Pollinator Power: How Bees Radically Benefit Your Garden

Pollinator Power: How Bees Radically Benefit Your Garden

Author’s Note: For gardeners (or anyone) wishing to bring more bees to their land and support native pollinators, ifarm has three pollinator-focused workshops this summer. See them here.

An abundance of bees is essential for a garden.

On a large scale, they support entire ecosystems by helping to fertilize flowering plants. They are also essential to our human food systems: It is estimated that all pollinators, including butterflies, hummingbirds, wasps, and bees, fertilize or indirectly support 75% of our food supply. Even our livestock depend on feed from bee-pollinated plants (x).

On a smaller scale, bees can radically boost the productivity of a garden.

Pollinator Power

If you bring a tomato plant indoors and set it up with light, nutrients, and water, it will grow to be big, strong, and very likely tomato-less.

That happens because the tomato is lacking pollination. Angiosperms, or flowering plants, have evolved in sync with pollinators over millions and millions of years. The two are so closely intertwined that many flowering plants rely exclusively on pollinators to fertilize their flowers. Some even rely on only one species of bee to do their pollination (x).

Long-tongued bees and long-tubed flowers co-evolved to support one another, both as pairs and as larger groups called “guilds.”

Bees (and other pollinators) are the essential link that fertilizes these flowers so they become fruits or vegetables. Over millions of years, flowering plants “developed” the strategy of offering nutrient-rich pollen and nectar to the bees. As the bees move from one flower to the next, they carry the male pollen to the female flower components that are waiting to become fruit.

Flowering plants have three different kinds of flowers: male flowers, female flowers, and perfect flowers. Male flowers produce pollen. Female flowers, once fertilized by pollen, become fruits or vegetables. Perfect flowers contain both male and female parts.

Plants in the squash family (squash, pumpkins, melons) have entirely separate male and female flowers. Other crops, like tomatoes, beans, and peppers, have perfect flowers with streamlined male and female components.

A male zucchini flower

A female zucchini flower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever the type of flower, without fertilization from bees (or a little wind), your garden may look healthy, but you will be going hungry. Our previously mentioned strong indoor tomato (even though it has a perfect flower) cannot produce tomatoes unless pollinators have fertilized its female components.

This is why California is a HUGE importer of migrant beehives each year. As various crops come into flower, thousands of mobile beehives are shipped on trucks from all over the nation. The bees are released so the farmers have thousands upon thousands of bees covering every square inch of their crops.

A collection of hives shipped to support a field of rapeseed for canola oil.

You can apply this principle on a smaller scale in your own garden. By bringing more bees into your garden, you can guarantee that all the flowers that need pollination will receive it.. and maximize your chances for a full crop.

Supporting native pollinators is also supporting the local ecosystem. Native pollinators ensure that all the flowering plants of our area bear fruit to support wildlife and spread seeds.

Take a look at our pollinator workshops below.  

Wooden Bee Hotel

Build a Bee Hotel

Saturday, June 17th – Learn to build a hotel to attract and shelter native pollinators that support your garden and your local ecosystem.

 

Planting for Pollinators

Sunday, July 9th – Learn about beautiful flowers and simple planting strategies that can attract hordes of native pollinators to your garden.

 

Honeybees on comb

The Buzz about Bees with Anita Deeley

Sunday, July 23rd – Anita Deeley, a biologist who maintains 30 beehives, will share bee stories, tips for supporting pollinators, and guidance for aspiring beekeepers.

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