Why Bees Are Important to Our Food Crops

Bee in a courgette flowerSo what’s all the fuss about bees? Bees help to pollinate a wide range of food crops, including fruits, nuts, spices and vegetables. Without bees, food production would fall dramatically.

Pollination is important for a wide range of plants, but it is essential for those which cannot self-pollinate, particularly those that have separate male and female flowers.

Self-pollinating Plants

Some fruits and vegetables have flowers that contain both male and female parts (male – stamen/anthers, female – stigma/pistil/ovary). These types of plants self-pollinate when pollen is shaken off the stamen onto the stigma due to a breeze for example. Gardeners growing tomatoes in greenhouses often gently shake their plants to achieve the same result.

Plants that can self-pollinate include: • Tomatoes • Peppers • Beans • Chicory • Endive and • Peas.

Plants That Need Pollinating By Insects

Plants that have separate male and female flowers rely on bees for pollination. When the bee visits the male flower its legs and body become coated with pollen. When the bee visits the female flower, the pollen gets transferred to the stigma.

Some gardeners choose to hand-pollinate these flowers if bees are not visiting their garden. They do this by collecting pollen from the male flower using a paintbrush and then brushing it on to the stigma of the female flower. However, this method is only sustainable for very small crops.

Plants that need pollinating by insects include: • Apple • Asparagus • Aubergine • Avocado • Broccoli • Brussels sprouts • Cashews • Cauliflower • Celeriac • Celery • Cucumber • Kiwi • Melons • Onions • Papaya • Pumpkin • Squash • Strawberry.

For a more in-depth list click here.

When a plant is successfully pollinated, the ovary grows to become the fruit or vegetable. If it is unsuccessful, the ovary will wither and die. Sometimes the fruit grows only a little and this may be due to inadequate pollination where not enough pollen has been transferred.

Photo via Flickr by eNil.

 

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