The Birds & Bees
Of course flowers look gorgeous and bring us colour, variety and lots of joy, but in growing them, you’re also playing an important part in protecting our pollinators, such as birds and bees.
Of course flowers look gorgeous and bring us colour, variety and lots
of joy, but in growing them, you’re also playing an important part in protecting our pollinators, such as birds and bees.
Bee’s buzzing, birds chirping, butterflies fluttering around, looking all pretty... It all kicks off at the
first sign of a new day, and that’s after a night filled with moths, beetles and bats! So what are all these different flying creatures doing all day and night? Do they all have something in common?
Well, why don’t we ask the plants…
Once the seed of a plant germinates by sending out its first root, followed closely by its first leaves,
it has already set out on the first stage of life — the vegetative growth stage. This is where a plant
gets busy growing lots of roots, shoots and leaves, gathering what it needs to enter the next stage
of growth — the reproductive stage. And it’s at this stage that a plant starts to grow something else
as well — flowers.
Many plant species need a helping hand at this reproductive stage of life, and flowering plants
need the most help. Most the plants that we humans depend on for food need the assistance of
a diverse range of winged creatures that we call ‘pollinators’ — they play a crucial part in the plant’s ability to reproduce. Reproduction in the plant kingdom mostly involves flowers being fertilised by
the transfer of pollen grains, carried by pollinators from flower to flower. After fertilisation, the flower dies off and a ‘fruit’ starts to grow in its place, which (when fully ripe) contains seeds and the potential to create more plants.
Flowers are something of a beacon to attract the pollinators that seem to endlessly fly around
our heads. Each plant species produces its own unique flower that attracts certain types of pollinators — a variety of colors and smells, different flavours of nectar and pollen, even the size
and shape of a flower comes into play when attracting pollinators. The nectar and pollen actually feed pollinators, providing them with energy and nutrients to take back to their communities.
So plants provide a meal and, in return, receive pollen for fertilisation from other flowers the
pollinator has visited.
Types of Pollinators
There are more than 400,000 different species of plants around the world and more than
90 percent of those produce flowers. With each species of flowering plant attracting different pollinators, the more diversity of flowering plants you grow, the higher diversity of pollinators
they’ll attract. This diversity will help to manage pests and disease naturally within your plant communities and growing spaces. Some flowers are small and hidden, like the ones on fig trees
that can only be pollinated by tiny wasps. Others, like feijoa, attract birds to aid in pollination
by making the petals of their flowers taste so good that the birds can’t help but peck and nibble
on them, which shakes the flowers and spreads pollen. Bees are the most common pollinator
of all, each bee visiting 50–100 flowers on a single round trip back to its hive and making that
trip 10–30 times a day!
How to support and encourage pollinators
1. Plant a diverse range of flowering plants and trees — make sure you have something that’s in flower all year round. Planting perennial plants like rosemary, lavender, comfrey, thyme and oregano are great because they continue to grow and flower year after year, if they’re in the right location.
2. Grow flowers that attract pollinators in your edible growing spaces — many pollinators also feed on pests that plague your fruit and vegetables. Some birds that pollinate flowers will also eat pest insects like caterpillars and snails. Flowers like calendula (marigold), coriander, yarrow and cosmos, to name a few, can attract ladybugs that also eat aphids.
3. Allow some of your vegetable and herb plants to go to flower — this attracts and feeds pollinators and, in the process, allows them to help feed you as the pollinated plant can go on to create seeds that you can collect and grow!
4. Avoid spraying chemicals that’ll harm and kill pollinators.
5. Watch out for the pollinators like our bumble bees and native bee species that make their home
in the ground. Digging up the soil can demolish whole communities of beneficial pollinators!
6. Install things like insect hotels that provide a home for pollinators.
Pollinators are out and about every single day looking for nourishment to sustain their communities. Plants create attractive flowers that provide that nourishment and, in return, the pollinators help the plants reproduce. It’s a beneficial and symbiotic relationship that we not just benefit from, but ultimately rely on because without pollinators, fresh fruit and vegetables just would not exist, leaving our diets radically less exciting.
So let’s take a moment for those hard-working pollinators out there and ‘bee’ encouraged to take action to support them, so they can do the same for us.
For more on this topic, check out the incredible vision and effort of For The Love Of Bees (fortheloveofbees.co.nz) to see how people in urban areas are helping pollinators thrive.
Read previous Home Farm columns for more garden know-how such as how to prepare your soil, and plant fruit and vegetables. The Home Farm team transforms spaces of any size into edible landscapes. For more info: @homefarm.nz firstname.lastname@example.org
Story by Home Farm
Photography by ilk