Many of the fruits and vegetables that we find in our gardens require pollination by insects to produce the food that we eat and the seed to reproduce the plants. The honey bee is the principal pollinator of these food plants. Honey bees account for about 85 percent of the pollination. The remainder of the task of pollinating our food crops is mostly shared by native solitary bees, bumble bees, and carpenter bees. Other insects, butterflies, moths, bats, and hummingbirds contribute in pollinating as well. The pollination of these food crops occurs as the foraging bees brush against the anthers of the flowers, which contain pollen. The pollen sticks to the hairy body of the bee and is carried to the flower’s stigma, accomplishing pollination. This is a necessary step in the production of foods like squash, apples, watermelons, and strawberries. The pollination of vegetable crops like mustard, kale, onions and garlic is necessary to produce seed to reproduce the next year’s crop. Click on the photo to see a honey bee foraging on the flowers of a garlic plant. The bee is unknowingly pollinating the plant and producing seed.
In large areas of the United States, there is a continuing shortage of pollinators. The honey bee’s numbers have been declining for several decades with native bees declining as well. The loss of habitat, extensive use of pesticides and herbicides, and expanded monoculture farming practices have all lead to the decline of pollinators. It is easy for us to turn our backyard vegetable garden into a pollinator garden simply by avoiding overuse of chemicals. A pollinator garden may be a kitchen vegetable garden, a herb garden, a flower garden, a landscape planting, or even a window box or balcony potted plant assortment. The National Academy of Sciences has a most useful web site offering ideas for increasing the important pollinators in your garden. It is located at: http://dels.nas.edu/pollinators/plantsforpollinators.shtml. With 90 food crops dependent upon pollinators, their protection is most important. Our small individual efforts can rapidly make a positive result.