Plant Pollination: A Bounty to Buzz About
The art of attracting nature’s best pollinators to your garden.
Honeybees may be the most prolific pollinators, but with around 4,000 species of bees in North America, you'd be remiss to focus solely on the honeybee.
Growing fruits and vegetables takes more than quality soil, well-timed moisture, and sufficiently mild temperatures. The unsung heroes of the garden patch are the pollinators that help ensure proper fruit development and that precious crop of viable seed for next year. Put it all together and you have a self-perpetuating system that will supply you with good food into the future and look great to boot.
For those who share a love and passion for gardening or crop farming, sowing a diverse group of plants is the quickest way to entice pollinators and ensure successful bounties for years to come.
Plant pollination: the pollinators
When we first think of plant pollination, it’s easy to think of bees and, in particular, honeybees, though honeybees are not native to North America. European settlers brought the honeybee to the New World around the turn of the 17th century, along with a bevy of plants that the “white man’s fly” (so called by Native Americans) pollinated.
Honeybees may be the most prolific pollinating insects, but with around 4,000 species of bees in North America, and the honeybee being only one of them, you’d be remiss to focus solely on the honeybee in attracting pollinators to your backyard garden.
Bumblebees also do their fair share of pollinating, as do digger bees, mining bees, orchard bees and a host of other natives, and for the most part these smaller often solitary creatures have a quality about them that might make a bald man jealous that they aren’t evaluated on how much pollen they can carry back to the nest – they are hairy.
Although these native bees don’t produce and store honey, they are invaluable to our food supply – be it pollinating a 1,000-acre monoculture or a quarter-acre backyard garden. Native bees in New Jersey and Pennsylvania have been known to effectively pollinate watermelon farms, without the help of honeybees. Native bees also are efficient pollinators of pumpkins, tomatoes, apples and berries.
There are plenty of pollinators besides bees, though they aren’t quite as effective. Flies – hoverflies in particular – are good pollinators you might find hanging around flowers of various plants. Wasps do some plant pollination, while also helping backyard gardens by occasionally stinging an intruding herbivore.
Butterflies and moths are better at pollinating wildflowers than food crops, but they are still a welcome addition to a garden; after all, anything that leads to a more diverse group of flowers will help biodiversity and pollination. Not to mention, beekeepers should especially welcome butterflies and moths, since the flavor of wildflowers add that special flavor to honey.
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