October 2019 – Did you know there are over 20,000 kinds of bees and 70% of them nest in the ground? Or that only female bees can sting you? (sorry, guys). Miriam Jenkins taught about these fascinating pollinators in partnership with the Hillsborough MPO’s Healthiest Cities Challenge Garden Steps program. She presented The Buzz about Bees to an intimate gathering at the Planning Commission’s Info BBQ (Brown Bag Quarterly) on September 27. Participants came away with a greater understanding of the role bees play in our food production and the man-made factors affecting their health. Tampa Heights Community Garden provided the perfect backdrop for the talk, with the welcoming scenery of monarch butterflies and bees buzzing about the garden’s varied mix of organic fruits and vegetables, a happy reminder of the results that can blossom when the proper time and care – human and natural – are applied to creating healthy habitats for our gardens and its pollinators.
Some of the reasons bees are in danger today are due to the monoculture system and the heavy use of insecticides that now dominates our agricultural system. Monoculture is the industrial farming practice of growing a single crop species over acres of land. While there are economic advantages to this method, it has contributed to a loss of habitat biodiversity which in turn has negatively impacted pollinators. Having only one plant source means pollinators can’t get a variety of nutrients, bloom times are shortened significantly, and the availability of nesting sites is reduced. Furthermore, systemic insecticides can kill or poison pollinators. The insecticide is absorbed by the plant tissues and distributed throughout the plant, including the pollen and nectar, getting rid of unwanted pests but with the double-edged sword of also harming pollinators. While more work is needed to improve our government’s agricultural policies to promote diversified farming, Miriam Jenkins provided us with a few steps we can take closer to home to create better habitats for our pollinators.
- Reduce the amount of pesticides and insecticides (systemic insecticides in particular) and avoid buying plants that have been treated with them.
- Let your yard grow a little wild. If you’re worried about appearances, mow your front yard and leave parts of your backyard wilder. Perfectly manicured grass and gardens do not attract pollinators, whereas gardens that mimic a natural habitat do.
- Educate yourself. If you want to learn more ways to create a healthy environment and protect wildlife, visit the Florida Native Plant Society website for garden ideas, https://fnps.org/home/, and The Xerces Society for protecting pollinators, https://xerces.org/.