Pollen-the word might make you think of having a springtime runny nose and itchy eyes from allergies. But pollination is an important part of every ecosystem. Pollination is the transfer of pollen grains to fertilize the seed-producing parts of flowers. Pollinators are the animals, mainly insects, that help make this process happen. Bees, both domesticated honey bees and native wild bees, are some of the most important pollinators but more than 100,000 other insect species do the job as well--a list that includes moths, beetles, flies and butterflies.
Many of the foods you enjoy each day-think apples, blueberries, melons or squash-are completely reliant on these helpful animals to create fruit. But sadly, the long-term population trends for many of our local pollinators are on a downward path according to scientific research. If they disappear, not only will your dinner table no longer have many of your favorite fruits and vegetables, but entire native ecosystems could be in jeopardy. Happily, there are many ways you can help.
1. Plant a "Pollinator Picnic" Garden
Pollinators rely on diverse, flower-friendly habitats. At the same time, farmers tend to be reliant on intensive monoculture-based (one-plant) practices and suburban yards tend to favor pristine green (but flower-barren) lawns. The simple act of planting flowers in your garden, yard or even in a planter can provide your local bees, butterflies and other pollinators with an important food source. Also avoid chemically treating your flowers as many chemicals can have adverse affects on friendly insects. You can find a list of bee and pollinator friendly plants here.
2. Allow Friendly 'Weeds" to Grow
Many of the so-called "weeds" we kill in our lawns are actually important sources of food for pollinators-think dandelions and clover. Wildflowers, some of which we tend to classify as weeds, are some of the most important food sources for native North American bees. Take a chance and let your lawn have a taste of the "wild side".
3. Make a Bee Bath
Believe or not, but bees get thirsty too! Create a small water basin that is bee-friendly so they can get a drink before flying home. A bird bath with a few stones in it for them to crawl on does the job nicely.
4. Understand that Bees Aren't Out to Get You
Honeybees and especially native bees, have pretty private personalities. Contrary to popular belief, they aren't out to sting you and will avoid it if at all possible. Some tips to avoid getting stung include staying still and calm if a bee is around you or lands on you. Many times bee just want to check you out and will fly away after realizing you aren't food--consider it a compliment that they think you are as pretty as a flower! Also avoid standing in front of a hive opening or a pathway to a group of flowers they are working on. Also know the differences between bees and wasps--wasps are carnivores and will seek out your human food if available and tend to be more aggressive.
5. Buy Local Honey
When you purchase honey from a local beekeeper, you directly support the health and production of local pollinators. It can be hard to find what is truly "local" but if you read labels carefully at your supermarket, or better yet buy directly from a local farmer, you can be sure that you are directly supporting the folks who care for your most local of pollinators.
More Pollinator Learning Resources:
US Fish and Wildlife Servie Pollinators Home Page: https://www.fws.gov/pollinators/
National Park Service Pollinators Program: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/pollinators/index.htm
The Great Pollinator Project: http://greatpollinatorproject.org/education
The Buzz About Bees with Sid the Science Kid: http://pbskids.org/video/sid-science-kid/1568872539