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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Farm Science Review: Sharing the Garden with Bees and Their Imitators

July 31, 2008

LONDON, Ohio -- The bee is revered and feared in the gardening world. Nature's pollinator can help create beauty, but dampen the spirits of those enjoying flowers who misinterpret its intended visit. But not all bees are out to sting, and sometimes insects visiting a garden are not bees at all. Barbara Bloetscher, an Ohio State University Extension entomologist, will share the love of bees and their harmless imitators at this year's Farm Science Review.


Bloetscher will present "Bees in the Garden: Friends and Foes" at 2 p.m. on Sept. 18. The presentation is part of a parade of gardening-related sessions being offered in Utzinger Garden. Farm Science Review will take place Sept. 16-18 at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center in London, Ohio. Utzinger Garden is located off Friday Avenue in the FSR exhibit area.

"It's in people's nature to want to shoo away bees and other insects that flit around flowers in their backyard garden, for fear of being stung, or just not knowing what the insect is," said Bloetscher. "We want to educate people on the differences between bees and insects that look like bees, as well as teach them that bees are more interested in feeding than stinging. So you can sit in your garden and have tea and not worry about a bee stinging you."

Bloetscher said there are aggressive bees, like bold-faced hornets and yellow jackets that will sting if they are disturbed or if they feel their nest is being threatened. But there are less-aggressive bees, like honey bees and bumblebees, that have their eye more on food than fighting.

"One common visitor to a garden is the non-stinging Ohio native bee, or the sweat bee. The sweat bee tends to worry people because it will swarm close to the ground, but the action is harmless," said Bloestcher. "These bees nest in the ground, but they live individually rather than in hives. So the drive to protect the nest is not there. They have stingers, but they just don't use them."

Then there are those insects that look like bees, and although they may look menacing, are harmless to humans. Here are a few that are commonly encountered:

• Carpenter bees -- look like a bumblebee, but have a shiny blue/black abdomen. Males, most commonly encountered, have a yellow spot between their eyes and have no stingers. "Carpenter bees can appear aggressive because they will hover close to a person and at eye level," said Bloetscher. "They are trying to figure out if they can mate with you or if you are a threat to them. They are completely harmless."

• Cicada killers -- look like yellow jackets, but are about three times their size and they are only interested in cicadas. "They look like yellow jackets on steroids, and they tend to scare people because of their size," said Bloetscher. "But cicadas are the only things on their minds. They'll sit in trees waiting for a cicada to emerge and then they swoop down, paralyze the insect and lay eggs on its back. The larva that hatches will then eat the cicada."

• Hover flies -- look like honeybees, but are slightly smaller. "They are great pollinators like bees, but they don't buzz like bees," said Bloetscher. "Another characteristic to look for is their huge eyes that practically cover the top portion of their head. And they only have one pair of wings."

A plethora of plants are available for garden lovers interested in attracting both bees and their harmless friends, including the butterfly bush, mint and daisies.

"Gardens can be enjoyed by human and insect alike," said Bloetscher. "Bees and other insects are beneficial and if we learned to share our gardens with them, both people and insects would all be happier."

Other topics being offered at Utzinger Garden during Farm Science Review include: alternative fertilizers for lawns, managing common plant diseases, annuals, growing brambles in the home garden, pest control strategies, managing tree fruits, container gardening, rain gardens, emerald ash borer, pruning shrubs and perennials. For more information on these sessions and other FSR events, log on to

Farm Science Review is sponsored by the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. It attracts upwards of 140,000 visitors from all over the country and Canada, who come for three days to peruse 4,000 product lines from 600 commercial exhibitors, and learn the latest in agricultural research, conservation, family and nutrition, and gardening and landscape.

Tickets are $8 at the gate or $5 in advance when purchased from county offices of OSU Extension or participating agribusinesses. Children 5 and younger are admitted free. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept 16-17 and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 18.


Candace Pollock
Barb Bloetscher