Saturday, June 17, 2017

Save Our Pollinators: What You Can Do by Patti O'Neal

Photo by Donna Duffy
Do you enjoy any of these foods?  Avocados, Blueberries, Apples Cherries, Chocolate, Coffee, Peaches, Vanilla?  What if you did not have them any longer?  What would your world look like then? 
Did you know that insect pollinators – primarily social and solitary bees – are responsible for pollinating 35% of the world’s crop production, increasing outputs of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide as well as many plant-derived medicines.  At least one third of the world’s agricultural crops depends upon pollination provided by insects and other invertebrates.  
Photo by Donna Duffy

Pollination by insects is called entomophily.  Entomophily is a form of pollination whereby pollen is distributed by insects, particularly bees, butterflies, moths, flies and beetles.  Although most of the pollination work is performed in whole or part by honeybees, the crop’s natural pollinators, like   bumblebees, orchard bees, squash bees and solitary bees, birds and other insects pollinate as well. 
There are currently several threats to our pollinator population, which clearly puts our foods in danger as well.   To protect and preserve the foods we love, we need to protect and preserve the pollinators that make them happen.  What are those threats and what can YOU do?
The Colorado Department of Ag has participated in the Honey Bee Health Survey sponsored by USDA-APHIS and the Bee Informed Partnership for the past three years.  According to Laura Pottorf, CDA Division of Plant Industry’s Apiary Program Manager, “ Honey bees are a crucial part of our environment and the national survey provides a valuable insight into the state of managed honey bees in Colorado.”   The national survey has indicated that infectious pests, loss of habitat, improper use of pesticides are the top threats to pollinators.  
What can YOU do about it?  Knowing what the pollinators needs are may shed some light on the things each of us can do.  Social Bees are managed in hives and not all of us can provide that service for them.  We need to focus on the native bees and other insects that enrich our lives by pollinating not only our food crops but the flowers we love in our landscapes as well.  These pollinators need a food source, a water source, shelter (habitat) and a place to raise their young.  
As individuals, there are several things each of us can do in our own landscapes, no matter how small, to provide for our invertebrate friends. Let’s start with providing nectar sources.  Most  pollination occurs “accidentally.”  Flowers of fruits, vegetables and our ornamental flowers need to be pollinated to form seed and carry on. Since they are stationary in nature and cannot carry out this action themselves, they have evolved to attract “someone else” to do the job.  These are our pollinators; bees (both social and solitary), butterflies, birds, bats and even wasps and beetles.  
Putting it very simply, while browsing the flower for nectar, the visitor gets covered in the flower’s pollen all or part of their bodies.  When they visit the next flower, hopefully of the same species, but not always, they deposit that pollen to that flower beginning the pollination process.  The flower rewards the pollinator for performing that task by providing a delicious nectar, and voila,!  Everyone is happy and pollinated.   
Providing a nectar source (food) is something we can all do.  How do we do that?  
  • By planting flowers that both attract a variety of pollinators and provide them with that nectar.  
  • By planning for as long a season of bloom as possible from early spring to late fall. 
  •  By planting multiples of the same plant (if possible) to help the pollinators save energy.
  • By planting in as much sunlight as possible as most pollinators love the warmth to eat and rest
  • By resisting the urge to use chemical pesticides as strongly as possible, or if you must, spraying ad dawn or dusk when pollinators are less active to keep that food source as harmless to them as possible.

Want to learn more about what you can plant to attract pollinators to your landscape – even if you have only a patio or window box to do it with?  Jefferson County Master Gardeners are sponsoring a Save the Pollinators Day on Saturday, June 24th at the Courage Garden at the Jefferson County Courts and Admin Building from 9:00 to 3:00.  It is a free day of learning and fun with lots of things for kids to make and take.  For more information on who will be there and what you can learn and do, go to www.jeffcoextension.org