of the participants heard about the class and decided to attend because they thought it would be fun. The class’ youngest participant — 5-year-old Zach Weaver of Chapel Hill — attended because he loves bugs.

“He’s learning about bugs in school,” said his mother, Emily Weaver. “So he’s really into it. I thought he’d have a lot of fun at this.”

Freeman-Lynde said the class was the first of its kind and it was a success, selling out with 15 participants.

Other Durham businesses and organizations hosted events throughout the week to celebrate National Pollinator Week: Burt’s Bees hosted tours of its headquarters at the American Tobacco Campus Thursday and Friday and the Museum of Life and Science had a pollinator day at the museum off Murray Avenue on Saturday.

National organizations also celebrated. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture announced their plan to invest $6.8 million for research on pollinators, Tuesday. UNC-Greensboro and N.C. State will each receive over $900,000.

“An estimated $15 billion worth of crops, including more than 90 fruits and vegetables, are pollinated by honey bees alone,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director, in a statement. “With the recent declines in pollinator populations owing to various factors, it is imperative that we invest in research to promote pollinator health, reduce honey bee colony losses, and restore pollinator habitats.”

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