BRINGING POLLINATORS BACK – Insectary meadows provide food for pollinators, homes for beneficial bugs

SONY DSCby Sheila Dunning, UF/IFAS Extension Agent

Most fruits and vegetables we eat one depended on insect pollinators. There are fewer working farmers, but they must meet an increasing population’s needs. And they must make choices on chemical alternatives for pest control. Good bug blends of flowers can help attract pollinators, and beneficial insects can suppress harmful pests.

You can establish insectary meadows on a small or large scale in any habitat.

Bees are the overwhelmingly dominant pollinator for most food crops. Native bees in the United States annually pollinate over $3 billion worth of agricultural commodities. However, native bee populations are declining due to habitat loss. Meanwhile, managed colonies of European honey bees have dipped 50 percent over the past few decades. Numerous other pollinating insects face the same fate.

One approach to bring back pollinators is to intercrop with blooming plants that attract insects.

Selecting diverse plants–those with different flower sizes, shapes and colors, as well as various plant heights and growth habits–will encourage the greatest numbers of pollinators.

It is important to provide a continuous source of pollen and nectar throughout the growing season. At a minimum, strive for three species to be blooming at any one time; the greater the diversity, the better.

To enhance the garden, choose flowering plants that also provide shelter for beneficial insects. Many companion plants are suitable habitats for predators and parasitoids.

Research in Florida has demonstrated that predatory minute pirate bugs can build to high numbers in sunflowers. Their favorite food is Western flower thrips. So, planting sunflowers on the perimeter of vegetable crops, such as peppers, can greatly reduce thrip-related damage.

Similar results were found with planting sorghum to attract beneficial mites and intercropping with buckwheat to house syrphid flies and parasitoid wasps.

The garden vegetables experienced fewer spider mite, shitefly and aphid problems.

Here in Crestview, you can get a first-hand look at an insectary meadow in operation. This week, we will seed sunflowers, sorghum and buckwheat at the Common Ground Community Garden.

Over the next few months, we ill monitor the plants for pollinators and beneficial insects.

If you are interested in helping with the inset collection and data recording, please contact Evan Anderson or Sheila Dunning at the Okaloosa County Extension office, 689-5850.

This entry was posted in Best Management Practices, Extension Articles, General Gardening, Insects, Sheila Dunning article, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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