Preserving our pollinators

Paul McKenzie, N.C. Cooperative Extension
Sep. 22, 2013 @ 10:30 AM

  

There seems to be increasing awareness about the role of insect pollinators in our farms and gardens. Honeybees have long been revered for the work they do, both as pollinators and as producers of that sweet golden liquid. Many farmers around the country pay beekeepers to bring in hives by the truckload to insure a good harvest.

In fact, were honeybees to suddenly disappear, we might all find ourselves making soup from cardboard and stones, as much of the produce we enjoy would surely disappear from the farmers markets and grocery stores.

There has been some press lately about declines in the honeybee population. While I’m no entomologist, I understand that the reasons are complex, involving various insects and diseases that can infect a hive, climatic issues and misuse of insecticides. In fact, there have been calls for a ban on certain insecticides that some believe are major contributors to the decline (I personally believe the jury is still out on that matter).

Less commonly recognized is the fact that honeybees have plentiful partners in their pollination pursuits. A visit to any perennial garden at the peak of summer will reveal these secrets. There you may discover bees, beetles and wasps in various shapes and sizes, all busily flitting from flower to flower. The diversity you can find is truly a marvel.

If we accept that pollinators are important to our society (perhaps calling them a vital natural resource would not be overstating the facts), you might be interested to know what you can do to conserve them. And while saving the Amazon might seem beyond your means, pollinator conservation can take place right in your own yard.

It can start with a commitment to plant with diversity in mind, with a special emphasis on native flowering plants. As I noted above, pollinators come in all shapes, sizes and species, each with their own needs and preferences. Planting a variety of flowering plants and herbs covers your bases, insuring that you attract (and provide sustenance for) the whole gamut.

Equally important is using extreme caution with the use of insecticides. It’s rare that I write more than a paragraph without using the phrase “read the label.” Were you to accuse me of simply trying to cover my backside, my counter argument would be weak at best. However, if you were to follow my self-serving admonishment, you might find recommended precautions to protect these and other natural resources.

One needn’t look far to find evidence of dire consequences. A nearby beekeeper, in fact, recently lost an entire hive due to a neighbor’s careless (and likely illegal) insecticide application to garden plants that were in flower.

For vegetable gardeners, the benefits of planting for pollinators can go beyond simple altruism. The insects that are attracted to your flowers are likely to also visit your vegetables, potentially helping to increase production.

For more information about planting for pollinators, visit growingsmallfarms.ces.ncsu.edu and click the “pollinator garden link.”