Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mississippi Hoe-Down

The Mississippi State Master Gardeners held their annual conference with an entertaining hoe-down theme. I feel most honored that they invited me to speak. My presentation to the Master Gardeners involved the important role honey bees and other pollinators play in producing our food. I explained that the pollinators are declining in number as a result of changes to their environment, often man-made. Urbanization, with people spreading into remote areas, often leads to loss of pollinator habitat and diminished forage areas. Agriculture, home lawns, and golf courses employ large quantities of pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. These chemicals, along with the residues of chemicals used in the past, tend to weaken the bees as they build up in the honeycomb. The type of industrial agriculture practiced on the large farms further lessens the available pollinator habitat and forage. Instead of agricultural fields having a weedy margin suitable for solitary bees to nest, fields are sometimes plowed to the edge of paved roads. Monoculture, or the planting of a single species of plant, is typical in large-scale modern agriculture. A lack of diversity of plants for the pollinators to forage leads to nutritional stress for the pollinators. World trade and transportation accidentally bring unwanted plants and pathogens from distant locations and spread them rapidly. Trade brought parasitic mites, viruses, small hive beetles, and the latest strain of Nosema disease to this country.

Facing these threats to the pollinators, I offered the Master Gardeners a solution to rapidly help correct the shortage in pollinator habitat and forage. I suggested that these Master Gardeners direct their efforts to building pollinator gardens; they love to plant. These are plantings that provide pollinator food and habitat. A requirement is that pesticides are used prudently. I suggested that plants for the pollinator gardens be chosen from several families of plants that produce nectar and pollen: the composites, mints, mustards, roses, legumes, snapdragons, and magnolias. Thanks, Mississippi, Rita and I enjoyed the Hoe-Down. Today’s photo: honey bee foraging groundsel.

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