Fun Facts about Birds and Bees, aka Pumpkin Pollinators

They say farm kids learn plenty about the birds and the bees while they’re growing up, but I was in my 40s before I fully understood the importance of bees. 

When I planted my first pumpkin crop in the spring of 2012, I had no idea what I was missing! (I was missing pollinators.) My dad tilled up about a half-acre of the field. Then my mom and I made rows with a hoe and planted each seed by hand. After all, this is how we had planted gardens for years.

 

Native plants like coneflowers attract pollinators like butterflies and bees. That’s why we have planted several native species around Enchanted Acres. Monarchs especially enjoy the blossoms in our alfalfa field.

 

Today the pumpkin patch at Enchanted Acres is more like a small field than a large garden. We have gained tips for increasing the number of pumpkins we can produce each season. Pollinators, including bumblebees and honeybees, are key to increasing the yield of our pumpkin plants. After all, pumpkin plants set fruit only if pollinated by insects!

Who knew each pumpkin plant has both male and female flowers? Male flowers produce nectar and pollen. Female flowers produce higher quantities of nectar but no pollen. The first female flower opens about one week after the first male flower opens, but flowers only live for hours.  

Pumpkin pollen is relatively large and sticky, so bees are usually the best pollinators. When a bee lands on a flower, the hairs on its body attract pollen through electrostatic forces. (Isn’t science cool?) Hairs on a bee’s legs allow it to transfer pollen from the male flower to the female flower. In addition, fruit quality is enhanced by intensive pollinator activity. 

Speaking of fruit… Honey straight from the hive has a unique flavor based on its location and season. For example, you can purchase Wild Blueberry Honey from Maine or Cherry Honey from Door County in Wisconsin. The characteristic of honey – color, texture, viscosity, taste, smell and how quickly it crystalizes – varies based on the nectar collected by the hive’s bees. 

Placing uniquely flavored honey on an Iowa-inspired charcuterie board could become a topic of conversation. Fresh Fruit Salad with Honey Lime Dressing is refreshing on a hot summer’s day as is Honey Lemonade. You could enjoy all three during a Fourth of July picnic!

Iowa State Fair Honey Lemonade
(recipe courtesy of Iowa Honey Producers)

  • 1, 30-ounce carton of Sunkist frozen lemon juice
  • 3 cups of honey

Combine lemon juice and honey. Add cold water to make 2 gallons. Mix well.