Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

Save the pollinators for our food security

Posted on 07 June 2016 by Calvin

Ready and Resilient Hamline Midway

Pollination is about transferring pollen to produce food and seeds. Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on animal pollinators to reproduce: our bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, birds, bats, ants, beetles, and more.

PhloxAniseHyssopPhoto left: Phlox and anise hyssop are just two blooms attractive to pollinators. (Photo by Trudy Dunham)

As these pollinators feed on nectar and pollen, they become dusted with pollen which is then transferred from flower to flower, creating the nuts, fruits and vegetables we love. They even pollinate alfalfa and clover in fields, essential to the dairy and beef food products we enjoy.

But we are losing our pollinators. And food that isn’t adequately pollinated is smaller, less flavorful, with fewer vitamins and minerals. If humans need to take on the task of hand-pollinating our food crops, the labor cost has been estimated at $90 billion a year. What would that do to your grocery bill? To agriculture and food options as we know them?

The threats to our pollinators are numerous, including pesticides, parasites, habitat loss, and climate change.

We don’t know how to counter all the threats. But we do know that honey beekeepers lost about 44% of their colonies in 2015. Migratory pollinators and insects maturing from larva are finding themselves out of synch with the emergence and blooming of needed plant food sources. Loss of habitat means wild pollinator communities aren’t able to find the continuous food sources necessary for survival.

Bees are a major pollinator of our food crops. There are more than 20,000 bee species in the world.
Many wild bees are tiny, don’t sting, and live to pollinate. But, bees can’t adjust to the rapid pace of climate change. The North American rusty-patched bumblebee is already nearly extinct (we are lucky to still find it in Como Park). Temperature is a major factor. Migration isn’t a good option.

With relatively fat bodies and tiny wings, bees are built to fly only a few hundred feet. The cycle of heavy rains and frequent droughts means floods wipe out ground-nesting bees and droughts result in starvation. Because bees breathe through their exoskeleton, they are endangered by particulates and wildfire smoke in the atmosphere.

Ground NesterThere are some steps we can take to create healthy environments for pollinators in our yards and neighborhood:

Photo right: Sunny with sparse vegetation makes excellent habitat for ground nesting bees. (Photo by Heather Holms)

Cavity Nester—Provide nesting sites for a diversity of pollinators: consider keeping some wild space in your yard where pollinators can nest undisturbed—a bat house for bats, shrubs for hummingbirds (with mosses and lichens to build nests), and milkweed for Monarchs. Elaine Evans of the University of Minnesota’s Bee Lab has suggestions for native bee habitat: sunny, well-drained undisturbed ground with little or no vegetation or mulch for ground nesters, and dry plant stems (prune raspberries, roses, coneflower and other plants with hollow or soft stems 10-12” off the ground) and wood (dead tree limbs, or drill holes in blocks of preservative-free wood) for the cavity nesters (photo right by Heather Holms).

—Plant a pollinator garden: plant more flowers and crops to provide a diversity of nectar and pollen sources. If this doesn’t fit your landscape design, consider your alley! The best pollinator gardens are:
• Continuous: extend nectar and pollen availability from early spring to late fall and include plants with overlapping blooming seasons to ensure a continuous food source.
• Diverse: include a variety of plant types, colors and shapes to attract different pollinators (see http://www.pollinator.org/Resources/Pollinator_Syndromes.pdf for information)
• Go native: native pollinators prefer native plants, and old-fashioned plant varieties over the newer hybrids and cultivars.
• Groups: plant flowers to bloom in large clumps or swaths to better attract pollinators.
• No neonicotinoids: Avoid seeds and plants treated with neonicotinoids, thought to poison bees and other pollinators.
• Make “pollinator roads”: a pollinator friendly yard can be a small island in the great urban sea. Encourage all your neighbors to plant pollinator gardens, creating pollinator “roads” and a pollinator-friendly community.

—Plant people food: To better understand the role of pollination for food security, consider including people food when you plant food for pollinators. “Our urban neighborhoods are becoming a haven for pollinators,” says Lindsay Rebhan of Ecological Design. “We can transform them into a safe edible landscape for people as well.” A few herbs and some leafy greens won’t take much space in your yard, but add a tomato or cucumber plant and some raspberries to enjoy the fruits of your pollinators. And check out our community gardens and farmers’ markets.

—Provide water: add a shaded bird bath or shallow water dish to your yard. Keep it relatively clean, but tap water that has been sitting for a day or two (to allow the chlorine to dissipate) is better than ‘fresh.’ Agitate the water every day or two (stir with a stick) to prevent it from becoming a mosquito breeding ground. Provide a ‘landing place’ (rock, floating cork) for insects.

—Avoid or limit pesticide use: A safe pollinator environment means pesticide-free. If you must use a pesticide, use it sparingly (same for fungicides and herbicides), and choose one that does not persist on vegetation, avoid applying when flowers are in bloom, and apply it in the late afternoon or evening when most pollinators are not as active.

—Participate: there are many local opportunities to learn and support pollinators this summer:
• Celebrate National Pollinator Week, June 20-26, https://www.fws.gov/pollinators.
• Bumble bee survey: Volunteer to survey the endangered Rusty-patched Bumble Bee and other wild bees in Como Park on Aug.13 and 21: http://facebook.com/minnesotabumblebeesurvey.

More than ever before, what you do on your property can make a big difference. Plant flowers.

Grow a little food. Make a buffer zone for pollinators and migrating birds to mitigate the effects of climate change. Be part of a pollinator-friendly road. The pollinators will repay you with healthy food and beautiful flowers!

The Ready & Resilient Hamline Midway project is an initiative of the Hamline Midway Environmental Group (HMEG) to build climate change resiliency in our community.