Pollination Celebration: All About Pollinators

honey bee on a flower

As a Guilty Granola, I love pollinators and understand the importance of pollination.  But if you haven’t looked into these esteemed creatures, you’re in the right place.  Let’s talk about what a pollinator is, how pollination works and what you can do to improve the working conditions for these invaluable pals!

what is a pollinator?

A pollinator is basically anything that moves pollen from one plant to another.

Examples of pollinators include: Bees.  Birds.  Beetles.  Butterflies.  Bats.  (now on to the ones that don’t start with ‘b’.) Moths.  Ants.  Small mammals.  Wind. Or you, if you have squash plants.

what is pollination?

If you are wondering how pollination works, it’s kinda like remote sex for flowers (weird, I know).  Flowers have gendered parts- the anthem (male) and the stigma (female).   In order for the male to pass pollen to the female, a third party has to get involved.  (weirder still.)  But, this is where our pollinators come in!  It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

why do pollinators pollinate?

It’s partially accidental, as pollinators aren’t aiming to pollinate.  They are feeding.  Pollinators rely on nectar for energy and pollen for protein and fats.  Bees in particular bring back pollen to the hive to feed and make honey.   So, as they are gathering food, they visit lots of flowers and plants and end up mixing pollen, which in turn, fertilizes the plants.  A mutually beneficial relationship.

why is pollination important?

Pollination is flower fertilization, as mentioned above.  By fertilizing flowers, it allows the creation of seeds and fruit, and eventually the next generation of plants. Pollination gives us a diverse range of flora, which means food, raw materials and textile fabric.  It also creates more plants, which intake CO2 and exhale oxygen for us to breathe.  

Some quick facts:

  • We get 1/3 of every bite of food from pollinators
  • Chocolate, coffee, vanilla, almonds, even tequila rely on pollinators (and more, of course.  These are just some super popular examples.  So, the next time you toss back a tequila shot with lime, toast a pollinator first!)
  • nearly 80% of the world’s plants need pollinators to reproduce
  • Pollinator numbers are dropping, due to habitat loss and pesticide use.  This can cause major disruptions to our global food security.
  • Crops grown close to natural pollinator areas produce more yield.  (More pollination means more fruiting!)

So, pollination creates raw materials, air and food.  And tequila.  Pretty important, I’d say.

how to help pollinators

Its pretty obvious that pollinators are important. So what are some things you can do to protect pollinators?

don’t mow, let it grow

If you live in an HOA, this won’t work.  But, for the rest of us, this is a lazy choice that helps our pollinating pals.  If you have a section of lawn that you don’t frequent or you find is difficult to grow, or you just want to give up some space to the bees- let it grow!  You’ll be amazed at the ecosystem you create by doing nothing.  Nature will thank you! And it’s interesting to see all the plants that take over and what they look like later in life, when they don’t get mowed down.

reduce (or quit) use of pesticides, herbicide and, fungicides

If you can avoid it, stop using chemical pesticides.  These don’t just kill the bugs you are aiming to get rid of, they kill beneficial insects too.  Also, using them on your vegetable garden means you are ingesting these chemicals.  Yuck.  Do everyone a favor and quit using them. 

grow pollinator plants

This is a little confusing.  Plants that encourage pollinators (insects and such) are also called pollinators.  Stick to native pollinator plants.  They usually are quite beautiful, grow well in your region, and will attract bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and more to your yard.  Create a gorgeous ecosystem that helps support our food chain.

provide water

Have a bird bath or small watering zones for thirsty pollinators.  Butterflies also like salt licks and minerals.  Providing these in your yard gives them strength and energy to keep doing what they are so good at!

replace sections of your yard with wildflowers

If you can skim a whole section and plant some native wildflower seeds, not only will it look great- it will provide habitat and a wonderful food source for hungry pollinators.  Set up a lawn chair and watch the field buzz!

create housing for your guests

Make a bat house or insect hotel!  By giving bats a local place to stay, they’ll hang around more.  Good news for you and the plants, bad news for mosquitos!

Its also a cool way to teach children about insects and bugs.  An at-home science class!

get friendly

Get familiar with your local pollinators.  I once was so afraid of spiders, they were the bad guys in my nightmares.  When I started gardening, I was hanging out with Wolf Spiders constantly.  There was no way around it.  I spent some time researching and getting to know them a little.  Man, spiders are incredible.  I have a newfound respect for them and won’t let anyone hurt them.  If you are afraid of bees, read up on them a little.  Your fear will turn to curiosity and respect.  I promise.

if you are a farmer, let roadside areas go wild

This is an open invitation to your pollinators and will increase crop yields! 

encourage your town or city to grow pollinator gardens

Pollinators don’t have a problem living in cities if there is food and habitat for them.  By encouraging cities to provide this, we start to rebuild their habitats, and expand the places they can live, improving dwindling populations.

for more information on pollinators

If you are interested in more information about pollinators, contact your local extension office, visit www.pollinator.org or watch some of their webinars. (Check out the monarch butterfly one!)

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