Pollinate Your Plate Part 2: A Filling Lunch

Lunch food with and without ingredients that benefit from animal pollination.

Lunch food with and without ingredients that benefit from animal pollination.

What do cheese, butter, milk, and ice cream all have in common?

If you answered that they all require bee pollination for mass production, you are correct!

Although it may not be intuitive, the dairy industry relies on the production of alfalfa to feed dairy cows. This alfalfa is grown from seed, which can only be produced via bee pollination of alfalfa flowers:

alfalfa production

Due to alfalfa’s unique pollination mechanism, honey bees are not the best pollinators of alfalfa. For this reason, several other species of bees are managed commercially for alfalfa pollination, such as the alfalfa leafcutter bee (Megachile rotundata) and the alkali bee (Nomia melanderi). These bees are particularly dear to me since I study alfalfa pollination, so I am sure I will be writing more about them in the future.

a female alkali bee and the entrance to her nest Photo by James Cane of the USDA-ARS.

a female alkali bee and the entrance to her nest Photo by James Cane of the USDA-ARS.

Putting Peppers and Tomatoes on your Pizza: The Humble Bumblebee

The interior of a commercial bumblebee colony.

The interior of a commercial bumblebee colony.

As I mentioned in a previous post, tomatoes and peppers also have unique requirements for pollination. When grown outside, the wind can naturally shake loose some pollen from the tomato or pepper flower, but in the greenhouse where there is no wind, domesticated bumble bee colonies are used to pollinate these crops.

An Osmia a day keeps the doctor away:
applesWhen we talked about breakfast, I mentioned that a solitary bee called the Blue Orchard Bee can help pollinate almonds. Orchard bees, as their name suggests, also visit a variety of fruit trees, such as apples. Even though we don’t grow apple trees from seed, in order for apple fruits to develop the flower must be cross pollinated with another apple or crabapple variety. In the Eastern U.S., some researchers are experiencing with using orchard bees to commercially pollinate apples.

Thanks for reading this week’s post! Please come back next week to learn more about how pollinators bring color to our plates.

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One response to “Pollinate Your Plate Part 2: A Filling Lunch

  1. Thank you for the information! It seems that bees are “good” for breakfast, lunch and (looking forward to this..) dinner!

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