In our 2015 Growing Guide is Brian Campbell on Pollination and Bee Diversity: Lack of pollination is an unfortunate trend in the plant world. In the late 1960s, the first global review of pollination deficit was conducted. At the time, one out of every ten insect-pollinated flowers was not setting seed because of insufficient numbers of insects to get the job done. I recall my shock as a young person reading this news.
In the spring of 2014, Dr. Elizabeth Elle of Simon Fraser University revealed to the Vancouver Pollinator Project that the latest research indicates that the global pollination deficit is now higher than 60%. Since the majority of plant species are reliant on insect pollination to set seed, this 60+% indicates that bees (and people) are in trouble.
If most flowers are going without pollination, doesn’t that mean there must be plenty of food around for bees and other pollinators? Well, most bee species are solitary and unmanaged, and therefore not easily tracked. We know that they are in trouble because pollination deficits are the long shadow cast by their absence.
Bees and flowers grew together in a complex relationship of mutualism, so each one needs the other. Bees are in decline for a host of reasons: Loss of habitat due to urban sprawl; the use of pesticides; the rise of industrial agriculture and monoculture; pollution; and climate change.
As solitary bees drop in number or are pushed aside by development, greater emphasis is being placed on honeybees, and they simply cannot carry the burden. Having loads of one kind of bee, even tens of thousands of them, in one area is not the same as simple biodiversity. What we need are not lots of honeybees, but more of all the kinds of bees in the world.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but the cure for this growing menace of pollination deficit and the decline in pollinator diversity appears to be increasing the diversity of flower types as we can manage. Here is my action plan:
• At every opportunity, no matter how small your garden, grow a diversity of flowering plants. Diversity of colour, shape, height, and bloom period. One doesn’t always have to grow traditional ornamentals – leaf mustards allowed to go to flower make excellent bee and pollinator plants.
• Make room for some native plants. Remember that bees and flowers co-evolved, and developed long established relationships. Native bees need native flowers and vice versa.
• Stop using all pesticides, and garden organically. Ecological health and pollinator conservation are just two of the reasons West Coast Seeds sells only untreated seeds.
• Leave a spot in your garden as a sacred space. This can be just one square meter, or smaller. It is a place you simply leave alone – no weeding, no watering, no pruning. It will be wild, unruly, untamed, but not neglected by the surrounding environment. Beneficial beetles, bees, and other insect allies of your garden will overwinter there, and reemerge in the spring to carry on their great work.
• We need to leave room for them to nest and raise new generations by giving them spaces, gardens, and other urban interstices, full of life and colourful flowers. Places where bees can do what they do best allows them to weave connections between living things.
– Brian Campbell, West Coast Seeds 2014.