by Elena Freeman
This week marks the fourth annual “National Pollinator Week” dedicated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to bring awareness and solutions to the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations, including bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, bats, beetles, syrphid flies, and more. These pollinators provide vital links in natural ecosystems, in landscapes and gardens, and in agricultural food production.
Bees pollinate about 30 percent of all food crops, including peaches, plums, apricots, avocados, squash, melons, onion, celery, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, almonds, strawberries, kiwis, walnuts, blackberries, grapes, eggplants, and pears.
Researchers have been trying for years to find the cause of the mysterious insect plague known as colony collapse disorder that is wiping out honeybees around the globe. In the United States, bees are currently disappearing at a rate of 30 percent per year. In China’s pear and apple growing regions, bees have disappeared completely, requiring workers to manually pollinate the fruit trees by swabbing every blossom.
Loss of habitat and pesticide exposure are believed to have weakened the bees’ immune system, making them vulnerable to diseases. Bees need a steady stream of pollen and nectar from a wide variety of flowering plants that bloom at different times. Native wildflowers are especially good habitat providers, because they have co-evolved with local pollinators. In the past, undeveloped areas of wildflowers, trees, and grasses provided food sources and shelter for bees, and farms with multiple, rotating crops provided diversified food sources. However, today in industrialized countries, mono-crop agriculture is on the rise and undeveloped wildlands are shrinking.
What can you do to help save the bees? Set aside a small portion of your garden to plant flowering pollinator-friendly plants, which has the added benefit of attracting other beneficial insects that are natural predators to unwanted bugs. Provide bee nesting spots by leaving some areas of bare, undisturbed soil for ground-nesting bees, leaving some grassy meadow areas unmowed, retaining dead trees and branches, and installing a bee nursery. You can buy or make a wooden bee nursery for native bees, like the one shown on this webpage: http://www.ars.usda.gov/Main/docs.htm?docid=10743 or make one from re-used items as shown here: http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2009/090320.htm
This blog was inspired by Sara Schmidt’s “Beauty and the Bees” in World Ark, the magazine of Heifer International, Summer 2010.
Other good resources on bees and other pollinators include:
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