Cut an apple in half by slicing it across its midsection and you’ll find a central compartment in the shape of a five-pointed star. If your apple has two seeds inside each point of the star—10 altogether—it was completely pollinated by bees. If there are fewer than 10, not enough pollen reached the flower’s stigma to develop all the seeds. A poorly pollinated flower will develop into an apple that is small and lopsided. An unpollinated flower won’t develop into an apple at all.
This apple is at the heart of why you should care about pollinators. According to the National Academy of Sciences, close to 75 percent of flowering plants on Earth rely on pollinators to set seed or fruit. From these plants come one-third of our food and even a greater percentage of wildlife food.
Yet now, ALMOST everywhere, pollinators are at risk. Honeybees are dying in unprecedented numbers each year. Once-common bumblebees are disappearing across North America and Europe. Monoculture farming and urban landscapes lack the habitats to support the diversity of bees, butterflies and other vital pollinators.
So what can you do to help? Here are some simple and relatively inexpensive ways you can attract, promote and protect pollinators:
- Plant a variety of native plants. Think about overlapping bloom times to provide flowers through several seasons.
- Protect pollinators’ habitats. One of the easiest ways is to leave it alone! Leave dead trees in the woods; leave some bare soil for ground nest sites; keep overgrown areas natural. Brush piles or rock piles provide cover for pupating butterflies and shelter for over-wintering bumblebees.
- Do not spray chemical pesticides!
- Make a nest block or stem bundle for native bees to lay eggs in. Sometimes the simplest steps can be the most successful and most satisfying. Wooden nest blocks or bundles of hollow stems attract bees within minutes of installation.
Here at Powell Gardens we make two different native bee nests to attract pollinators into the Heartland Harvest Garden, as shown by volunteer Annette McQuerry, above. Come by the Good Earth Workshop at the Missouri Barn and learn how to make a simple bamboo nest for your yard.
Taking any action, however modest, is better that nothing at all. When it comes right down to it, pollinators only have a few basic habitat requirements—a flower-rich foraging area, suitable host plants or nests where they can lay their eggs and an environment free of pesticides. Providing any of these is a valuable first step.
Visit us from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday, April 19, to learn how to make homes for native bees plus learn lots of other sustainable gardening techniques and how you can upcycle cast-offs into some very cool things! See the full schedule here and I look forward to seeing you in the Gardens!