Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Corn Pollen

I'm not a talented gardener. Most odd years find me planting things. Then during even years, I rip 75% of my plants out and move them. Despite my lack of talent, I still like to plant a veg garden every spring.

This year, the kids wanted to grow corn. Normally, I wouldn't because it takes up so much space and yields very little. Even so, I'd hate to squash any enthusiasm for planting, so we put some organic non-GMO corn in between the green beans.

Since it's a grass, I've always thought of corn as a wind-pollinated plant, but this morning, as I was gathering up beans, my husband directed my attention to the corn tassels. They were loaded with honeybees.

I can't imagine how much nectar they were getting from the flowers, but there must have been some because their proboscises were out.

Proboscis out
Even more amazing was how full their pollen bags were. 

Loaded with pollen
My husband tapped on a tassel, and the pollen created a thick corn-colored cloud. All my green bean picking must have caused a pollen avalanche, too, because I noticed a lot of leaves thickly coated with the stuff.

Pollen on a leaf
Curious about bees and corn, I went digging and found a write-up of a study conducted by a Brazilian university showing that corn pollen is an important food source for African honey bees (AHB). The protein content of various pollens ranges from 8%-40%. Corn pollen has a lower protein content -- about 15% protein -- but it appears to be collected quite enthusiastically by AHB.

One paragraph from the study that I found quite interesting related to corn and European honey bees:
According Sabugosa-Madeira et al. (2007), bees do not show great interest in the fields of corn plants when there are other good sources of pollen to ensure close and their livelihoods. However, the bees come to feed almost exclusively on corn pollen when in case of famine or when apiaries are located in areas with large plantations of corn (MAURIZIO; LOUVEAUX, 1965). These authors found apiaries in the area of the Landes, in France, satisfying about 90% of its needs for flowers with pollen from corn, extending this for almost a month until the end of August.

First, I'm troubled since this paragraph suggests European bees collect corn pollen when nothing else is blooming. I could tell my dearth was starting, but it just makes me sad that they have to resort to corn because I live in a pollinator's desert.

Second, I already knew that the dust from GMO-corn seed was hazardous to bees. However, now that I realize how much bees depend on corn pollen, I'm doubly concerned. In a way, I suppose it's fortunate that Monsanto requires corn to be detasseled (not for the bees' benefit, but so that farmers cannot save seed),  but somewhere, Monsatan [sic] has to have poisonous fields of tasseled corn in order to produced the toxic seeds they sell. Urgh.

Anyway, it was really neat watching the bees work the corn, so for next year, I'm already planning a whole patch of it.

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