One of the great benefits to growing your own food is getting to see all those little moments that you never consider when you’re just browsing through the selection at the market. Many of those little moments that make our food possible are brought to you by pollinators! It takes an often-unseen army of faithful workers to turn all those flowers into fruits and veggies for our tables.
Probably the most familiar of all pollinators is the faithful honeybee, never-endingly delightful…
And our native Maine bumblebees are great pollinators, too! They don’t store honey because they don’t overwinter. Instead, at the end of each season, they produce a number of young queens who mate and then find a place to hibernate. The original colony dies in the winter, and the new queens emerge in the spring to build an entirely new colony, every season a fresh start. (Read more about the wide variety of native bees from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.)
But bees are far from the only pollinators on the job. Here are just a few of the many other types of pollinators that we see here on the homestead every year.
Butterflies are a delight of the summer season, prompting oohs and aahs whenever they flutter their way into sight. Of course, they begin as plump little caterpillars, voraciously munching their way through every green leaf in their often-very-specific diets, so there is a balance. Happily, many munch leaves that are wild and plentiful without harming our farm-grown produce, and we can enjoy all of their beauty without cringing over their big appetites!
all kinds of crazy bugs
Oh, so many bugs! On any summer blossom, a close look will reveal a swarm of activity from all kinds of bugs you’ve probably never even noticed before. Many of them, when you try to identify them, will simply be called “flower flies” of which there are some 900 species in North America!
and even birds!
Though many birds grace the treetops in search of seeds or bugs, the ruby-throated hummingbird is a pollinator.
A bit shy, sometimes difficult to spot, this female visited the wildflower garden, and then I began to get glimpses of her, busy all around the farm. From the wildflowers, she made her way through the towering forest of sunflower stalks to visit our lettuce blossoms. Later, she investigated the nasturtiums and the tea garden where wild bergamot was in bloom. I caught a flash of her working amongst the scarlet runner beans. The kids saw her in the corn tassels.
And if she weren’t delightful enough, there is a moth that is so very like this lovely little hummingbird that it is named the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth.
It is not much smaller than a hummingbird. Its wings sound exactly like the familiar hum of a hummingbird. It even mimics the green back and tiny tail of our ruby-throated hummingbirds! And it is an equally-diligent pollinator. Having begun its efforts early in the apple blossoms, we have enjoyed seeing the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth at work all throughout the summer flowers.
Some pollinators make the news in a big way, as we hear calls to save the bees or plant gardens to attract the butterflies. But this is only a scratch on the surface of the incredible world of pollinators, countless varieties of them, living out their lives oblivious to the fact that their labors play such an essential role in our ability to enjoy the fruits-and-vegetables of their labors.
by Sydney Michalski