Everyones seen the slogans, "Save the bees!," & "Bee friendly," but what do they mean? Bees are everyday, but they aren't just "like every other bitch". Most people dodge, swat, run or whatever they can do to get away from them, them not knowing how incredibly important they are. We're going to explore their importancet & what you can do to help keep them alive!
Let's start with the basics -- pollination. What is pollination, really, you ask? We'll begin by talking about flowers. A flower's main goal, like any other living organism, is to reproduce & create offspring for the next generation.
By definition pollination is the act of transferring pollen from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma & is usually the unintended result of an organism's activity on a flower -- most acts of pollination are on accident! The pollinator is usually eating flowers, collecting pollen for nutrients, or sipping nectar when other bits of pollen stick to the pollinator's body. When the organism moves to the next flower to do the same those little bits of pollen will fall off into the stigma & VOILA! You're flower has been pollinated!
For example, when you see a bee land on a flower little bits of pollen will stick to their legs. Bees have pouches on their hind legs where they store pollen to take back to the hive. Sometimes those pouches will over flow or pollen will be stuck on the outside & when they move to the next flower to continue to collect food, the bits of pollen will get knocked off into the next flower's stigma. This is when pollination begins!
My video below demonstrates just that. As you can see this bee has landed on a Zinnia in my garden where pollen has attached itself to its hind leg. With the pollen from the first Zinnia stuck to itself, the bee then flies off & transfers that pollen to other flowers that it lands on.
Now that we understand the fundamentals of pollination, let's dig a little deeper! We talked about how bees facilitate the process, but there is much more to it.
Why are bees so important? It is estimated that 1/3 of the food we eat relies on pollination by mainly bees! Examples of food that require pollination include avocados, soybeans, asparagus, broccoli, celery, squash, cucumbers, citrus fruits, kiwis, cherries, cranberries & melons, to name a few. Around 80% of some US crops, such as almonds & blueberries, are completely dependent on honey bees.
But why are pollinating insect & their habitats declining? Why are we having to "SAVE THE BEES"?
As the Ecological Landscape Alliance says, "Pollinator decline is attributed primarily to loss of habitat and to the use of pesticides. For bees, the Varroa mite and Colony Collapse Disorder are also causes of decline. Habitat loss is due not only to the conversion of prairie and meadow to cropland but also to the use of herbicides that eradicate wildflowers in the agricultural and ornamental landscape. Roundup Ready® crops (crops genetically engineered to be resistant to Roundup®, a non-selective herbicide produced by Monsanto) are of particular concern: weeds, such as milkweed, that once grew in and adjacent to crops and that provided food and habitat for bees and butterflies are now eradicated by broadcast spraying. Neonicotinoids, systemic insecticides, are applied as seed coatings as well as foliar sprays, resulting in bee exposure due to dust drift during planting and to residue in nectar and pollen. Neonicotinoids are also highly soluble in water and therefore have the potential to spread off-site."
By growing your own pollinator garden, while it seems like a small detail in such a big picture, it makes an incredible difference.
So how can you make a difference?
You can begin by using a wide variety of plants that bloom from early spring into late fall. Plant these in larger clumps, rather than just one plant. When using plants that are native to your own area. They are already adapted to your local climate, soil and native pollinators.Even night blooming plants will help, as they will support moths & bats.
Additionally, try to avoid modern hybrid flowers, especially those with "doubled" flowers. More times than not plant breeders have left out the pollen, nectar, and fragrance out of these blossoms in order to create a perfect plant.
Eliminate pesticides whenever possible. While using pesticides can be unavoidable, use the least-toxic material possible. Check the labels of the pesticides you are using those that are the least harmless for bees. Go a step further by using these pesticides at night, when bees & other pollinators are not out.
Introduce larval host plants in your landscape. While caterpillars will eat your plants, try to introduce them to areas or foliage plants that will not be immediately apparent to showy areas. Some host plants can even be weeds! The best part, these caterpillars will eventually turn into butterflies & you have now introduced a new pollinator to the earth.
Another way to promote & attract bees to your garden is to leave a fallen limb behind that you might otherwise have removed. By leaving dead limbs, or even dead trees, you are providing an area for bees to nest in. Obviously, you want to do this in a way that is not harmful for people. If a dead tree is in an area that might cause destruction or harm, removal is necessary. But, if the dead tree is stable or in an area that wouldn't cause any damage, let it bee (no pun intended).
For butterfly gardens, add materials like rotting fruits, wet pet dropping, or urine. While this seems unsightly & uncomfortable, butterflies need other resources other than nectar. Slices of over-ripe oranges, bananas, & other fruits will work perfectly (& are less unbearable to spread)!
Furthermore, leaving a sponge dish filled with lightly salted water will attract butterflies. Sea salt will provide a wide range of nutrients rather than regular table salt, but any salt water mixture will attract the butterflies.