A diverse diet isn’t just important for human nutrition, but for other species as well. The vast majority of animal species are at their best when they eat a variety of species. And keeping some animal species in peak health is essential for human health and welfare…like pollinators, for instance.
A great number of our favourite fruits and vegetables require animal pollinators, especially bees, leaving us with startling images of what the grocery store would like if we lost all the animal-pollinated species. Not good!
So what should you do? Managed bees and crops depend on the general state of the environment. Ergo, what you do on your property does, in some small part, matter to our food supply. You can provide a wealth of good pollinator native food sources in your garden. My personal favourites are raspberries, thyme, and cilantro, etc.
You wouldn’t think it to look at it but my cilantro is awful popular with the pollinators too.
But why does it matter? Think of setting out a dinner party. You rarely set out the finest in potato products and expound upon the potato chips and then the French fries and then the mashed potatoes. No, no, no. You toss it up, let the flavour co-mingle. If you’re me, you buy something a little unusual like starfruit or lychee or algae and regale your guests with tales of their evolutionary history (perhaps make them construct a phylogenetic tree from the fruit salad offerings before they are allowed to eat).
But honeybees are often left to make do on the bland diet provided by monocultures – miles and miles of one crop. Add this to the suite of pesticides applied, and this all contributes to stress on the hive and declines in honeybees. One of the reasons many beekeepers apply so many pesticides is that it is a cheaper option than sustainable farming practices. You can make the plight of the beekeeper easier by buying their products – honey and mead, for instance. Using honey as opposed to sugar from sugarcane has some additional environmental benefits. There are some great recipes that give good instructions for how to substitute honey for sugar.
Mead is a drink that is starting to gain a resurgence in popularity. It’s wine made from fermenting honey and it has a number of different variants. I had the pleasure of joining in on a little film about honeybees and mead earlier this spring with Salt, Fresh, and Field and the Chinook Arch Meadery and got to try melomel and metheglin. Definitely worth a try!
But native bees do their share of pollinating our food supply as well and they are also suffering declines in numbers and diversity. In fact, some species in our food supply, like blueberries and tomatoes, are not pollinated well by honeybees at all.
They require pollinators that can buzz at a certain frequency, like bumblebees. And while fallow habitats may appear useless, they are critical in supporting our food supply because they provide nesting habitat as well as diet diversity for these wild pollinators. To demonstrate this I came up with the idea for a video game that illustrates the concepts of functional diversity. The people at Mozilla Science Lab and UCalgary’s Biological Modeling and Visualization group (namely Przemyslaw Prusinkiewicz, Cory Bloor, Andrew Owens, Jeremy Hart and the affiliated Chrissi Klassen) to make http://www.diversibee.org/. I’m so grateful for their mad skillz. Give it a whirl and see if you can design a sustainable profitable blueberry farm!