How Many Bee Species Are There – Learn About The Differences Between Bees

How Many Bee Species Are There – Learn About The Differences Between Bees

By: Mary Ellen Ellis

Bees are so important to growing food because of the pollination services they provide. But did you know there are several common bee varieties?

Differences Between Bees

It can be easy to confuse bee species with wasps and hornets, but there are important differences. Not least of these is that most wasps and hornets are not pollinators. They do not carry pollen from plant to plant but may feed on nectar from flowers.

This difference leads to an easy way to distinguish between most bees and non-bees: bees are hairier, which is how they can carry pollen, while wasps and hornets are smooth. The latter also tend to have more distinct color patterns.

Different Types of Bees

There are hundreds of bee species around the world but here are some more common varieties of bees in the garden that you are most likely to see:

Honeybees. Honeybees were introduced to North America from Europe. They are mostly used in commercial settings for beeswax and honey production. They are not very aggressive.

Bumble bees. These are the large, fuzzy bees you see in your garden. Bumble bees are the only social bees that are native to North America.

Carpenter bees. Not very social, carpenter bees got their name because they chew through wood in order to make nests. There are large and small species and both have hairs on their back legs for carrying pollen.

Sweat bees. There are two varieties of sweat bees. One is black and brown and the other is a vibrant metallic green. They are solitary and are attracted to sweat because of the salt.

Digger bees. Digger bees are hairy and usually nest in the ground. These bees are mostly solitary but may nest together.

Long-horned bees. These are hairy black bees with especially long hairs on the rear legs. The males have very long antenna. They nest in the ground and are most attracted to sunflowers and asters.

Mining bees. Mining bees dig nests in the ground, preferring sand and sandy soil. They are black with light-colored hairs. Some of the hairs are on the side of the thorax, which makes it look as if these bees carry pollen in their armpits.

Leaf cutting bees. These bees have dark bodies and light hairs under the abdomen. Their heads are broad because they have large jaws for cutting leaves. Leaf cutter bees use the leaves to line their nests.

Squash bees. These are very specific bees, collecting pollen from squash and related plants. Look for them in your pumpkin patch. They are brown with light hair and a prominent snout.

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Read more about Beneficial Garden Friends

How often do you meet?

Last Sunday of each month and the more flexible of us sometimes meet in-between on Wednesdays.

What are the features of the garden?

Large orchard set on an organic working farm within the M25. We have over 120 fruit trees, some espaliered into a living pergola, some as stepovers but the majority on semi dwarf rootstock spread over the area.

How large is your orchard?

How many varieties of tree do you grow?

The majority are different (circa 100) but also different fruits ie not just apples and pears, we also have, medlars, quince, damson, figs, a loquat, mulberry, cherries, greengages and plums, and those are just the trees. On the perimeter we're growing a fruiting hedge to act as a natural fence and act as a wildlife corridor. At the end we have josterberries a mix between a blackcurrant and gooseberry (without the thorns . ). Growing up the wooden pergola are a few edible climbers too.

Which are your favourite varieties?

'Scrumptious', 'Herefordshire Russet' & 'Sops in Wine' apples, 'Sunburst' Cherry, 'Parrot' pear, 'Brunswick' fig, I could go on . . .

Do you produce anything from your apples?

They're too young to product huge amounts just yet. Currently we juice the few we have and eat as is.

How did your project start?

The farm manager at the time (Kate McGeevor) wanted to create a community run growing space and discovered that there used to be an orchard on the site originally in the 1800's as part of the Forty Hall Estate. So the idea was to re-instate it and bring people together in learning about growing fruit trees, using fruit, preserving fruit and doing it all in an environmentally friendly way.

How did is your project funded?

The project is solely funded through sponsorship and grants.

How many volunteers do you have?

We currently have roughly 15 semi-regular volunteers, all members of the local area & of which : 2-4 kids, a couple of pensioners, 3 horticulturally trained & the majority of us have undergone workshops and courses over the years and so are trained in pruning, apple ID-ing and grafting.

What are your future plans for the space?

We would like to do more demonstration workshops to involve and teach visitors how to look after their trees and make use of the fruit.

What is the feedback from the community?

Very positive. We are often asked about fruit tree issues that the public may have, or to identify apple varieties. People 'over the wall' often ask us what we're doing and comment at how far we've come. After all it used to be three muddy pig fields before we got our hands on it !

