Forlorn, I stand in the garden on a warm summer morning. Flowers–of three different beans, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers and corn–are open and ready for business. Or buzziness, I might say. Except in our garden this week, there’s no buzz.
I even planted buckwheat for its white flowers to lure pollinators. It isn’t working.
And doggone it, the only consistent drone of wings I heard as the sun rose over the ridge and warmed my back were the always-frantic yellow jacket wasps zipping and zinging in all directions, including down invisible among the large leaves of the hubbard squash. I don’t know if they were involved in helping the squash bees with the job of spreading pollen (my guess is NOT) but they were doing SOMETHING there in the garden.
Even pesky yellow jackets serve some ecological service, I grudgingly admit as I follow their flight into and out of a hole on the bank just the other side of the garden fence. My first inclination was to spray them; my second was to leave them alone and let them do whatever it is they are destined to do in this world. For now, at least.
But what I’d rather have than yellow jackets are honey bees. European honey bees–a beleaguered species whose long term fate remains in precarious balance against our ignorance, our corporate agriculture and our tendency to replace forest and meadow with shopping malls or interstates, and to poison weed or wasp on a whim.
We’ve paved paradise. Where in this entire valley, save for the basswoods now blooming, does a honey bee go to find flowers except a garden like ours? And the most I’ve seen at any one time is two. Thank goodness for the roadside bloomeries, probably one of the best sources of flower blooms in Floyd County.
So when there were many dozens of honeybees in the Zion church meadow, yes, I was thrilled.
This one, you see, is about ready to go back to the hive (I thought about trying to follow, but it could be a mile or more away). His tibial depression called a “pollen basket” or corbicula is filled with the pollen groomed from its hairy body, pressed together in an aerodynamic ball.
But in serving its own purpose of feeding the hive, pollen grains (and the sperm nucleus each tiny sculpted grain contains) was carried by this bee from flower to flower (of the same species) to find the sticky stigma of the female flower parts.
From there, it will eat a tube (sometimes several inches–think about corn silks which serve this purpose) until it finds and fertilizes an egg. And a fertile seed is born, as often as not, inside a protective shell, this inside a sweet or otherwise attractive package we call a fruit or vegetable. What a neat system–except it’s not working so well anymore.
We need the honeybee, folks. Colony Collapse is not just a tree-hugger’s silly worry. We should all be concerned. And plant the kinds of flowers and habitat that gives what’s left of the pollinators a fighting chance.
So what do you say? Put on your costumes, Bee Boys and Girls, and do the waggle dance. Dude.