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Spring is in air; so is pollen
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If the warm temperatures and abundance of azalea blooms were not enough to clue you in that spring is here, the itchy eyes and sinus pressure definitely have done so.

The pollen in the air is a source of ill will to many as they suffer through most of the spring. However, for honeybees and other pollinators, the world has turned into a mega grocery store.

During this time of year, bees are working hard to take advantage of the pollen. It is from the nectar and pollen produced by plants they are able to make honey and bee bread. Both of these food sources are used to supply their young with essential food to grow and maintain the colony. The food produced from pollen is also critical for the survival of the hive through the winter months.

Pollen is produced by the stamen, which is the male part of the flower. Flowers and bees have developed a complex relationship throughout the past few million years. In order for fruit or seeds to be produced, flowers need their pollen transferred to other parts of same flower where the pollen was produced, moved to a different flower on the same plant or moved to a different plant altogether.

It is definitely a give-and-take relationship between bee and plant. The plant makes more pollen than needed so there is enough to make seeds or fruit and for the bees. Bees give the plants “legs” in a sense, making pollination a success.

Honey is made from the nectar that comes from the flowers. Bees use honey the same way we do, as a source of carbohydrates. They tap into it on a daily basis for energy. Without it, the hive would die within weeks.

Pollen is made into bee bread and is the most nutritionally diverse food bees make. It has a little bit of everything needed for survival and to grow fast-developing larvae. Fats, minerals, vitamins and proteins are in bee bread.

To me, it is amazing bees can do all of this work. They are like farmers in the sense they take raw materials and make it into food.

As you eat lunch today, think about the fact that one third of the food on your plate would not be there if bee pollination did not occur. Agriculture in the United States is very dependent on bee pollination, especially for vegetables and fruits such as apples and nut crops.

Bee pollination is worth more than $14 billion annually to agriculture. Pollination improves yield and quality of the food produced.

Have you ever seen an oddly shaped cucumber? Typically, it is a result of poor pollination.

As the world’s population continues to rise, we are going to have to figure how to get more out of the crops we grow, but on the same amount of land we have. Ensuring the health of pollinators is a huge step to reach that goal.

So the next time you see a bee buzzing around you, just say “Hi” and “Thank you.”

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. Contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears weekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.

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