What benefits does the garden offer volunteers?

The number 1 benefit is simply being on site as it is a really beautiful setting. I have made friends where I never thought I would have. We have had people give us free presentations which is really interesting (eg the bee lady did a talk about the local hives and bees), we get free entrance to Capel Manor gardens because of the affiliation with the farm and of course we are constantly learning about fruit and growing trees organically, looking after them etc plus of course being active outdoors is great for your health and well being.

Published in the Sunday Mirror

Community gardens come in all shapes and sizes. The sheer diversity of them is what makes the Cultivation Street competition, sponsored by Calliope®, so exciting. Some gardens grow all manner of crops, whilst others specialise in specific plants. One community project with a specialist focus is Forty Hall Farm Orchard in Enfield. Situated in a working farm, this one-acre plot boasts over 120 fruit trees.

A group of volunteers use organic methods to cultivate over 100 different varieties of apple and pear trees, along with a selection of other fruits like medlar, quince, damson, figs, loquat and mulberry. In the 1800s, there was once an orchard on this site and the group are keen to restore it to its former glory. The project has brought people together to learning about growing fruit trees, harvesting the fruit, preserving fruits and doing it all in an environmentally friendly way. With fruit-themed events, workshops and demonstrations the group are passionate to bring the community together with their passion for orchard life.

Tessa Bishop, volunteer at Forty Hall Farm Orchard, tell us all about what makes working at the orchard so rewarding: “We have all learned so much about fruit growing, it is great to sample such a wide selection of varieties. My favourites are 'Scrumptious', 'Herefordshire Russet' and 'Sops in Wine' apples, 'Sunburst' Cherry, 'Parrot' pear, and 'Brunswick' fig—but my list could go on. Many of us have us have undergone workshops and courses over the years and so are trained in pruning, apple identification and grafting. It is amazing to be learning so much whilst getting to socialise in such a beautiful setting!”

Get to Know Your Seeds: A Seed Type Guide

We’ve had an influx of calls inquiring about the specifics of seed labeling—questions like “What is the difference between sprouting and microgreens seeds and traditional garden vegetable seeds?” and “Are heirloom seeds and open-pollinated seeds the same thing?” and a slew of others.

We know it can be overwhelming looking at all the varieties of seeds and their types, reading terms like “microgreens seeds” and “sprouting seeds”, "treated" and "untreated seeds", and "heirloom" and "open-pollinated"—you just hope that you’ll pick the right ones for you. We hope that the following article will help you understand seed identifiers and how it can help you purchase the best seed for you and your style of gardening.

Sprouting Seeds & Microgreens Seeds – Botanically speaking, there is no difference between sprouting seeds and microgreen seeds their names just refer to the growing method they are most well suited. Sprouting seeds are only grown in water, and once the sprouts are ready, the entire plant is eaten. These seeds are most often organically produced to prevent any contact with pesticides. Our line of sprouting seeds is what we think are the best, cleanest, and frankly, tastiest seeds for sprouting available.

(Figure 1) Alfalfa Sprouts

“Microgreening” is the method of growing your seeds in a medium and allowing seedlings to mature a bit before harvesting. Microgreens seeds are selected because of a varieties’ vibrant color and bold flavor as a seedling. Think of microgreens as baby vegetables. Seeds that germinate at the same time and grow uniformly are prime candidates for microgreening. For example, Hong Vit Radish, is a variety of radish that doesn’t produce much of a fruit at the end of its life cycle, but it does produce a lovely red and green microgreen that is packed with spicy radish flavor. While most seeds can be grown as a microgreen, there are some that are not well-suited such as any plant in the Solanaceae family, also known as the nightshade family, contain alkaloids that make them unpalatable, and their full-grown leaves are known to be poisonous. We have done all the work for you by identifying good sprouting and microgreens candidates on our website and in our catalog.

(Figure 2) Hong Vit Radish Microgreens

Treated Seed – There are several kinds of seed treatments in the seed business. While treatments can vary, the most common treated seed we offer is a fungicide which helps to keep the seed from rotting in the ground in unstable spring weather when soil conditions are less than ideal—usually too moist. All treated seed is clearly marked as being treated in the title of the seed, i.e. Treated Blue Lake Bush Beans, and treated seed is typically purchased by our larger farm-based customers.

