Friday, April 20th, 2018

Sustainability & ME: Birds and Bees

Posted on March 21, 2016 in Perspectives
By Krysteana Scribner

Lisa Willey

By Lisa Willey

What springs to mind when you hear the word “pollinator?”  Most people immediately picture a honey bee, but there are many other insects and even birds which are critical to pollination.  Essentially a pollinator is a critter who, in its efforts to put food on the table, spreads pollen from one plant to another.  This fertilizes the plant, which eventually produces some sort of seed or fruit.  According to the Pollinator Partnership (www.pollinator.org), 75% of the world’s flowering plants rely on pollinators, about 200,000 species in all, including bees, butterflies and bats.   And this isn’t simply about blueberries and apples; animals that are important to humans – such as cows – rely on flowering plants.  If you like chocolate, think about the fact that a tiny fly pollinates the cocoa plant! 

The biggest threats  to pollinators are pesticides and herbicides.  It makes sense: if a pesticide is meant to kill hornets, it will kill honeybees.  If it’s meant to kill weeds, it will kill dandelions, a very important nectar source for many insects, including honeybees and butterflies.  Broad-spectrum insecticides are the worst, as they are designed to kill ALL insects.  For a complete list of products which contain chemicals known to kill pollinators, visit www.xerces.org.  The most important thing we can do to support pollinators is not to use pesticides. Also, protect pollinators by protesting with your wallet.  Refuse to shop at places that sell pesticides, or nurseries that spray pesticides on their plants. It’s not just big box stores which sell these chemicals; smaller greenhouses may also.   Always ask, and if they sell or use these toxic chemicals, tell them why you won’t be shopping there.  Boycotting the products is one of the best ways to bring about a ban on their use.  Write, call, and email your senators and congress members (contacts available at www.maine.gov)  about legislation to ban chemicals such as Neonicotinoids and brands such as Round Up.    There are other alternatives to dealing with pests, including hand picking and raising praying mantis and ladybugs, which consume many garden pest insects.  This is called “integrated pest management,” and  a great place for ideas is www.maine.gov.  

Get out there and enjoy the work of pollinators!  Stop and smell the roses, visit a local beekeeper (like The Honey Exchange on Steven’s Ave), and think about planting some pollinator attractant plants, such as squash, milkweed, and purple coneflower, even if you live in a tiny apartment.  Check out http://umaine.edu/gardening for ideas on planting for pollinators.   You could also try some guerrilla gardening!  Last week, the USM Greens made “seed bombs.”  This is a mix of clay, compost, and seeds which are shaped into small balls, allowed to dry and are then thrown into places that have soil but no flowers. Join us at the Portland First Friday Seed Bomb Slow Ride in April!  If you are into citizen science, visit the Maine Inland Fish and Wildlife website where you’ll find information on the Maine Butterfly Survey and the Bumble Bee Atlas (where you get to run around like a kid with a big butterfly net!).  Whether you are watching bumblebees clumsily fly from flower to flower, or visiting an apple orchard, take time to appreciate pollinators.  That hum you hear on a spring day may just be your fall apple being pollinated.  

Lisa Willey is an Environmental Science student and Ecorep.  If you are looking for Lisa, you might just find her in a meadow with a butterfly net…

 

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