Thank Heaven for Little Pollinators

When you are allergic to bees, you grow up rather fearful of hearing that unmistakable buzz made by bees’ wings.  Or at least I did.  When I was younger, I thought of these insects as shark-like predators, waiting to devour me alive and usually ran away, arms flailing and screaming, whenever one happened to flyby too close for comfort.

Over the past few decades, I’ve since come to recognise the importance of both shark and bee.  I no longer run, flail and scream when sitting in a buzzing garden on a warm summer day.  I might scream and flail if I saw a shark whilst in the ocean on a warm summer day though, but I digress.

Bumblebee on Geranium

The global worries about bee populations have been covered and recovered in the mainstream news, with the most recent scientific studies pointing to neonicotinoid pesticides as a significant contributor to the decline of honey bees.  This year UK groups launched bee and butterfly counting campaigns to raise awareness of declining pollinators and to help track numbers, species, and locations of various UK pollinators.  This summer also saw President Obama launch a Pollinator Health Task Force that will develop a national strategy to improve numbers of bees, butterflies and other pollinators.

I’ll admit, I’m not an insect person by nature or education.  And while I have heard and read about this pollinator decline, I’ve not really felt that it’s something of particular interest or worry to me personally.  I just hoped that scientists, governments and farmers would figure out how to make the problem better and then I wouldn’t have to worry about the vast economic and food security issues that could come from further pollinator declines.

That is how I felt before this year.  The change this year, is that I’ve been lovingly growing a multitude of flowering fruits on my south-facing flat windows and garden.  Grown from seed sown in March, April and May, I have tended to plants, shared some with friends, planted some out in my garden, and kept some inside in pots.  I’ve learned several lessons this season in the value of potting on seedlings, in timings of planting said seedlings outside, and also in the value of pollinators.

Last week my first poblano chilli started growing, and my husband and I let out collective cheers.  We’re watching it daily for signs of growth and readiness to pick.  We have also watched the three other poblano chilli plants on the same windowsill drop countless flowers.  A quick google search told me that lack of pollination was the likely culprit. So I’ve since taken a small brush to hand-pollinate the flowers, and I’ve put one of these plants outside.  I suppose the proof will be in the pudding for the poblanos.  But my windowsill cucamelon plants also have had flower-drop, whilst the ones outside are already fruiting with flowers still attached.  That’s enough evidence for me to change behaviour and keep up hand-pollination.

This unintentional experiment has really opened my eyes to the importance of bees and other pollinators. It has made the issue of pollination one of personal importance – as it should have been before anyhow!  Now, I shall regard bees with even more esteem and will take more interest in the science and policies of honey bee populations and pesticide use.

I’m still not a fan of stinging wasps though, but perhaps in another decade or two I’ll learn to love and appreciate them too.

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