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Beyond Bees & Butterflies: 5 Surprising Pollinators on the Gaia Herbs Farm

When you wake up in the morning and pour yourself a fresh cup of coffee, prepare a bowl of oatmeal with fresh fruit, or a piece of toast with honey or almond butter, you are enjoying some of the delicious byproducts of pollination. Many of the foods that we regularly consume rely on—or at the very least, benefit from—pollination. Pollinated crops include vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, and oils. And you may be surprised that some of your favorite foods, such as tea, chocolate, strawberries, sugarcane, and vanilla, are on this list.

The Power of Pollinators

Of the 1,400 crop plants grown around the world, almost 80% require pollination by animals.1 Pollinators are defined as animals (primarily insects), which fertilize plants by moving pollen from male structures (anthers) of flowers to the female structure (stigma) of the same plant species (or from flower to flower), causing plants to make fruit or seeds. Pollinators provide many benefits, including producing higher crop yields, larger, more uniform, and flavorful fruits, and supporting biodiversity by acting as a direct link between wild ecosystems and agricultural systems.

On our 350-acre Certified Organic farm in Brevard, North Carolina, we rely on a variety of pollinators. To help our pollinators prosper, we have over 200 beehives on our farm to support our favorite buzzing residents. Since 2017, we have also maintained a Monarch Waystation with Swamp Milkweed plants. With habitat loss and the widespread use of herbicides and insecticides in this country, the future survival of Monarch butterflies is threatened. This is why it was important to create a safe space for them on our farm. In 2019, we expanded this space by planting an additional 600 Swamp Milkweed plants, ensuring that migrating Monarch butterflies have plentiful food and a safe place to lay their eggs.

While bees and butterflies often come to mind first when people think of pollinators, there are many other animal pollinators that contribute to this vital ecological process. Learn more about the unheralded pollinators that help our plants prosper and our farm thrive.

5 Surprising Pollinators On Our Farm

Bats

These nocturnal creatures play more than one vital role on our farm. As pollinators, they help to carry pollen on their wings from one plant to another. Bats also help to control insects naturally. Just one small bat can eat up to 1,000 insects in an hour, which is incredibly helpful on a Certified Organic farm like ours, where we rely on natural pest control methods instead of herbicides and insecticides.2 Bats are currently threatened by White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), which is known to affect large colonies living in caves. WNS refers to a white fungus that appears on the ears, wings, and muzzles of the bats affected.2 To help protect the bats that live on our farm, we had a local craftsman build several bat houses. This provides the bats with a safe and peaceful place to live while reducing their risk of exposure to WNS.

Beetles

While beetles may seem like an annoyance to many people, and especially to anyone who has experienced a mass swarm of lady beetles trying to enter your house in the Fall, these insects are also important pollinators. Rather than carrying pollen by flying from flower to flower, beetles help collect and spread pollen as they crawl amongst the plants looking for food.3

Birds

Tree Swallow in birdhouse at Gaia Herbs Farm

Birds are very similar to bats with their contribution to the pollination process. They can carry pollen to other plants on their wings and help to naturally control pests. The local craftsman who created our bat houses also created birdhouses, to help attract a multitude of pollinators to our farm.

An interesting fact about the pollination process is that individual plants have evolved over time to attract certain types of pollinators. Take hummingbirds, for example. We recently planted Ornamental Red Buckeye trees, which are native to Appalachia, and have beautiful clusters of red flowers. The flowers on this tree evolved over time to specifically attract hummingbirds. Similarly, flowers that are white or purple in color tend to open at dusk time in order to attract more nocturnal fliers such as bats. Examples of these types of flowers include Dahlia, French Marigold, Evening Primrose, and Honeysuckle, to name a few.

Moths

Moths play a vital but overlooked role in pollinating flowers and plants during the night and are believed to visit more plant species than even bees. Like butterflies, moths carry pollen from the flowers where they drink nectar. When they land, their legs and wings can become covered in pollen, aiding in the pollination process.

Wasps

Wasps, or predatory wasps, as we often refer to them, are multi-purpose pollinators as well. When they require nectar, they will move from flower to flower, similar to bees and butterflies. On our farm, we practice cover cropping, which refers to the process of planting certain plants to cover the soil rather than for the purpose of being harvested. As a part of our cover cropping strategy, we often plant Buckwheat during the off-season to attract predatory wasps, as these wasps will then eat the undesirable insects on our farm, acting as natural pest control.

How You Can Help Protect Pollinators

pollinator bees in hive at Gaia Farm

Our farm and facilities are located near Asheville and Hendersonville, North Carolina. Both of these cities are designated Bee Cities, meaning that extra steps are taken to support pollinator conservation and to increase healthy pollinator habitats. If you don’t live in or near a Bee City, there are still many ways you can help keep your local pollinator community healthy and flourishing, including:

  • Utilizing sustainable farming practices that do not use herbicides and pesticides.
  • Creating a water feature in your yard.
  • Removing invasive species and planting native species. Use the Native Plant Finder to help determine which plants are best for your area.
  • Adding diversity to your garden with many different types of plants.
  • Leaving piles of twigs, branches, or logs in your yard so bees can build nesting places.
  • Learn other ways that you can help protect pollinators.

Saving Pollinators Helps Secure Our Future

Pollinators come in many shapes and sizes and they all play a crucial role in the environment. It’s important that we all do our part to help our pollinators survive and thrive. Next time you enjoy a fresh apple, a baked potato, or a handful of cashews, remember the small, yet massively important animals that made these food items possible, and do what you can to ensure their well-being for the survival of our own species.

References:
1 Why Is Pollination Important? United States Department of Agriculture.  https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/importance.shtml
2 Education Taking Flight. Calculate the Value of Bats. https://batslive.pwnet.org/edubat/final_calculate_the_value_of_bats.pdf
3 Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots. Meet the Unexpected Pollinators. https://www.rootsnshoots.org.uk/blog/2016/05/05/meet-the-unexpected-pollinators/