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The Birds And The Bees…A Pollination Conversation

Let’s talk pollination…on a small garden scale. The first year I started gardening I noticed my zucchini would start to grow but then get brown on the end and fall off. I was so confused and oh-so sad! Zucchini are supposed to be one of the easiest things to grow!

As many a beginning gardener often feels, I was also slightly disheartened by crops that had failed to thrive. I watered! I fertilized! I added worms to the soil! I posted a picture on a Facebook gardening page to see if anyone could tell me what went wrong. I found out then that the problem was due to a lack of pollination. See, zucchini, as well as many other plants, need our little winged friends to help produce fruit.

Zucchini and many common garden vegetables are considered self-pollinating (they only need one plant to produce fruit having both male and female flowers,) but still need cross-pollination to produce — and sometimes that means they need some help. I learned this lesson the hard way during the first two years of my foray into gardening. Have you ever tried to hand pollinate an entire garden???? I took Q-tips and touched a male flower to collect pollen and put it in the female flower. Talk about a garden buzz kill! I had to do this with ALLLLLLLLL my plants. Every. Single. One.

Fast forward to five years ago when we purchased our very first house on over a quarter acre of land. Now I could really garden – over 1200 square feet was mapped out just for my hobby! We also purchased 24 fruit trees as well as some fruit bushes and that was potentially A LOT of hand pollinating that I did not want to do. The question then was how do I get the pollination needed? The answer? BEES.

Here at the Fairgrounds, we have six resident beehives in a back area by our greenhouse. We also have an amazing “bee lady” who takes care of the hives, collects swarms we find here on the grounds to keep them from being killed and generally loves to talk all things bee. I contacted her to learn more as I was considering bees as a possible solution. Another great resource I found was the Alameda County Beekeepers Association. They offer classes in Oakland and have a plethora of resources. After researching bees for nearly a year, I was ready to take the plunge!

While bees are not the only pollinators in the garden (think spiders, bumblebees and even ants), they are one of the best. Our city does not have an ordinance against bees, but ALWAYS be sure to check with your city first! Beekeeping is not a cheap hobby and you do not want to have all your hard work go POOF because you did not check your city’s rules.

Through the beekeeping association, we purchased our first set of bees. I purchased several hive bodies (where the queen lays her eggs), some supers (where the bees store extra honey), a bee suit, some tools and other miscellaneous stuff.  I met a wonderful local beek (that’s what beekeepers call themselves) in my town who has been mentoring me through this process. If you think you can just stuff them in a hive and forget about them…WRONG. It is a lot of work and you really need to know what you’re doing, but the payoff can be so worth it.

If owning a beehive is not in your future, though, you can always encourage wild bees to forage into your yard. I have found that they love purple flowers. I plant many Butterfly Bushes, Salvia, Marigolds, Borage and other bee-friendly plants. You can plant these around your garden to attract foraging pollinators. If your yard is found “worthy”, they will tell everyone in the hive to come hang out on your plants. I also put out a water source. Bees need water and a pan with some rocks in it makes a great watering station for them.

I am still a baby beekeeper but it has been a rewarding hobby! And guess what? NO MORE HAND POLLINATING! Another plus? Honey straight from the hive…Divine! My bees made it through our first winter and this spring I added a second hive. So, my tip is: Bee kind and support the wonderful world of our pollinators!

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