These gardeners don't mind if bees buzz about their plot south of Modesto.
They are experimenting with flowering plants that could provide a wide variety of pollen for the insects to eat.
They aim to keep the bees healthy for their task of pollinating almonds and other crops for human consumption.
"Bees need diverse sources of pollen to help bolster their resistance to disease, pesticides and other stresses," Jessa Guisse, of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, said in an e-mail Tuesday.
"Providing additional habitat is widely recognized as the best way to enhance bee health, diversity and abundance."
The society, based in Portland, Ore., is testing the idea at 11 sites across the nation with a grant of about $330,000 from the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service. The sites include the Stanislaus County Agricultural Center off Crows Landing Road.
The project involves native and imported bees and other pollinators, said Guisse, pollinator outreach coordinator for California.
Among them is the European honeybee, which has become an important pollinator in the United States but has declined because of a mysterious affliction called colony collapse disorder.
Crucial to valley
The stakes are huge. Almonds brought an estimated $455.6 million to growers in Stanislaus County last year. It all depends on bees moving from bloom to bloom in February and March, depositing the pollen that causes the nuts to form.
Honeybees also pollinate cherries, apples, apricots, melons, squash and many other crops.
The test plot will have hedgerows, which some growers already have tried along their orchards and fields to encourage bees and other beneficial insects. Other possibilities include "bee pastures" and "pollinator meadows," Guisse said.
The work started last week with laying of clear plastic sheets to control soil pathogens and weeds with the sun's heat. That will be followed in autumn by planting of poppy, lupine, phacelia, aster, milkweed, sunflower, salvia, buckwheat, ceanothus, manzanita and other plants. Most are California natives.
Guisse said the result early next year will be "a beautiful floral display and possibly some unique species of native bees."
The project is getting help from the East Stanislaus Resource Conservation District and the University of California Cooperative Extension. Student interns from California State University, Stanislaus, also are taking part.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at 578-2385 or firstname.lastname@example.org.