“Let me tell you about the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees and the moon up above. . .”
The birds and the bees, huh? It is time for a refresher about pollination, because this is the time of the summer when many vegetable/fruit plants are at their peak of producing, and it is very important that everyone understands what that means for them, as gardeners. Especially, organic gardeners.
Where’s the Bees?
You’ve probably heard about the decline of bees around the world. If bees decline to the point where there are not enough of them to pollinate all of the different food crops growing around the world, that will be a major problem for humans. On the label of many insecticide and herbicide packages, you will find warnings about “bee kills” and when to apply the chemical so that you do not unwittingly cause one.
Bees aren’t the only pollinators to be concerned about. Insects, hummingbirds, moths, butterflies, and some small mammals all pollinate our fruit and vegetable crops and flowers. There are many plants that have co-evolved specifically with their pollinators and literally cannot reproduce without them.
Why does that concern us? Because a large portion of our food that we eat is the reproductive portion of the plant: tomatoes, peaches, strawberries, peppers, zucchini, eggplants. Yep: they are all plant ovaries! (Gross out a third grader and point that out during your next meal!)
How does pollination work?
Caution: grownup material following! So, we all know the meaning of “fertilization” in reproductive terms, yes? Well, the pollen is the equivalent of sperm. The base of the flower is the equivalent of an egg. They need to get together. The way that happens with plants is through pollination.
Some plants are wind-pollinated. Corn, grasses, maple trees, etc. are all wind-pollinated. Those plants produce LOTS of pollen, and cause many allergies. With no specific animal carrier, they can’t afford to take chances for survival. They broadcast wide and far.
Many of our food plants are animal pollinated. For example, the bee lands on the flower, sips some nectar, and gets pollen on its belly. It flies to the next flower, where it might pick up some new pollen, but also leaves some of the other pollen behind. Voila! Pollination
What does pollination mean for us?
If you have a lot of rainy, cloudy weather, certain pollinators won’t be active. If you have a small garden, you can help. Take a Q-tip and transfer pollen from one flower to another (of the same kind of plant).
It means that you really can’t use insecticides – organic or synthetic, because you might harm the pollinators, resulting in really small or non-existent food crops.
Lastly, it means try not to be scared of the honeybees and bumblebees you see in your garden. They are your helpers, and unless you bother them, they are unlikely to bother you. They’re too busy eating, drinking and pollinating, and only sting if they feel threatened or scared.