Ensure Your Berry Production Success With Pollinators

Ensure Your Berry Production Success With Pollinators
Planting bee-friendly food sources help native pollinators to continue their valuable work in your crops.

We berry growers may spend a lot of thought and actions on ways to improve our berry yields and fruit quality. Such production concerns are natural, but do we give much thought and action to improve the lot of honeybees and our native pollinators that create the fruit-set and thus our berries? Do we realize that loss of natural habitat for our pollinators, possible misuse of some pesticides (especially during bloom-time), and mites and diseases collectively have drastically reduced the numbers of pollinators in recent years?

For example, with our honeybees, it is estimated that 31% of their colonies in the U.S. died in the winter of 2012-13 due to colony collapse disorder. According to USDA, almost 90% of all plant species need the help of pollinators!

Some 190,000 pollinating species are invertebrates, including flies, beetles, butterflies, moths, and bees, and some 1,000 species are vertebrate animals including bats and hummingbirds, all work to provide this invaluable benefit to us all. I believe all berry growers would benefit from taking time to read an 8-page publication, available online at http://plants.usda.gov/pollinators/Native_Pollinators.pdf.

Honeybees Aren’t The Only Pollinators
While reading this publication, I learned there are about 4,000 species of bees native to the U.S. that are mostly solitary nesting bees, except for bumblebees and hornets which live in social colonies, as do our non-native honeybees. Our native bees are generally not very conspicuous as they go about their pollinating work compared to honeybees and bumblebees, but they too are extremely valuable pollinators of our food crops, worthy of our study and protection.

As our dwindling numbers of honeybees are facing tough times nowadays, our native pollinators assume an ever more important, valuable, and necessary role in our berries’ and fruit crops’ production. So, how can we help provide for them, since we need them?

Good Food Source Is Vital
To attract and hold good populations of native pollinators near your berry crops, they must have adequate sources of food, shelter, water and nesting sites, as shown in Table 2 on page 6 of the above-referenced publication. The most desirable and easiest way to quickly begin to attract native pollinators and honeybees is to plant patches or small gardens containing a diversity of native wildflowers, including sunflowers.

For spring blooms, cranesbill, chives, and thrift are suggested by native plant nurseries, perhaps lupines and heirloom single-petal roses (not double-type blooms) for early summer blooms, lavender for mid-summer blooms, and sunflowers and black-eyed Susan plus verbena for late summer blooms. Your goal is to provide continuous blooms, nectar, and pollen all across the growing season.

When Weeds Are A Good Thing
Native weeds also provide biodiversity of food, shelter, and nesting sites for pollinators, but our preference for neatness may prevent most berry growers from wanting visible weed patches that folks would see when visiting their farm or passing by. Perhaps on an unused back corner we could allow a small native weeds area as a set-aside for the benefit of pollinators and other wildlife.

Also consider planting attractive, more socially-acceptable pollinator patches of native wildflower mixtures adapted to our various regions that are available from leading seed companies. These small, attractive plantings should be planted close by each of our berry fields.

In our outer fence-lines, we should consider planting native pollinator-friendly trees such as sugar maple, hackberry, crabapple, and serviceberry, for example. In front of them near this fence-row we could plant some native perennial plants like Echinacea (coneflower) that are very showy in bloom and are loved by hummingbirds, butterflies, and native insect pollinators.

Another overlooked perennial loved by native pollinators is agastache (giant hyssop, also known as hummingbird mint). It can be planted among the Echinacea, such as the variety Raspberry Summer with its beautiful bright, dark pink spikes of tubular blooms attractive to a host of native pollinators, including hummingbirds. Both of these perennials could also be planted with the small wildflower plots near each berry field. There are many good plant nurseries that specialize in offering native plants and seeds beneficial to our pollinators; check them out and make planting plans for pollinators!
Based on research and Extension work at Mississippi State University and by cooperating berry growers like Robert Hayes at Dumas, MS, we know hummingbirds are attracted with feeders to eat populations of the fruit-destructive spotted-wing drosophila (SWD) fruit fly. It makes common sense to plant these attractive, blooming wildflowers and perennial native plants close by our berry fields too!
I believe we berry growers could help all our pollinators including our fruit fly-eating hummingbirds by having these good, natural nectar and pollen sources close to our berry fields. Such plantings may eliminate the need of purchasing and frequently filling and having to frequently clean hummingbird feeders in our berry plantings. Also, the more I learn about native plants and the need for planting them to aid pollinators, the less I like all of my lawn grass that takes up so much space that our native plants and pollinators need and could use!
A big thank you goes to Cheryl Jones, of GreenwoodNursery.com for providing LandSteward.org and other sources of information on native plants and native pollinators.

photo credit: Bill Sembello and Irene Lamb, 3 Birds Berry Farm near Blacksburg, VA.