It's here: that time of year when I'm attempting to pollinate my Cucurbitas.
Pumpkins have been both my gardening love and bane for decades. They're touchy - at least in the very dry environment I live in. Females must be coaxed with special nutrient brews. And when one opens, I'm right there with the clean, soft paintbrush I keep just for this purpose, to attempt to ignite a little genetic fire that will (hopefully) begin successful pumpkin.
My results have varied. But one thing that has helped has been not my hand, but Mother Nature's. Though many garden enthusiasts do the pollinating themselves (as I often do), the BEST and most natural way to transfer pollen is the insect route. Not only bees but ants, beetles and other creepy-crawlies gently put the pollen just where it needs to go.
Though many insect varieties can help flowers become pollinated, bees are the gold standard and well known to and loved by most gardeners. Yet in many areas of the U.S., bee populations are dwindling, often due to pesticide use. (Honeybees are particularly at risk.)
How can you repopulate your garden with bees? Create an environment that will attract and support them. Try these ideas:
1. Have a water source nearby, with stones or other small, natural objects for the bees to light on in order to drink. (This tutorial is great!)
2. Plant native flowers and cover. Bees generally have evolved with their environment. Therefore, blooms native to your area will attract the bees who feed on them.
3. Use plenty of color. Bees are attracted to color, which to the bee signifies fertility (nature in bloom) and plenty of nectar.
4. Limit your use of pesticides...including natural ones. Natural killing is still killing, and the pest remedy you're using against a different insect could also negatively impact bees.
5. Muss things up a bit. Allow parts of your garden to grow naturally. Bees prefer some cover and a place to go.
6. Focus on single-petal flowers. Flowers with just one ring of petals generally create more nectar, which is attractive to bees.
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