Blueberries, apples, cherries, melons. No, we aren’t making up a new rap! We’re talking about insect pollination. All of these delicious snacks are dependent on insects like bees, butterflies, and even male mosquitoes to pollinate them. Flying from bud to bud spreads pollen, fertilizing the plant. Thus, a seed is born and fruit can grow.
You may be aware of more and more headlines about bees! As humans get more and more comfortable developing properties and increasing our carbon footprint, bee populations worldwide are rapidly declining. The reason this concerns us is that we need them to pollinate our food! One in every three bites of food depends on bees for pollination. When pollinators are involved in the growth of fresh produce, it can improve the quality, and it can even triple the quantity of fruit or veggies grown. For example, if a honeybee hive is working 100 acres of cucumbers, there can be three times more cucumbers harvested than if there were no bees. We know that bees are essential to all living organisms, but let’s try to understand the cause of their decline — and how to help.
Here are some factors that disturb our bee populations:
- Climate Change The climate affects the environment where the bees and their favorite plants live. The home that they were adapted to thrive in is rapidly changing.
- Loss of Habitat Bees look for wildflowers and grasses as they’re house hunting. When we reduce the size of bees’ habitats and put in roads, cities, and farmland instead, our buzzing friends have less space to live comfortably.
- Human Interruption Agriculturists and beekeepers have discovered the benefit of moving beehives around to pollinate different crops during specific seasons. However, as they’re moved, they are exposed to new pests and diseases. With an environment that is always changing, these bees can be compared to the effects of invasive species: they are out of their element, and so the ecosystem is unbalanced.
- Pesticides These chemicals are sprayed on the crops to protect them from insect damage. It doesn’t come without a cost: it affects our bees! Pesticides are found in the nectar and pollen collected by the bees. Once it is taken back to their homes, it weakens the entire hive, and potentially, neighboring hives.
- Monoculture Instead of using a plot of land to sow a variety of plants and herbs, many farmers plant just one single crop, season after season. Planting a row of boxwoods may look appealing, but this is not a harmonious, self-sustaining ecosystem. Rather, it wears out the soil, requires fertilizer and chemical pesticides, and it takes over the bees’ natural habitat.
We aim to be welcoming and supportive to our local pollinators, including all the species of bees around! Did you know that seventy percent of native bee species in the US are ground-nesting? They are drawn to sunny, bare soil for their egg-laying. The remaining thirty percent elect to lay theirs in cavities (like holes in deadwood). Native ground-nesting bees are some of the earliest pollinators to emerge in spring. This makes them vital to the pollination of fruit trees like cherries, plums, and apricots, as well as other flowering trees, shrubs, and spring ephemerals. These tiny insects depend on bare ground because even an inch of mulch makes the soil inaccessible! If you’ve always identified as a mulcher, consider using mulch in the front of the garden, and switch to shredded leaves in the back. You’ll still have the positive influence of mulch in your garden, but you’ll also be welcoming your local ground nesters.
In order to become allies for our hard-working, pollinator pals, we can “bee” intentional about the plant material selected for our landscapes. Choose healthier alternatives to spraying pesticides and herbicides. Keep some areas free of wood mulch for those ground-nesting bees. Lastly, involve your pals, neighbors, and families in the construction of a bee hotel while educating them on the significance of bees. They can call it an “air-beeNbee!”
Save the bees: more than a buzzword.
Until next thyme,
My Thyme Gardens