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Georgia has over 350 species of native bees and there are more.

How many bees have you seen lately? A few? Not many? Some possibly? Those questions are exactly my point. Where are our bees and other pollinators, and how are they doing? There is no doubt that our pollinator numbers have declined over the past years. There just aren’t enough time, money or experts to do an extensive study in one small area, but with local people throughout the state counting, Georgia is able to collect much needed data to reflect what is happening in real time.

On Aug. 23 and 24, Georgians all across our state became citizen scientists and participated in the first Great Georgia Pollinator Census. This census was an important initiative to document a snapshot of our pollinator populations. True, community and school gardens had participated in pilot counts during the 2017 and 2018 years, but these were individual efforts. This year we had a state-wide count. What better way to get the public involved in counting how many pollinators landed on plants, and what those pollinators were?

People of all ages watched insects of all kinds — carpenter bees, bumble bees, small bees, honeybees, wasps, butterflies, flies, and other insects — land on one plant of their choice. Were these people “bug gurus”? Absolutely not! Was the count challenging? You bet! Just think, you might be watching a plant that had many blooms, trying to count at least 20 visits by one wasp, all in fifteen minutes! Or maybe you attempted to count different insects, like wasps and bees, trying to share the same plant. It does happen and frequently.

Our Cherokee County Master Gardeners hosted a guided census count at two locations on Aug. 24. We invited anyone who wanted to join us to come count at our Senior Services Demonstration Garden in Canton and at the Ball Ground Botanical Garden in Ball Ground. We all toured the gardens, selected our plant of choice, got pen and collection sheet in hand, sat down in a comfy spot by our plant, and watched that plant for fifteen minutes. We were surprised by what — and how many — pollinators we saw visit our individual plants in just that brief time.

Our Master Gardeners also offered a second guided pollinator count on Sept. 14, but just concentrated on the Helianthus annus, Lemon Queen sunflower. This mammoth of the sunflowers was a recommended pollinator attractor. If you watched this plant for fifteen minutes, you would know why pollinators of all kinds love it. It’s large head of florets and mammoth size accommodate so many.

Both of our guided census pollinator counts were part of two organizations. Information can be found on the Great Georgia Pollinator Census Count at www.ggapc.org and the Great Sunflower Project at www.greatsunflower.org. Both are resource-filled websites that have many items you can download. There are identification guides, quizzes, and much more to share how you can be citizen scientists. Did you miss the counts in August and September? Don’t worry! This year was the first initiative for Georgia to participate in the Great Georgia Pollinator Census, and it won’t be the last. The Great Sunflower Project takes place every year, so visit that site to learn more about what to plant and when.

When you think of pollinators, the bee is the first that comes to mind, right? Georgia has over 350 species of native bees and there are more! Then there are the butterflies, and — yes, I know, the wasps just don’t give you that warm and fuzzy feeling, but they are pollinators, too. Moths, beetles, flies, beetles, wasps and gnats, and even ants, slugs and snails are also pollinators. Some help more than others. Some are fuzzier than others, and some don’t even fly to be able to pollinate. Come visit the Master Gardener booth at the Cherokee County Fair, Sept. 17-22, and learn how to be a Pollinator Investigator!

Jennifer Ruscilli is one of many UGA Master Gardener Extension Volunteers of Cherokee County. For more information or questions contact the Cherokee County Extension Office at 770-721-7803 or for upcoming seminars follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cherokeemastergardeners or on our website at cherokeemastergardenersinc.wildapricot.org.

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