Did you know there are bees that only pollinate squash blossoms? Summer squash, winter squash, pumpkins, gourds . . . that’s their specialty. Squash yield is entirely dependent on insect pollinators, because male and female reproductive parts are housed in separate flowers; the pollen is heavy and can’t be dispersed by wind. By some estimates, squash bees alone may pollinate two-thirds of the commercially grown squash in the United States. They are up at dawn, day after day, pollinating our squashes.
Long-storing winter squashes are an important year-round food source for New England localvores, so the health of these bees, and pollinators in general, is of great concern. What can we do to protect pollinators and help them prosper?
Here are a few tips from the USDA Forest Service detailing ways to attract and support pollinators:
- Use a wide variety of plants that bloom from early spring into late fall.
Help pollinators find and use them by planting in clumps, rather than single plants. Include plants native to your region.
- Avoid modern hybrid flowers, especially those with “doubled” flowers.
Often plant breeders have unwittingly left the pollen, nectar, and fragrance out of these blossoms while creating the “perfect” blooms for us.
- Eliminate pesticides whenever possible.
If you must use a pesticide, use the least-toxic material possible. Read labels carefully before purchasing, as many pesticides are especially dangerous for bees. Use the product properly. Spray at night when bees and other pollinators are not active.
- Include larval host plants in your landscape.
If you want colorful butterflies, grow plants for their caterpillars. They WILL eat them, so place them where unsightly leaf damage can be tolerated. Accept that some host plants are less than ornamental if not outright weeds. A butterfly guide will help you determine the plants you need to include. Plant a butterfly garden!
- Create a damp salt lick for butterflies and bees.
Use a dripping hose, drip irrigation line, or place your bird bath on bare soil to create a damp area. Mix a small bit of table salt (sea salt is better!) or wood ashes into the mud.
- Spare that limb!
By leaving dead trees, or at least an occasional dead limb, you provide essential nesting sites for native bees.