Be kind to pollinators, they feed us

We just enjoyed all the great tastings at the eighth annual Robeson County Farmers Market Extravaganza. I would like to invite you back to the market this coming Saturday, as we celebrate Pollinator Day.

Starting today through next Saturday, folks across the country will be celebrating National Pollinator Week. This is a week set aside for us to focus on the grim situation of our pollinators. In this case, pollinators encompass many, many more animals than just the European Honeybee. Saturday will be our second annual attempt to bring attention to the current situation surrounding pollinators.

So exactly what do pollinators do? When a pollen grain is transferred from the anther (male part) of a flower to the stigma (female part), pollination takes place. This is the beginning of a process that produces seeds and fruits, resulting in the next generation of plants. This happens through self-pollination, wind and/or water pollination or by intentional or secondary involvement of a vector that will move pollen within the flower and from bloom to bloom. This is where pollinators play such a vital role. It is estimated that one third, that is one bite out of every three bites, of vegetables, fruits and nuts are the direct result of the work of pollinators.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of managed honeybee colonies has declined by 50 percent since a high of 5.5 million colonies in the mid-1940s. At the same time, cropland requiring bee pollination has increased 300 percent. Pollinators are essential for the production of 90-plus crops in the U.S. with an estimated value of $19 billion. These numbers alone express the paramount value of pollinators.

Let’s look at who our pollinators are. The European Honeybee is probably the most obvious that many people consider, and they are extremely hard workers, but they are not alone by far. There are over 4,000 native bee species in this country with over 400 species in North Carolina. Pollinators include bats, hummingbirds, other birds, butterflies, beetles, and wasps.

There are many causes for the dwindling numbers, much too numerous to discuss here, but we can help make a difference. Pollinators, like every other living creature, need three basic elements for survival — food, water and shelter. We can provide water in times of little rainfall, such as a shallow pan (change the water weekly to reduce mosquito breeding) or an extremely low dripping outdoor spigot. Grow plants that are native, well-suited, and known to be popular with pollinators.

We can provide you with some excellent resources at the market on Saturday or you may contact me at the Extension Center. Shelter is also a viable addition we can provide. The majority of our native pollinators are solitary dwellers and will use individual homes instead of a colony or hive. We plan to exhibit some native bee dwellings at the market as well. We will also have pollinator seed giveaways, so come out to the Robeson County Farmers market Saturday and “Bee” educated!

Mack Johnson Johnson

By Mack Johnson

Contributing columnist

Mack Johnson, Extension horticultural agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, can be reached at 910-671-3276, by email at, or visit our website at