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Protecting the pollinators

Bee species abound in B.C., and growers can do a lot to help conserve their natural habitat. By Judie Steeves


rops pollinated by bees make our food more interesting — such as making the jam

possible to sweeten your toast in the morning, notes Kenna Mackenzie, a researcher in plant science and entomology and associate director of the Summerland Research and Development Centre.

She spoke this spring at one of a series of talks on pollinizers sponsored by the Okanagan Regional Library and Border-Free Bees, UBC. Bees are the most important biotic pollinating agents, although beetles, butterflies, moths and flies, as well as bats, birds and mammals, also do the job for some plants, she says. Wasps are also pollinators, but they’re carnivorous, while bees are usually vegetarians. In the Okanagan alone, there are 400 species of bees, a third of which don’t occur elsewhere in Canada. Across the country there are 800 species of bees, and not all look like your typical bee.

There are digger bees, sweat bees, leaf cutting and parasitic bees, and each has somewhat different requirements for habitat and food. In natural areas, there are more diverse resources for pollinators than in agricultural areas, so it’s important there be connections between farmland and natural systems, she advises.

Apple blossom pollination is complex, while cherries are easier, except they’re earlier, she says. The king bloom is the primary bloom in a cluster of apple blossoms and it usually produces the best apple in the cluster. If all blossoms in the cluster are pollinated, some must be thinned out to ensure the remainder are of a marketable size. Although honey bees do a good job


A wild British Columbia bee. The Okanagan region is home to some 400 species.

of pollinating them, indigenous bees can be better individual pollinators, but they’re not as numerous. “A well-pollinated apple has a seed in every one of the five

compartments. That makes a good-looking apple,” Mackenzie explains.

Many of the new

cherry cultivars are self- fertile so it’s easier to ensure pollination. Honey bees are the insurance for tree fruit pollination, to make sure there are enough

forage, nesting sites, mating areas and good bee habitat available for them, says Mackenzie. Unproductive land is valuable as bee habitat. The edges of the farm are important, as is the careful use of herbicides and other pesticides, she warns.

JUDIE STEEVES Kenna Mackenzie

pollinators flying when the blossoms are ready.

However, she advises that wild bees do more than we realize to ensure pollination.

“Good pollination is required for good quality fruit.”

Strategies to conserve indigenous bees include making sure there is

Provide sunny, open areas and plant bee forage; don’t mow it when it’s in bloom, because that’s what the bees require to survive. Farmers could also provide bee strips where wildflowers and debris

are left to provide habitat for bees, she suggests.

“Everyone can contribute to pollinator conservation,” she says. Another speaker in the series was Elizabeth Elle, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Simon Fraser University who says even if we can’t halt the decline in bee

British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Summer 2016 17

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