This next week is Pollinator Week — June 20-26, a week to mark awareness that pollinators are important to all of us.
In the United States one third of all agricultural output depends on pollinators. Fruit and vegetable growers can attest to the significant role our pollinators play in the production of many of our crops. Insects and other animal pollinators are vital to the production of healthy crops for food, fibers, edible oils, medicines, and other products.
The commodities produced with the help of pollinators generate significant income for producers and those who benefit from a productive agricultural community. Pollinators are also essential components of the habitats and ecosystems that many wild animals rely on for food and shelter.
In fact, about 75 percent of all flowering plant species need the help of animals to move their heavy pollen grains from plant to plant for fertilization. About 1,000 of all pollinators are vertebrates such as birds, bats, and small mammals. Most pollinators (about 200,000 species) are beneficial insects such as flies, beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies, moths, and bees.
Research shows that pollinators help in the production of more than $20 billion worth of products that you and I take for granted throughout the year.
According to a Cornell study on crops pollinated by insects, the annual crop value for alfalfa is over $7 billion, apples over $1.5 billion. Berries over $2.5 billion and other important crops such as canola, soybeans, and cotton is over $12 billion. So without our pollinators our crop/food production would be much less.
You have heard the worry about losing honey bee populations, but in reality that is just a portion of all pollinators at risk. There is evidence that populations of both native and managed pollinators are in decline, and the loss of benefits derived from them is being felt by the agricultural community.
Human activity such as urbanization can lead to habitat fragmentation or destruction. Changes in agricultural practices and the use of broad-spectrum pesticides can disrupt or destroy long-established pollinator habitats. Other important factors leading to pollinator decline include disease, and the spread of invasive plant species.
Promoting pollinators’ habitat on and near the farm benefits everyone who likes to eat! Whether you are a farmer or a homeowner, there are many ways you can learn about pollinators and help them to prosper by enhancing native pollinator habitats and protecting against pollinator declines.
So what can you do to help? One example is GO NATIVE! Native plants are the heart of a pollinator friendly garden. Research shows that native plants are four times more attractive to pollinators than non-natives, so planting natives in your yard will supply pollinators with the nutrition they need to thrive.
Natives are also well adapted to survive in a particular geographic areas according to the climate, soils, rainfall and availability of pollinators and seed dispersers. And because they are indigenous to a specific region, native plants usually require little maintenance and are welcomed by wildlife, serving an important role in the local ecosystem.
Here are some more suggestions for optimizing your pollinator plantings:
• Provide pollen and nectar sources from early spring to late fall by planting a variety of trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals with a variety of flower shapes and sizes.
• Choose a variety of colors to attract a diversity of pollinators.
• Plant in groups or drifts to make the flowers easily visible to pollinators.
• Avoid modern hybrids, especially those with “double” flowers. Plant breeders may have sacrificed the pollen and nectar to gain a showier bloom.
Local master gardeners’ scavenger hunt
To help bring awareness to our pollinators and celebrate Pollinator Week, the Clinton County Master Gardeners are sponsoring a pollinator scavenger hunt within Wilmington the week of June 20-26. This event is open to everyone and can make for a great family project.
In order to participate, pollinator enthusiasts need to first pick up their pollinator passport from any of the participating locations in Wilmington and then visit the different locations to get your pollinator information.
This event would not be possible without the help of many sponsors. Each sponsor location represents a different pollinator. Visit each sponsor location, collect all 12 pollinator stickers and bring them to the Clinton County Extension office the following week to collect a Pollinator Explorer Kit that can be used at and around your home to promote pollinator habitat.
Our pollinator sponsors include the Wilmington Public Library, For a Song and a Story, Ace Hardware, The Rusty Star, Clinton County Extension Office, Jeannie’s Palo Fabrics, Clinton County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Shoppes at the Old Mill, Clinton County Farmers Market, Rome Jewelers, Clinton County Soil and Water, and Lowes.
Tony Nye is the state coordinator for the Ohio State University Extension Small Farm Program and has been an OSU Extension Educator for agriculture and natural resources for 28 years, currently serving Clinton County and the Miami Valley EERA.