The following is a transcript of Honey Bee Man Episode 2 – What is the biggest value of honeybees? Pollination, there’s a widget here to the right with the original audio version if you’d like to listen along. MarkZ:
Did you ever eat a watermelon that tasted more like the rind than the sweet watermelon you were expecting? If so, your watermelon did not get pollinated well enough when it was only a blossom.
How does a blossom get pollinated?
The answer is the bees.
Bees gather pollen and nectar that they find in the blossoms. If bees don’t go into the blossoms for forage for food, the blossoms won’t make seeds. Many tiny yellow grains of pollen must land all over the sticky pistil of each flower to make the seeds grow inside the watermelon.
You might think seeds inside a watermelon aren’t important. Maybe you think they just get in your way. Who likes those seeds in there anyway? But, if you want a tasty melon with the sweetness you’re expecting, you need the pollinated seeds inside.
As the seed develops inside the watermelon hormones in the seed go to work to cause the melon to ripen and sweeten. Without the pollinated seeds in there, there are no hormones. The farmer can do everything else exactly right; he can plant the right kind of seeds, he can till the land properly, he can keep the weeds out, he can keep it watered, but no matter what the farmer does for his crop he’ll not get good melons without honeybees to do some pollination.
If no seeds get pollinated, watermelon falls off the plant when it’s about the size of a marble or ping-pong ball. If only a few good seeds get pollinated, it will make a small lopsided sorry-tasting watermelon. It takes many visits in the blossom to make a really ripe sweet melon.
Our bees are being threatened by many things that weren’t a problem 20 and 30 years ago. They’re dying off so fast that it’s frightening.Melons aren’t the only food that depend on bees. Our food supply is in danger because our bees are in danger. One-third of the food we eat is dependent on pollinators. We couldn’t grow these foods if we didn’t have bees or other insects to pollinate these crops.
Watermelons are only one of many foods that require pollination. Watermelons, cantaloupes, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, apples, cherries, oranges, peaches, and kiwi are all examples of fruits that are dependent on bees to produce the fruit. Without bees, these fruits would not grow.
Vegetables such as cucumbers, squash, and some variety of peas and beans must also have bees to produce a yield. The cucumbers will also develop this odd shape where they’re pointy on one end if they are not pollinated properly. The shape of the final cucumber, really you can tell just by looking whether you’ve had proper pollination.
Almonds require more bees than any other crop in the United States. Right now there are a lot of almonds grown in California, there’s a shortage of honeybees to pollinate these almonds, so the prices for pollination out there have doubled within the last few years.
Also, because of this lack of pollination, the price of almonds is going up. It’s on a sharp curve upward and has been since about the year 2000. [Note: This podcast was recorded 1/11/2007, but this issue continues.]
Clover and alfalfa pastures also have to have bees in order to make their own seeds, otherwise the farmer must buy expensive seed to replant the pasture.
A few crops, such as grasses and grains, need only wind to pollinate them. Corn is a good example of this. The pollen grows on the tassels that are on the top of the corn plant. one grain of pollen needs to land on the end of each fiber of corn silk to make a good ear of corn. Sometimes farmers will even have helicopters that they hire to fly around over the fields just to make the wind blow so that the pollen blows off the top down into the leaf of the corn silk and they’ll get pollinated properly.
Our beef is also indirectly dependent on pollination. Clover and alfalfa are very rich in protein and make up about one-third of the diet of cows. Cows also eat grasses and grains, but these don’t have as much protein, so cows needs the clover and the alfalfa, which is dependent on the bees pollination. It’s a very important part of our supply of beef, milk, cheese, and other dairy products.
Because so many of our foods are dependent on the bees to pollinate them, we need to be aware of what is happening to the bees and the pollinators.
We must learn what we can do to help protect the bees and make sure the bees survive so that we don’t lose our food supply.
Want to help, but not able to keep your own beehives?
Check out the article on 5 Ways to Help the Bees Without Keeping Hives in Your Backyard.