THE BUMBLEBEE HAS A STING FACTOR OF 2.5. I learned this from an article in the online real estate section of the Wall Street Journal. What's more -- and this is really exciting -- more and more gardeners are defying that sting factor in order to make bee gardens!
Check out this video tour of a beautiful bee garden, courtesy of the WSJ.
In an article titled "Gardens With a Buzz," June Fletcher reports that homeowners are getting concerned about reports of declining honeybee populations. (For more on this, see my post on gardeners and the honeybee crisis.) In response, "the garden industry is pushing homeowners to create bee gardens that will attract and nourish [honeybees] as well as other, indigenous species."
Fletcher says that although "big-box" stores haven't picked up the trend yet, companies that have started selling bee plants and bee nest boxes are reporting strong sales. These include Smith & Hawken in Novato, Calif., and Dutch Gardens, a division of Gardener's Supply in Burlington, Vt.
The article contains profiles of gardeners and an excellent overview of bees and their needs. It's worth visiting just for the chart showing five bee species (honeybee, orchard mason bee, bumblebee, sweat bee, and leaf cutter bee) with photos, "sting factor," favorite plants, and comments. Among the latter is the suggestion that an old teapot could be buried with just the spout poking above ground, in order to make a nesting site for bumblebees. What a great way to repurpose any unused or broken pot, especially one with a narrow neck.
As for that "sting factor," I thought I'd heard of everything having to do with bees, but I'd never heard of this pain index developed by entomologist Justin O. Schmidt of Tucson, Ariz. Evidently this noble individual allowed himself to be stung by more than 78 species of insects in order to develop his index.
Since I don't have anything like that degree of nobility, I'm reluctant to argue with his findings. However, I was surprised to learn that Schmidt likens bumblebees' 2.5 rating to "stepping on a hot nail." This sounds fairly painful, whereas I've never been much bothered by bumblebee stings myself.
The second most painful of those listed in the chart is the honeybee. Its 2.0 rating is "like touching a burning match," which is closer to what I've experienced from bumblebee stings.
The sweat bee gets a rating of 1: "It hurts briefly, like a spark." Both the orchard mason bee and the leaf-cutter bee get ratings of zero, "a mild pinprick" and "like lightly brushing a thorn," respectively.
I encourage you to read the full article. But if you'd like to see what I've written about bee gardening, check "Attracting Bumblebees" and other posts listed under Bees in the right-hand column.