June 16-22 marked Pollinator Week in the U.S. as well as the arrival of 8 new bee hives to Kusamala (our total is now 10). I’m a little late on commemorating the event, but thought it was important to cover as the decline in pollinator species is a global issue for all, from the large scale farmer to anybody with a small garden space.
Pollinators are both invertebrates such as bees, bumblebees, butterflies, moths, flies, wasps, and beetles, as well as vertebrates like birds, monkeys, rodents, or bats. They carry pollen between plants. This sexual couriering is responsible for fruit set and is just as important to the ecological farmer as compost, crop residues, cover crops and worms. Farms and garden spaces can play an important ecological niche in providing both food and habitat for pollinators as well as for providing additional benefits like fodder, soil improvements, and fuel wood. The more plant diversity in an agricultural scenario, the more pollinators can have a chance to repeatedly occupy the same flower thereby reliably maintaining or increasing yields.
Tips for Creating Habitat for Pollinators
- Both native and introduced trees provide habitat, travel routes and safe havens in addition to giving bats a place to rest during the day.
- Annuals and perennials, that some farmers consider to be weeds, can be spared an unnecessary uprooting and left as pollinator food. In fact, these wild flowers can be left at edges and boarders to provide a continuous, unbroken food source.
- Cover crops like clovers, cow-pea, black jack, and tightly-spaced millet help build soil organically while providing a flowery food source.
- Sunflowers, herbs, and grasses host alternative prey and provide nectar and pollen.
- Leaving a few bolting crops like cabbage, lettuce and cauliflower within a row or garden bed gives pollinators an extra source of pollen and nectar.
Diversity is Key
Relying on just a handful of species as pollinators is as much of a gamble for a farmer as growing just one type of crop. The habitat mentioned above also suits the needs of predatory insects. Is it any surprise that many pollinators also play the role of predator by gobbling up a myriad of plant pests? It just takes time, planning and observation to make a meaningful contribution to something that has a profound influence on food security.