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Growing vegetables for pollinators – top tips

By Sara Venn

We love sharing our learning across the Incredible Edible network, and here we reflect on how to ensure our food growing also creates Incredible food sources for our insects too.

Annual vegetables and pollinators may not mix well – certainly if you use a certain well-known search engine and ask what veg are good for insects, you get sent a lot of links to chemicals and how to get rid of insects on your veg crops. But we all know that insects generally have seen an enormous fall in numbers and that they are absolutely vital to the health of the planet, not to mention in pollinating our crops, and we need to include the health of our planet, and therefore our insects, in all the work we do. Change, after all, won’t happen unless its full system change and for many that is going to mean changing the way in which we grow.

Of course the majority of Incredible Edible groups, if not all of them, grow food without pesticides and with nature in mind so we thought it might be a grand idea to put together some thoughts on what vegetables you can grow that the insects will love in a healthy way, rather than in a destructive way.  When it comes to fruit it’s ever so simple as all fruit need pollinators but what else is there in the vegetable beds that we can do to support a hopeful turnaround of insectageddon as it seems to have been named by the press?

First of all we can suggest growing fruit that we actually think about as veg. Cucumbers, squash, pumpkins and courgettes, tomatoes, peppers and aubergines all need pollinators in order to fruit and so are fabulous to grow for insects and for people. And then a special mention must go to beans and peas, all of which need pollinating and which, if you sow successionally, it is possible to have flowering for several months of the year. Autumn sown broad beans will begin to flower in March and the bees that are just starting to emerge, will flock to them, and as they fade, early spring sown will start to flower, along with early peas, adding to the nectar bank of any garden. Moving on, both climbing and French beans will follow and can easily be kept cropping through to the first frosts, so supporting pollinators all through the season, as well as providing beauty to the garden with their flowers and productivity with their harvest. It’s also worth mentioning that broad beans in particular are some of the most sweetly scented flowers there are!

There are also some perennial vegetables that are fabulous for insects. Both globe and Jerusalem artichokes produce stunning flowers that are filled with pollen and are adored by bees of all varieties as well as hoverflies and some tiny wasps. Ground nut (Apios Americana), Yacon and many varieties of perennial onion are all fabulous for insects when they flower and interesting crops to grow too as they bulk up year on year mainly and are often a real talking point in a garden.

And what can we do about the annual veg that we all love so much and are central to our growing each year? Well the simplest way of ensuring we are feeding both people and insects is to set aside a few plants for pollinators. Allowing some of your brassica crops, onions and root crops such as parsnips and carrots to flower, also gives the opportunity to allow them to go to seed, which of course is collectable and creates the beginning of your own seed bank, which is always a joy. And it’s a simple way to ensure you are supporting nature and the planet.

If you’d like to read more of our top tips on growing in public places, then sign in to the website to read our Growing in your street section of the Toolshed.