Pelleted & Multi-pelleted Seed – When using a mechanism of some kind to plant their seeds, farmers and gardeners will turn to pelleted seeds, which are seeds usually coated in inert clay. Very small seeds that are difficult to handle are coated to make them more manageable by machines and by people for accurate and easy sowing. For example, some gardeners prefer working with pelleted carrot seeds because carrot seeds are so tiny and difficult to plant accurately. Commonly, flower seeds are pelleted and multi-pelleted because of their, at times, microscopic size, such as Lobelia seeds as seen in Figure 3.

(Figure 3) Lobelia Seed in multi-pelleted, pelleted, and raw form

Multi-pelleted seeds are multiple seeds bound together and coated in inert clay. With several seeds in one pellet, gardeners are ensured germination. The clay will dissolve away, leaving the seeds in ideal conditions to sprout.

Open Pollinated – Simply, open pollinated seeds are seeds produced from crops that are allowed to pollinate naturally by means of insects, birds, wind, and other natural mechanisms.

(Figure 4) Bee Pollinating Squash Plant

Heirloom – There is no officially accepted definition of “heirloom”. In common use, the term is most universally used to indicate an open pollinated seed which has remained consistent for several decades. In our product line, we use the term Heirloom for open pollenated strains with which we have had experience for 30 or more of our 43 years in the seed business. Some people claim heirloom seeds are the “original” variety of a plant, but that’s not necessarily true. If you trace a plant’s genetics back far enough you will find that these now heirloom varieties likely came from an intentional or lucky crossing of two different plants, which leads us to our next term Hybrid.

Hybrid – Hybrids are frequently frowned upon on many social media sites usually because they are confused with GMO, but also frequently because some claim that the seed companies who sell them have engineered the seed to be “sterile” or unable to reproduce so that one cannot save their seed. The social media argument usually goes along the lines of a conspiracy to control the world’s seed supply. Again, not true, especially for us, who pride ourselves on our sustainable practices.

It is true that saving your seed from a hybrid is not advisable, but saved seed will grow, it is just unlikely that your second-generation plant will produce similar results to the original plant. The reason is based in genetics not a board room (which after 43 years we have yet to acquire). Let’s look at dog breeding as an example of hybridization to see what is happening.

(Figure 5) Understanding Hybridization Through Dog Breeding

When breeding a Poodle with a Labrador, the outcome is a Labradoodle, as seen in Figure 5. The Labradoodle is the hybrid. If we take our “hybrid” puppy and breed him with another dog, even if it also is a Labradoodle, the outcome is unlikely to result in a Labradoodle that looks identical to our first puppy. Still considered labradoodles, but aesthetically these hybrids look very different from each other, as seen in Figure 6.

(Figure 6) Not all Labradoodle Hybrids Look (or bark) the same!

The new 2nd generation puppy may take on more of the Poodle or more of Labrador line. That is the same with hybrid seeds. It is not that they won’t produce, it is just that there is no way to guarantee that the plant won’t revert back to more of one of the parental lines. Like most of the dog breeds we have today, hybrid seeds will become stable as continued generations create a “stable and consistent” population and eventually these seeds may become our grandkids’ heirlooms.

Hybrid plants work the same way—they require several generations of selective crossing to become stable enough to produce uniformly. Planting the seeds produced from a first-generation hybrid (marked as “F1”) plant won’t produce the same crop it will likely revert back to one of its parents or cross breed with another plant nearby producing something other than the expected production of the previous season. People tend to label these seeds “sterile” because they don’t produce the same results a second time however, that is only because they don’t have the genetic history behind them like heirloom seeds to be tenacious and to produce a reliable crop year after year. For example, the bicolor corn seen in Figure 7 may revert back to yellow or white corn if it’s saved seeds are planted again next season.

(Figure 7) Open-pollinated Plant Hybridization Example

What is GMO Seed?

The term GMO is a term that is feared, misunderstood, and misused, leading to confusion about what a GMO seed really means. Genetically modified organisms (GMO) are living things, including seeds, whose DNA has been engineered outside the natural process of cross pollination to inherit desirable traits.

