It’s the time of year when air-borne pollinators are buzzing and humming and hovering all over our gardens. Honey bees are working the purple orbs atop chive stalks, wild bees are crawling the first pale, stem-bound blossoms of a potted rosemary plant, hummingbirds are working trumpet-shaped azalea blossoms, and various-sized and colored wasps are busy visiting flowers of all sorts blooming in our yards and landscapes.
Earlier in the season, the bees were all over our apple blossoms. Not long from now, they’ll be in the pea blossoms while butterflies will be tracing twisted, sunlit paths above our heads. They’ll all be doing the work of pollination, the natural process so important to the plants that feed us and bring us beauty.
Pollinators are integral in the reproduction of 80% of our flowering plants. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization states that pollinators affect 35 percent of the world’s crop production, increasing outputs of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide. They are a big part of the agricultural economy. Bees pollinate crops that generate $15 billion a year (PDF). The byproduct of this activity, honey sales, is worth $150 million annually.
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What is pollination? The FAO gives a good definition that emphasizes its importance to us humans:
Pollination is a keystone process in both human managed and natural terrestrial ecosystems. Is an essential service that depends to a large extent on the symbiosis between species, the pollinated and the pollinator. In many cases, it is the result of intricate relationships between plants and animals, and the reduction or loss of either will affect the survival of both. Pollination is critical for food production and human livelihoods, and directly links wild ecosystems with agricultural production systems.
Both bee and butterfly populations are under assault. Colony collapse disorder claimed 40% of hives over the last winter and the monarch butterfly population has declined by some 90%.
The pollinators populating our gardens are not only necessary to the raising of fruits, flowers, and vegetables, they’re a necessary part of any chance we have of keeping pollinator populations safe for future generations.
Luckily, interest in saving pollinators is high and a number of organizations are raising awareness of the problem and offering resources for the home gardener. One of them, The Pollinator Partnership, has declared the week of June 15-21 as “Pollinator Week.” They’ve got a whole list of suggested activities if you’d like to get involved.
The Partnership is also involved with the National Pollinator Garden Network’s “Million Pollinator Garden Challenge,” a campaign to register a million public and private gardens and landscapes to support pollinators. Could yours be one of them?
Resources for pollinator-friendly gardening are everywhere. The Department of Agriculture has information on gardening for pollinators including why you should avoid hybrid plants and how to create a “damp salt lick” for pollinators. There’s also an online brochure on how to attract pollinators to your landscape using native plants (PDF).
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also has a page on pollinators and the home garden.
One of the more useful web pages on pollinators and the home garden is the Pollinator Partnership’s various regional guides for selecting pollinator-attracting plants to grow in your garden. They also have a fascinating guide (PDF) that lists the characteristics that attract different pollinators, including bees, bats, birds, and beetles.
What do all these sources suggest as a first step to encouraging pollinator populations? Stopping the use of pesticides. They’re taking a terrible toll on the very creatures we need to survive.
As organic gardeners, we’re all doing something to save the pollinators. (Even when applying OMRI listed pesticides, always consider the pollinators it might affect.)
Anyone who raises a garden, whether specifically designed to attract pollinators or not, is providing nectar and other food sources for them. Like we’ve always said, gardening is one of the better ways to save the world.
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