Precious Pollinators

In an interview with Scientific American, entomologist Mary Berenbaum points out that, without bees, the only part left of an entire Big Mac would be the bun! Wheat is wind-pollinated, but the cattle are fed bee-pollinated alfalfa and clover; lettuce and onions are bee-pollinated, as well as the cucumbers that become pickles.

Bees and other pollinators are incredibly important to agriculture as a way to pollinate plants that account for over one-third of our food supply, yet bees are facing their toughest fight yet against colony collapse disorder. At UGACR, we have a special garden to attract pollinators in a sustainable and organic way.

Many American farmers rent colonies of bees to pollinate their crops. Commercial operations rent out their hives and transport them to the field. Then, the farmer places the hive near their field, and the bees do what they do best: pollinate. But this way of pollination has suffered greatly due to colony collapse disorder (CCD).

Colony collapse has been a mystery among the scientific community for years, and no one has yet been able to explain the strange occurrence of colony collapse where only the queen and immature workers are alive, yet there are no dead worker bodies.

“Shipping bees around the U.S. for mass crop pollination is a big business- it is probably not good for the insect, because it can spread bees with varroa mites around and possibly any insect pathogen that a colony might have. CCD is still a huge, real thing,” says Allison Johnson, a master’s entomology student at the University of Georgia.

For years, humans have watched over and nurtured domesticated bee colonies. When CCD first struck, beekeepers were devastated, but have now managed to slow and perhaps even mitigate the disaster. However, wild bee colonies have no one to look after them.

A wild bee flies to a zinnia in the flower garden next to UGACR’s organic farm.

In 2006, the misapplication of a pesticide in Oregon led to the death of over 50,000 wild bumble bees, and a report by the National Academies of Science concluded that the populations of many other wild pollinators—especially wild bees—was trending “demonstrably downward.” Two large contributors to these deaths are the lack of wild forage and pesticide use.

Here at UGACR, our farm is completely organic and pollinated by wild pollinators- mostly wild bees. We do not rent domesticated bees, nor do we have our own hives. Instead, we have a small flower garden full of zinnias for bees and porterweed for the hummingbirds planted directly next to our crops. This provides forage for the wild pollinators in a safe, pesticide-free environment. As you can see in the photos, the bees love the bright-colored flowers.

You might be asking yourself how you, too, can help these precious pollinators do their work. Check out this PBS article about how each of us can help protect bees in our own backyard.

A wild bee lands on one of the zinnias in UGACR’s flower garden next to the organic farm.

Further reading: National Geographic’s article on the importance of bees in agriculture and Time magazine’s article on CCD in wild bees

Blog post and photos by Erin Burnett, UGACR photojournalism intern

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