Bees, Food, and You: What You Need to Know to Protect Pollinators
There’s no getting around it: If you like to eat, you need to care about bees.
Bees don’t just pollinate the wildflowers that dot the landscape. They’re also responsible for pollinating nearly 100 crops that humans rely on. From tomatoes to cotton, bees pollinate the crops that sustain us. Without bees visiting their crops, farmers wouldn’t be able to produce as much food with their land. This would lead to big price increases at the grocery store and farmers market and a dwindling selection of fresh food. Some crops might disappear completely, including watermelons, almonds, squash, and avocados. Even coffee relies on bees to increase its yield through pollination.
Bees’ impact isn’t limited to fruits and vegetables: Livestock production relies on bees to pollinate alfalfa, buckwheat, and other animal fodder, and the rangelands used to graze pastured cows and sheep provide foraging and nesting habitat for bees.
It’s clear that humans have a vested interest in saving bees. But how can the average person make a difference? Here are a few changes you can make today to protect the environment for tomorrow:
Pesticides are a major contributor to declining bee populations. Not only do some insecticides kill bees directly, but other pesticides can interfere with bees’ ability to forage and reproduce. While the most attention has been paid to conventional pesticides like neonicotinoids, even some organic products are toxic to bees. Instead of spraying around the home or garden, opt for bee-friendly pest control methods.
In addition to stopping pesticide use in your own home, start buying food grown without synthetic or organic pesticides. Unfortunately, there’s no labeling standard to make buying pesticide-free food easy; while organic food has its benefits, many large-scale certified organic growers still use pesticides. Buying directly from a local farmer whose growing methods you know and trust is the best way to ensure your food is truly pesticide-free.
When rangeland isn’t overgrazed, it serves as an important habitat for bees. Bees dine alongside cattle, swine, and sheep in fields filled with forage grasses, and pithy plant stems and bare ground provide homes to cavity-nesting and ground-nesting native bees. That means that when you buy pastured meat instead of meat from animals raised in concentrated animal feeding operations, also known as factory farms, you’re supporting bee health.
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Purslane — also known as duckweed, fatweed, pursley, pussley, verdolagas and wild portulaca — is the most frequently reported “weed” species in the world. It can grow anywhere that has at least a two-month growing season, but little is known in North American kitchens about this delicious and nutritious food.
Purslane is somewhat crunchy and has a slight lemony taste. Some people liken it to watercress or spinach, and it can substitute for spinach in many recipes. Young, raw leaves and stems are tender and are good in salads and sandwiches. They can also be lightly steamed or stir-fried. Purslane’s high level of pectin (known to lower cholesterol) thickens soups and stews.
Here’s a few good reasons to eat this power packed food:
Even though long, dark green, smooth-skinned garden cucumbers are familiar vegetables in the produce sections of most groceries, cucumbers actually come in a wide variety of colors, sizes, shapes and textures. You’ll find white, yellow, and even orange-colored cucumbers, and they may be short, slightly oval, or even round in shape. Their skins can be smooth and thin, or thick and rough. In a technical sense, cucumbers are actually fruits, not vegetables. But we’ve become accustomed to thinking and referring to cucumbers as vegetables. Cucumbers have not received as much press as other vegetables in terms of health benefits, but this widely cultivated food provides us with a unique combination of nutrients.
Lemon Cucumbers: Don’t be fooled by this heirloom’s unusual shape-these bright yellow balls are excellent for salads and pickling. They have a clean, crisp taste and are never bitter. Lemon cucumber does not have a lemon taste, only color. Round and yellow, this tennis ball-sized cucumber is a perfect serving for one or two people. It is believed to have been introduced to the US in the late 1800s.
Armenian Cucumbers: The skin is very thin, light green, and bumpless. It has no bitterness and the fruit is almost always used without peeling. The Armenian cucumber grows approximately 30 to 36 inches long. You can find them grown quite thick or long and lean. They’re delicious for slicing and snacking or in salads and other dishes.
Persian Cucumbers: Persian cucumbers, belong to the burpless category of cucumbers, named as such because these cucumbers are milder and contain little or no cucurbitacin, a compound that makes for a bitter taste and often causes the burping reflex after consumption. They are usually small, have soft tiny seeds, thin skin that is easy to chew and a very mild almost sweet taste. They tend to have a soft crunch which makes them ideal for pickling and slicing.
Storage: If you’ll use cucumbers within a few days, store at room temperature. Exposing cucumbers to temperatures below 50º F can hasten decay. If you must refrigerate cucumbers, wrap them in a dry paper towel and slip into a loosely closed plastic bag. Store them in a warmer part of the fridge and for best flavor and quality.
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