(Figure 8) GMO Seed Creation Example

When we see anti GMO social media posts or speak with people about what GMO means to them we find that most people don’t really know why GMO is bad they just “know it is”. We are a little concerned that the lack of understanding of GMO is frequently dragging non-GMO seeds, such as Hybrids, into the discussion. We do have a concern with GMO but like most people who spend time really understanding the topic our concern is that the science is moving faster than the protections, labeling laws, and crop protocols. Many of the GMO products being grown today have used very impressive technologies to introduce NON-PLANT BASED genetics into plants. It is this “crossing” of two living organisms that nature would otherwise NOT allow that has us, and many others so concerned.

We believe that everyone should be well aware what is in their food—let alone the genetic make-up! While we are impressed with the technology, we believe that people have the right to know what is in the food they eat. Until more research, crop protections, and clear labeling is created we have chosen not to participate in this part of the market. With us, you’ll never have to worry about GMO’s because we don’t sell them and never will! All of us in the True Leaf Market family have agreed to The Safe Seed Pledge, a declaration which ensures that we “do not knowingly buy, sell, or trade genetically engineered seeds” (taken from the pledge set up by the Council for Responsible Genetics). Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems, and ultimately, healthy people and communities.

Common Bee Varieties: Get To Know The Different Types Of Bees In The Garden - garden

By Annie Reid
Westborough Community Land Trust

Get to know the pollinators

Spring is right around the corner, plants will soon green up, grow, and bloom, and Martha Gach of Mass Audubon’s nearby Broad Meadow Brook sanctuary (off Rt. 20 just over the Worcester line) came to Westborough to share her knowledge and enthusiasm for the pollinators that are so vital to much of plant life. By extension, pollinators are also vital to humans, because we depend on plants and their pollinators for food and for the ecosystems that surround us. It’s said that we should thank a pollinator for every third bite of food that we eat.

Who are the pollinators? In her talk, Martha noted that in Massachusetts the main pollinators are one bird (the ruby-throated hummingbird), about 100 different butterflies, and many more bees. Also, some beetles, flies, and other insects are also pollinators here. In the southwestern U.S. deserts and the tropics, many species of bats pollinate flowers, but our New England bats don’t do so. Pollinators visit flowers for nectar, and in the process pick up pollen on their bodies from one flower and transfer it to the next, furthering plant reproduction, healthy cross-pollination, and fruit production.

Most of us are familiar with honeybees, which are actually non-native (from Europe), and bumblebees, most of which are native. But did you know that we also have many other species of wild bees? They are known as solitary bees because they don’t live cooperatively in hives or social colonies the way honeybees and bumblebees do.

Solitary bees are gentle and nest singly, typically in holes that they dig the ground or in dead wood, plants stems, or logs. Mining bees and sweat bees (often colored metallic blue or green) nest in the ground. Mason bees, leaf-cutter bees, and cellophane bees line their egg chambers with natural materials. Mason bees make their egg chambers inside plant stems and line them with mud. Leaf-cutter bees line egg chambers with pieces of leaves. Cellophane bees make a liquid that turns into a cellophane-like substance to line their egg chambers in the ground. Carpenter bees nest in wood that has started to decay.

Do you have to worry about getting stung by these various wild bees? In general, no. They possess stingers, but they are not aggressive because they don’t have a communal hive or nest to protect.

Is every insect that looks like a bee really a bee? Again, the answer is no. Many flies, for example, are mimics that look like bees – and pollinate flowers – but are not bees and can’t sting. One way to tell the difference is to look carefully at their wings. Bees have four wings (two on each side), but flies have only two.

How can we help pollinators, especially our many native bees? Martha noted that they need food (nectar-producing flowers), water, places for their nurseries (where they can lay eggs and raise their young), and safe spaces where they can take shelter.

We can support pollinators by: 1) leaving some “messy” areas in our gardens where they can live (leftover leaves and stems, no mulch) 2) leaving some bare spots on the ground 3) planting native plants (for nectar and for the eggs and caterpillars of various butterflies) and 4) especially, by not using chemicals in the garden or on lawns. Pesticides such as the widely sold neonicotinoids (“neonics”) are toxic to insect nervous systems. They harm or kill pollinators, in addition to the aphids and other insect pests that they target.

For more information, you can watch a video of Martha’s talk, thanks to Westborough TV, at:

Watch the video: What is the Difference Between Bees, Wasps, and Hornets?