Volume 16, Issue 24 - June 12 - June 18, 2008

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Earth Journal by Gary Pendleton

Hungry for Garden-Fresh Foods?

Lure bees to your garden

The garden is planted and my head is filled with images of all the produce of last year’s garden. I don’t want any store-bought cucumbers. I am willing to wait on the heat and humidity of summer, but the produce can’t come too soon.

Tomato, pepper, cucumber and squash plants are growing up and bearing flowers, and I am looking at those flowers carefully for signs. I am looking for tiny cukes and peppers. On the tomato plants, I am finding a number of small round things that look like green golf balls, but I am not finding much else. Where are the pollinators, I wonder. Where are the bees?

About a year ago, bees were in the news. Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious malady of unknown origin, was killing off whole colonies of honeybees. Many farmers rely on those bees to pollinate commercial crops of apples, peaches, blueberries and other fruits and vegetables. Scientists are studying a variety of factors to determine its cause.

Parasites, loss of habitat and pesticides are the prime suspects. Whatever the cause, because large numbers of bees are kept in close proximity, the killing factor is able to spread quickly.

This isn’t the first time that declines in the bee population have made the news. Such stories highlight our dependence on the natural world in all of its marvelous complexity for our very survival. The story boils down to this: Without pollinators, humans would suffer hunger and depravation.

Most fruits and vegetables rely on insect pollinators. Bees as a group — bumblebees, mason bees and especially honeybees — are the most important and effective insect pollinators. The list of important foods that require pollination is long.

Fortunately, most of our food crops are not completely dependent on the pollination services provided by the hives of commercial beekeepers. Almonds are a notable exception.

A variety of flowers — such as bee balm, coneflower, milkweed and sunflowers — surround my vegetable beds. The flowers have practical benefits too; they are very attractive to pollinators. Soon they will be in bloom, and the space will be enlivened with bees, butterflies and other insects. Farmers who allow wildflowers to also grow along fence rows and field edges increase the number of natural pollinators to service their crops.

We also have a bee block, a short log with lots of half-inch-diameter holes drilled about five inches deep. It is not the prettiest piece of garden sculpture, but it makes our garden a little more attractive to the bees, and that is a good thing.

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