AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. (ACES)— In the spirit of National Pollinator Week, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System salutes pollinators everywhere who are irreplaceable pieces of the puzzle in gardens, cropland and flowerbeds. Bees are more than honey-makers and hive builders. Bees are essential to the most important part of the food chain—pollination.
Importance of Pollinators
Bees are essential for the pollination of one-third of the food we consume. Sallie Lee, an Urban Extension regional agent, said pollinators have long been taken for granted.
“Honeybees never send a bill. It seems many people have taken their services for granted for far too long,” Lee said.
Lee said many foreign countries caused have caused harm to the pollinator population. In those countries orchard workers are paid to climb into the fruit trees with feathers and pollinate. With high agricultural expectations in the United States, producers cannot afford to pay humans to complete a job pollinators have done cost-free for so long.
Yes, bees do sting, but there is no truth to the saying “the only good bee is a dead bee.” Pollinators are important! Without bees, people wouldn’t be able to enjoy many favorite foods or flowers.
While the U.S. has many valuable native pollinators, none produce harvestable honey. Not all native pollinators are as efficient at pollinating as honeybees.
“All bees pollinate,” Lee said. “Honeybees are unique in their mobility for pollination, as well as their ability to be managed in hives.”
Called flying livestock by the Food and Drug Administration, honeybee numbers are enormous in the hive. Their power in numbers has allowed bees to pollinate crops from one side of the country to the other. Lee said one such example is the almond crop in California.
“California grows eighty percent of the world’s almond crop,” she said. “The volume of almonds produced requires one half of the country’s bees to do the job. For this reason, when it is time to pollinate the almond trees, tractor trailer loads of bees travel across the country to California.”
While many are just realizing the value of pollinators, others—like producers and home gardeners—are taking steps on larger scales to protect pollinators. Whether you are a farmer or a backyard gardener, Lee lists several ways to protect pollinators.
- Get over the fear of bees. Most bees only sting if threatened, or if honey harvest is in progress.
- Carefully use insecticides and herbicides. While many major companies are taking steps to protect pollinators, one of the biggest issues is misuse of inputs in the yard and garden. Be sure to read the label and apply per directions on the canister.
- Plant things to attract and feed pollinators. An entire landscape can be a pollinator garden — fill with herbs, shrubbery, trees and perennials.
No matter the scale of your operation, Lee said taking these three guidelines to heart has the potential to drastically improve the status of Alabama’s pollinator population.
For more information on pollinator habitats and alternative pest control planting methods, visit www.aces.edu. Extension professionals are exploring ways to deter insects and promote pollinators through alternative planting methods, like trap cropping.