by Nicole Sanchez
Pollinators are in peril, and the future of your blueberries, squash, cucumbers, tree fruits and watermelons is at stake!!
Did that get your attention? Sadly, it’s true. Perhaps the diminutive size of our insect friends has allowed their tragedy to unfold unnoticed before us, but the threats are very real. They include colony collapse disorder, Varroa mite, reduced genetic diversity, and repeated exposure to minute doses of systemic pesticides. Few but beekeepers, farmers, and entomologists are fully aware of the dramatic decline in honeybee populations in recent years.
Researchers and beekeepers are in a race against time to solve problems facing honeybees before their populations become so small that they are no longer effective pollinators of the many crops that depend upon them for fruit set. There are various mechanisms of pollination, including wind and dependence on other groups of insects. But many of our favorite produce crops depend on bees. Why should you care? To put it simply, no bees equals no pollination equals no produce. A less drastic, but fully plausible equation might be, very few bees equals greatly reduced pollination equals very expensive produce.
If neither of these equations sounds very attractive, you might be wondering how we got into such a predicament, and what can be done about it. Like many problematic situations we encounter in society, it took a long time for the problem to develop and become understood, and will take much additional time to remedy.
As is also true of many current world issues, the most realistic solutions lie in many people taking small steps to remedy the situation. Things you can do include creating places that are friendly to honeybees and other pollinators. Plant herbs, nectar producing flowers, or y plants in the daisy family. Nectar producing flowers usually have a long tube as part of the flower structure, like honeysuckle or butterfly bush. Sunflowers and other daisy-like flowers produce pollen that is a valuable food source for many insects.
Use pesticides only when truly needed, exactly as directed, and spray early or late in the day when bees are less active. Plant the widest variety of plants reasonably possible – diversity in planting provides a wider array of food sources at differing times of the year.
Long-term solutions are more complicated. Honeybees were introduced to America by our immigrant forefathers, and our agricultural system has developed along with the practice of beekeeping. Because of a lengthy dependence on one species, the honeybee, we know comparatively little about the effectiveness of bumblebees, squash bees, and other native wasp and bee pollinators. Researchers are scrambling to better understand these bees as honeybee populations continue to decline.
For a greater understanding of the pollinator crisis and what we know about it, I highly recommend the book Fruitless Fall by Rowan Jacobsen. While based on a great deal of scientific information, the conversational writing style and the way Jacobsen weaves together the many threads of the honeybee story make it as compelling a read as any novel. Perhaps after reading it, you will even become inspired, as I was, to learn more about beekeeping. In eastern North Carolina, local extension service offices have information about local beekeeping courses and groups. Even if you are not inspired to keep bees, as many of your fruit and vegetable producers do, I hope you’ll enjoy a much greater appreciation of the next pollinator that passes you by.