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Do nectary plants really improve pollination?

 
Ben Bishop
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On Paul's recent Podcast with Jacqueline Freeman, she mentioned that every honeybee has a particular plant that they will pollinate that particular day. So any given bee won't jump from a clover to a cucumber to a yarrow in one day. I suppose evolution would have selected for bee's that didn't waste time spreading pollen to totally different species that couldn't use it. Anyway, my question is this: If a honeybee is only pollinating one type of flower per day, how do nectaries attract pollinators into your garden? That foxglove plant by your fruit tree wouldn't necessarily bring in a bee that is pollinating that fruit tree that day since it is busy with the foxglove, right?

The only answer I can think of is that the honeybees make a mental note that there is a fruit tree about to blossom and will make sure to get to it tomorrow or communicate with the hive to pollinate it the next day. Would they really not have been able to find that fruit tree otherwise?

As a secondary question, do nectary plants ever distract bee's away from the plants you actually want pollinated if both the nectary and the crop bloom at the same time? Do you consciously choose nectaries that bloom just before the fruit tree does?
 
tel jetson
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there are a lot of good reasons to plant a wide variety of nectary plants. attracting honey bees probably isn't one of them.

in a permaculture setting, honey bees aren't great pollinators, relatively speaking. they can get the job done for most plants, but their big advantage is the honey (and they're a lot of fun). nectary plants certainly help honey bees out, and a healthy honey bee colony is more likely to comprise a greater population and therefore have more foragers around to pollinate your crops, so there may be a small advantage there.

a much bigger advantage is attracting the myriad other pollinators that are likely to either pollinate better than honey bees (or in different conditions or seasons) or control herbivorous pest insects or both. and they're generally pleasant and useful plants quite apart from the nectary aspect.

and yes, a plant floweringat the same time as your crop can distract honey bees if it is more attractive and available in large enough quantities, but I believe that's a rather unusual situation. it's certainly not something I've ever encountered.
 
John Polk
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As important as honey bees are to our food production, they are but one species out of thousands that do the job for us.
And each hive has its own schedule for the day.
The 'scouts' go out first, and find 'work' for the hive for today.
The scout does an aerobatic dance that tells the hive which direction to go, how far, and what to look for.
The hive follows the lead of this 'correographer'.

Another hive will have scouts that may have found something different, so, they will work that crop for the day.

As far as confusing a hive into harvesting the wrong thing, in the commercial world, that is unlikely. An almond orchard will have no other living plant within it, so the bee's job is easy. However, if you have a lone lemon tree in a one acre field of lavender, and they are both in blossom at the same time, every bee in the hive will 'work' the lavender, and ignore your lemon tree. Diversity is key. Both in crops, and in pollinators. Too much of any one thing will overwhelm them.

Most other bees (and other pollinators) are solitary, meaning that they do not live in a 'commune' with other bees. They do not have the social structure of having a scout go look for today's target. Each individual pollinator must go out and find its own food (and job) for the day. This is an important distinction, which should not be overlooked. By planting a regional wildflower assortment, you are providing both food, AND habitat for the solitary pollinators. If you plant it, they will come. Native wildflowers, in abundance, will keep the native pollinators on your land.

The honey bee is not native to North America - it was imported because it was an important pollinator that the Europeans understood. Because 'we' have manipulated our croplands to such an imbalance, the honey bee's continued existence is in jeopardy today. Each year, they are dieing by the billions. Most commercial bee keepers are reporting up to 80% of their hives are dieing each year. If we don't improve the quality of our fields, the native pollinators will soon do the same. By not providing food and habitat for the natives, we may soon be starving ourselves off of the land.


 
Ludger Merkens
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Well honey bees tend to visit the same flower type as often as possible. Thats good for pollination and thats efficient for the honey bee. But this doesn't mean, all bees of a hive collect from the same type of flower. According to newer findings, it is more likely, that bees collect nectar and pollen in small groups around one 'scout' bee. Each of this groups will visit only one type of flowers - as long as this source won't 'dry out'. They even learn the time of the day, each type of flower is producing nectar and will continue collecting for many days. But there are many groups in a hive, so it is unlikely, that pollination will be limited to only one plant group.

Planting a lot of different nectar source plants, means better nectar (and probably more important pollen-) diversity for your honey bees. It means better food supply for other bees (solitary bees, bumble bees etc.), which in turn means greater independence from the pollination service of the honey bee. In early spring, pollination is probably dominated by the honey bee, unless you have other native bees which winter in hive strength. Later in the year, other pollinators (also attracted by a rich diversity of nectar plants) will break this dominance.

So unless you - like some conventional bee keepers - are after single-varietal-honey like clover-honey, it is always a good idea to have lots of different nectar plants around.

 
allen lumley
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- The nectar from the 'other plants' keeps your hive strong and healthy on "other days'' when your fruit trees etc. are not yet ready for pollination !

Lots of different types of flowering plants is what you need ! Big AL
 
John Polk
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