Pirate Creek Bees has a philosophy that agriculture and nature should coexist in harmony. We believe it is all about balance and have many different projects to promote wildlife. We have built nesting locations for bluebirds and other cavern dwelling birds, which help control the insect population. We also maintain a multitude of nesting boxes for Barn owls, which are great at controlling nocturnal rodents like rats and mice. We have installed water systems to not only provide fresh water to cattle and other wildlife, but also to get the cows out of the stock ponds where endangered species such as the red legged frog live. Miles of cross fences have been installed to keep the cattle off prime wildflower pasture. This provides a large and diverse amount of pollen for bees and other pollinators.
We are continuing to expand our environmental projects, and are now building and installing solitary bee nesting locations. We are also building nesting boxes for bumble bees. Solitary bees and bumblebees are capable of pollinating some flower and plants that honey bees cannot. Some raptors like the red tailed hawk hunt by perching on a tall tree and waiting for prey, but many of our pastures do not have perching locations. This year we have installed raptor perches that will aid hawks and other birds of prey hunt.
Our main focus lies with the honey bees, primarily because of their honey production and contribution to a flourishing ecosystem. Honeybees are vital to the environment and agriculture as they aid in the pollination and growth of apples, strawberries, broccoli and countless other fruits and vegetables that humans rely on. According to the USDA, they actually account for approximately 75% of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in this country. Since bees take such an active role in our world, their conservation is paramount. At Pirate Creek Bees, we strive to curb endangerment by assisting the bees in whatever way we can. We manage each individual hive with care by closely monitoring their health, activity and production. This involves dealing with issues such as disease and attacks from other insects, as well as providing food during the winter when it is less abundant than other seasons. As a result, the hives we take care of have a higher chance of surviving through several obstacles that usually are detrimental to the success of a hive.
Although honey bees are very important to Pirate Creek Bees, we also concentrate our efforts towards other species of bees. Although not as commonly known, solitary bees account for a large amount of bee species. The solitary bees we deal with are all native to California and differ from other bees in that they do not operate collectively, such as the well known and social honey bees. For example, the mason bees are more effective pollinators than honey bees, however are vastly outnumbered. Leaf cutting bees are important pollinators of many wildflowers and others not accessible to honey bees. Currently, we are building housing for the solitary bees to reproduce in and also provide a safe environment to live in. These houses will attract other native bees, further increasing pollination on our properties as well as nearby areas.
As part of our environmental project we have installed over 5 miles of wildlife friendly cross fencing. The fence is designed to keep the cattle in yet allow the wildlife to easily cross. The fence specifications have been adopted from the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) guidelines. The fence is a 5 strand barbed wire and T-Post with the bottom strand barbless. The bottom barbless strand is set 16 inches off the ground to allow larger animals like deer to pass under.
The cross fences allow us to utilize a rotational grazing process for our cattle operations. By restricting the cattle to a smaller pastures, the remaining fields have the ability to flower and reseed. These fields provide a large and nutritionally diverse pollen sources for honey bees and other pollinators.
Here in the San Francisco Bay Area most of the natural vernal pools are gone. In most places only the stock pond created for cattle provide a place for animals to live and reproduce. Some times of the year, our ponds and troughs are the only source of water for most of the wildlife. Besides providing clean drinking water for our cattle, we are also interested in providing safe habitat for wildlife. In our area there are two species of amphibian that are endangered. Both the California Tiger Salamander and the Red-legged frog require ponds to reproduce. As part of our environmental programs, we are creating new water systems for the cattle and wildlife. In most of these systems we are using existing ponds or springs as a source of water. We then placed troughs throughout the pastures. Cattle will use the easiest source of water. In this case, the cattle prefer using the troughs over ponds. This keeps the cattle from going into the ponds where the amphibians are reproducing.
The troughs that we use have been designed with wildlife in mind. Each trough has an animal escape ramp extending into the water. This allows smaller animals to climb out of the trough. Normally the animal would get stuck and drown.
Planting For Pollinators
The amount of natural pollinator forage ground has been decreasing in the San Francisco Bay Area. Pirate Creek Bees have been working with two organizations to reseed some of our pasture ground.
The National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has a planting program that supports both pollinators and livestock. We have been working with the NRCS group out of Livermore California and have found them to be incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. This year our focus has been on pollinators. The NRCS group has identified a seed mix that is both beneficial to grazing and pollinators. This year we are planting a small trial area as a test.
The other group we work with on reseeding is Project Apis-m. For the past two years we have participated in the Project Apis-m Seed for Bees project. We have identified places on our Fremont Ranch to distribute the seeds.
Bluebirds are highly social animals. They feed in flocks during breeding season, and hunt for insects by dropping to ground from a low perch. Blue birds are native to North America and Central America, and there are 6.7 million bluebirds currently living in North America. We are building small nesting sites for the conservation of these animals. A few things that bluebirds have been proven to moderate in certain areas are crickets, grasshoppers, insect, larvae, beetles, spiders, caterpillars and wasps. These boxes help bluebirds by giving them a place to live. It is also a nesting place so they can reproduce. Bluebirds are rated a 9 out of 20 on the Continental concern scale.
Barn owls are native to North America. They eat rats, mice and various other rodents. Their diet consists of up to 3 1/2 rats per day or 8.2 rodents per day. The breeding population is 2,000,000 with 7% of their population living within the US. Barn owls are rated a 9 out of 20 on the Continental concern scale.