Many plants rely on animals, such as bees, butterflies, moths, flies, and hummingbirds to pollinate them, but when animals pollinate plants, it's accidental. They are not trying to pollinate the plant; they are there to get food, the sticky pollen or sweet nectar made at the base of the petals.
When feeding, they accidentally rub against the male part of the plant, the stamen, and get pollen stuck on themselves. When they move within the same flower (self-pollination) or to another flower (cross pollination) to feed, some of the pollen rubs off onto the plant's female part, the stigma. Fertilization occurs and a seed is formed.
Agriculture cannot exist without this natural system of pollination since it would not be economically feasible for humans to do artificially what animal pollinators do naturally. In industrial agriculture, bee hives are trucked thousands of miles to wherever pollination is needed at various times of year. The largest managed pollination event in the world is in Californian almond orchards, where nearly half (about one million hives) of US honey bees are trucked each spring. Just as the combine harvesters follow the wheat harvest from Texas to Manitoba, beekeepers follow the bloom from south to north, to provide pollination for many different crops, including cucumbers, squash, strawberries, apples, and alfalfa.
Pollination of food crops has become an environmental issue, due to two trends. The trend to monoculture means that greater concentrations of pollinators are needed at bloom time than ever before, yet the area is forage poor or even deadly to bees for the rest of the season. The other trend is the decline of pollinator populations, due to pesticide misuse and overuse, new diseases and parasites of bees, clearcut logging, decline of beekeeping, suburban development, removal of hedges and other habitat from farms, and public paranoia about bees.
Most people have heard of Colony Collapse Disorder. Theories abound for the loss of at least 50% of wild and domestic bees worldwide over the past 25 years. There might be only one cause, like the trachea mite or the exotic Varroa mite from Asia, or, more likely, a combination of several causes.
Ironically, farms that need bees the most are a big part of problem. Giant weed-free farms that destroy the bees' natural habitat with herbicides and kill bees by broadcasting pesticides are among the worst pollinator destructors. Transporting bees across country to pollinate many commercial crops is another big contributor to the problem.
California agriculture pays more than $150 million a year for pollination services. More than a million hives are shipped thousands of miles to almond orchards, move on to cherry orchards in the San Joaquin Valley or apple orchards in Washington State, then head to places like the Dakotas or Montana for an intense summer of honey-making during clover season, before returning to California to winter over. It’s one of the biggest unofficial insect migrations on the planet. All that travel stresses the hives to the point where it weakens the bees’ immune systems, making them all the more vulnerable to mites, pesticides and climate change.
Like wild bees, commercially-raised bees are in danger. Farmed honeybee stocks in the United States have declined by 39% since the arrival of exotic mites in the 1980s, according to the National Academies, and most keepers lose 30 to 40 percent of their hives each year.
At Nash’s, we strive to assist our precious pollinators by providing rich and diverse areas of habitat and forage for them in various fields throughout the entire farm. Phacelia, alyssum and flowering herbs are all examples of plants we grow specifically for insect habitat.
Called "bee pastures," these small floral havens are ideal for bees and other beneficial insects to find refuge, food, and places to nest. In return, they pollinate nearby crops and often prey on harmful, unwanted insects. Because Nash’s is an organic farm, we don’t use any pesticides or herbicides, nor do we grow any genetically modified crops. Our growing practices actually enhance pollinator populations in the Dungeness Valley.
In your home yard or garden, you can also help nature’s miraculous pollinators. Here are some tips:
|*||DO NOT USE any herbicides and pesticides. (If you feel you must spray, do so at night when bees are not flying, and spray directly on the plant. Do not broadcast spray.)|
|*||Plant pollinator-friendly flowers in clumps, not rows, and select plants that bloom at different times of year.|
|*||Bees love fruit and nut trees; vegetables; herbs like cilantro, dill, chervil, sage and thyme; wildflowers like asters, phacelia, sunflowers, marigolds, clover, and dandelions; and ornamentals like ice plants and honeysuckle.|
Habitat restoration is one way small farmers and home gardeners can help combat pollinator decline. Learn about what and how to plant flowers in your own yard that will help native and honey bee populations to survive.