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Bees Improve Our Tomato Crops But Are Threatened With Extinction
Bees are making a lot of noise all over the world. But all is not well.
While bee lovers spread the word about the valuable pollination “services” that bees provide, news reports circulating internationally state that billions of bees have been destroyed by pesticides. The result is a worldwide petition to force the European Union to ban the most toxic pesticides that threaten the extinction of some species of bees.
Good: How bees can help tomatoes
In parts of Australia it is said that the native blue banded bees, Amegilla chlorocyanea, they do a particularly excellent job resulting in a large increase in tomato seed production. They are much more efficient than ordinary bumblebees, which, again, are much more efficient than honey bees, which don’t work very well at all. This is mainly because the buzzing sound produced by natural blue-banded bees is so powerful (it was measured at a frequency of 450 Hz). The effect of the sound waves shakes the pollen from the tips of the tomato flowers, so that much more pollen can be distributed between the male and female “organs” in the flower. Furthermore, some of the pollen will stick to the bees, and when it goes to other plants, it will successfully cross-pollinate the tomatoes.
Tomatoes are often described as “self-fertilizing” plants, as they have both male and female organs. But it actually needs some kind of movement to release the pollen. Wind plays an important role, but when commercial growers propagate tomatoes, they assist the pollination process with special vibrating wands. You can do the same thing very successfully with an electric toothbrush.
When bees do this work, we call it the “pollination buzz.”
According to Katja Hogendoorn, an entomologist and native bee expert who works at the University of Adelaide, when tomato plants are pollinated by buzzing bees, more pollen lands on the stigma. This, she says, increases the number of seeds produced and ultimately results in juicier and tastier tomatoes.
Of course, you may not produce tomatoes for seed. Most of us grow tomatoes for the fresh, juicy fruit, not the seeds. But a good reason to save tomato seed is to make sure you continue to grow an open-pollinated variety.
To attract blue-striped buzzing bees to your tomato patch, Dr. Hogendoorn suggests planting different species throughout the year, so that one species or another is always blooming. He also advises gardeners to avoid insecticides, or at least use them sparingly, and to leave bare soil around plants (or nearby in the garden) for bee nesting. You will also attract more blue banded bees if you plant English lavender or Duranta – good planting tip. The reason for this is that tomatoes do not produce nectar – which attracts bees – but lavender and Duranta do.
The Bad: A worldwide threat to bees
In recent years, there has been an alarming decline in the world’s bee population. According to researchers, some species in the US are already extinct.
Toxic neonicotinoid pesticides are blamed for the situation, and several European Union countries (including France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia) have already banned at least one type.
While giant pesticide manufacturers lobby to keep their deadly products on the world market, in January 2013, the global web movement Avaaz (a word meaning voice in several Asian, European and Middle Eastern languages) used powerful social media to get at least 2.5 million people to sign will petition trying to get the EU to ban “these crazy poisons” and thus trigger a worldwide ban. In just one 36-hour period, they attracted 750,000 signatories, and as the clock ticked down on their deadline, someone somewhere in the world was signing pretty well every second.
“If we create a great swarm of public outrage now, we can force the European Commission to put our health and our environment ahead of the profits of a few.”
The next step will be to force US authorities to follow the example of the European Union to ensure that bees continue to pollinate tomatoes.
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