By Contributing Author: Christy Erickson
Bees are responsible for pollinating 15 to 30 percent of all the food in the U.S. Additionally, the annual economic benefit of their pollination services has been estimated to be up to $117 billion. Unfortunately, pollinators in the U.S. have been in crisis for more than a decade. If bees were to cease to exist, your stomach and wallet would suffer, as well as countless plants and other animals. So what can you do to help?
What is Pollination?
Pollen is produced by flowering plants and must be transferred from one plant to another in order for the flower to reproduce. Reproduction is valuable because the environment is constantly changing, and reproduction creates genetically varied offspring, which increases the chances of the flower’s offspring being suited to the changes in the environment. Most flowering plants require a pollinator to transfer the pollen from one plant to another.
Many animals can be pollinators, including birds, insects, and bats. “Bees are one of the most well known and important types of pollinator, both in agriculture and natural ecosystems,” says the University of California San Diego. Sadly, the amount of native pollinators has dramatically declined due to human interventions, including intensive agriculture, deforestation, urban development, managed honeybees, introduced plant species, and pesticides.
How Can People Help?
Fortunately, human interventions can also help save and revive the bees. When planting in your garden, choose native plants and ensure you have something that blooms in each season. Even though some bee species are only active for a few months, they need to eat year round. Violets bloom in the winter, woodland phloxes bloom in the spring, fox gloves bloom in the summer, and asters bloom in the fall.
Arguably, spring is the most important season to have something blooming because newly emerging queens awake from winter hibernation and need nectar and pollen in order to start their colonies in the spring. Some species of bees build nests in pre-existing holes. You can assist them by installing a bee block or bee hotel or drilling various sized holes in a dead tree that's still standing. Mulch is a popular addition to the grounds of many gardens. However, around 70 percent of bees dig a nest in the ground to raise their young, which isn’t possible if mulch is in the way.
Create a border around fruits and vegetables with native flowers to simultaneously improve pollination of your crops and support bees. Instead of using pesticide, add plants that naturally draw pest eaters away. These are called companion plants. For example, garlic protects aphids and basil protects tomatoes. You can also help by getting involved with organizations like the Pollinator Partnership, the Honeybee Health Coalition, and the Bumble Bee Watch.
Starting a Garden
If you’re new to gardening, create your garden with bees in mind from the beginning. To start a garden, you have to say goodbye to a patch of grass. You can dig it up or spread newspapers to smother the grass. Also, learn how to identify the weeds in your yard. You can’t properly fight them off if you don’t know exactly what you’re up against. Lay landscape fabric prior to planting to help prevent weeds and grass.
Remember that soil is the foundation. Problems with the soil—including pH that is too high or too low, nutritional issues, or too much clay—will adversely affect plants. Other potential issues include over or under watering, too much or too little sunlight, pests, and diseases. Adding compost boosts your soil too. You can buy it pre-made or make your own. Be aware of your planting zone and the amount of sun and shade your yard receives before you purchase plants or seeds. Educate yourself on how to properly plant seeds and how to transfer plants from temporary pots into the ground.
Even if you already have a garden, you can make adjustments to make it more bee friendly. Although humans have created a crisis for bees and other pollinators, we can still step in and help correct the damage we’ve caused. Not only will it save our food supply and economy, but it will also save the lives of these insects that have been around for more than 100 million years helping the plant to thrive.
The Monroe Farmers' Market is open June–October and offers fresh, locally-grown produce, baked goods, prepared foods and hand-crafted specialty foods to Connecticut locals.