Taking a weeklong break from our Virginia Farm Flavors series, I wanted to talk about one of the smallest, but hardest working employees we have on the farm: Pollinators! We all know by now the importance of pollinators, not just for small farms but also on a global scale.
No pollinators, no food!
Unfortunately, our pollinator populations are declining all across the country primarily due to loss of habitat, but also due to increases in pesticide use across large swaths of land (especially along those large industrial mono-crop farms). Here at Woodside, we’re doing our part to create a safe place for all pollinators. We focus on cultivating local perennial beds that will not only attract and nourish local pollinators but will also grow naturally in our beds and require fewer inputs like heavy irrigation and fertilization. These beds are located along the fence line of our lower field. If you walk around the lower field of our farm you’ll notice all the beds are built into blocks. However, on the outside perimeter of these blocks, we have several smaller circular beds - these are our pollinator beds. This is where we’ve planted a mixture of local perennials and some showy annuals. It’s important to focus on native plants when planning a pollinator bed in order to attract the pollinators that are found in your area. While local pollinators will still be drawn to it, it’s helpful to note that many butterfly bushes are actually from China and have been classified as invasive species, as they crowd out native pollinators and actually don’t support pollinator reproduction and habitat beyond providing nectar to adult butterflies. These zones in our fields are also buffers to the outside world. They help redirect wind, pests, and hopefully plant diseases as well, while also attracting beneficial bugs to outcompete our bad bugs.
So what is a Pollinator?
A pollinator is anything that helps carry pollen from the male part of the flower (stamen) to the female part of the same or another flower/ (stigma). The movement of pollen is essential for the plant to become fertilized and become productive. For the most part, we think of honeybees when we think of pollinators. And since they pollinate nearly 80% of the world’s food, it’s easy to see why. But did you know that bats, wasps, hornets, beetles, and flies are all also pollinators? Flies actually come in second for the most efficient pollinators in the world! Gross, but great!
The Importance of Pollinators:
Pollinators and the act of pollination are essential to all facets of life as we know it. According to the National Park Service 1 out of every 3 bites of food you take, exists because of pollinators. Pollinators not only allow plant-based food items to be propagated but also support the food systems and habitats of larger animals. Additionally, roughly 75% of all flowering plants on earth require pollination. That’s nearly 200,000 different types of plants that all participate in soil protection, water filtration, and air purification. And if a healthy supply of literal fresh air isn’t enough to convince you of the importance of pollinators, they also help stabilize the economy. In 2010 honeybees alone contributed to over $19 billion of crop production while all the other pollinators combined helped produce another $10 billion. Again, pollinators are the smallest, yet hardest workers we have!