I think that it is a fair assumption to say that we all like flowers, fruits and vegetables. Sometimes in our enjoyment of these things, we overlook the little bees that work so hard to make our surroundings so nice and our food so plentiful. In January of this year, the U.S. listed the rusty patched bumble bee as an endangered species. Bee population has plunged almost 90% since the 1990’s. The factors cited were disease, pesticides, climate change and habitat loss. Bumble bees are the pollinators of wildflowers and one-third of our food crops. I’ve always taken bees and bumble bees for granted, but they are in real danger of extinction during my lifetime. There are a lot of things we cannot control. But we can control our use of insecticides, particularly neonicotinoids, and we can plant more flowering plants. It doesn’t take a lot of land to help the bees and other pollinating insects. In addition to planting in our yards, window boxes and flower pots also offer bees a chance for important pollen gathering. When you think about it, people expend an incredible amount of time, energy and money caring for their lawns, and lawns give nothing back. They are just huge users of water and fertilizer and mowing with no real benefit, other than some people like the way they look. I saved a clipping from the National Wildlife Organization with ideas of what and how to plant for pollinators. This clipping gives some great advice: first of all, plant species native to your region as possible. Check with your local nursery or refer to the Pollinator Partnership’s free ecoregional planting guide for your area (www.pollinator.org). Simply go to their site, click on “Planting Guides”, and enter your zip code. Also, select plants with ample nectar and pollen. A good rule of thumb might be to stick to the old tried and true: lavender, cone flowers, bee balm, rosemary, catnip and Black-eyed Susan are a few that come to mind. Also think seriously about planting milkweeds. Milkweeds are an essential food for the Monarch butterfly. Monarch butterfly populations are also down by 90% in the last 20 years. I did some research and found milkweed plants for sale on MonarchWatch.org (http://monarchwatch.org/).
Plant your flowers in “clumps” so they can be easily located by the bees and butterflies. And, please, please, please, for the love of Mike, do not use pesticides and herbicides. They just make things worse. I would go so far as to discourage the use of the various lawn services. I know this might be considered a radical notion by some people, but they heavily rely on chemicals to get the job done, and quite often those chemicals not only harm wildlife, they leach into our water supply. Check out “No Mow” yards. I have seen photographs of them. These former green wastelands have been turned into a flowering oasis. They are beautiful and much less work than maintaining a lawn.
I encourage you to visit the Pollinator Partnership’s website. It has a ton of useful information, including a link to order special artisanal chocolates with honey from Harbor Sweets (http://www.harborsweets.com/category/Gather). 2.5% of the proceeds of the sales of these candies will be donated to the Pollinator Partnership. (For the record, I have enjoyed Harbor Sweets chocolates in the past. They are quite good!) The Pollinator Partnership also has a Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. Get your garden growing, take a picture , and register your garden with picture to their S.H.A.R.E. map.
Personally, I would stay away from the plants sold in big box bargain and hardware stores. These plants tend to not do as well, and quite a few of them have been treated with insecticides, which will do more harm than good.
Planting beneficial flowers has immense payoff beyond just the obvious. When the bees have the opportunity to gather nectar they enable farmers and gardeners to grow food more abundantly in a type of symbiotic relationship.
Writing this post has made me really excited to start my Spring gardening. I can’t wait to get outside and get my hands dirty.
Till the next time,
“If we intend to provide a better life, and a better world, for future generations, we can’t ignore the quality of the environment we leave them.”
FYI: I ordered the chocolates to benefit the Pollinator Partnership from Harbor Sweets. They are very good! They would make a wonderful present for a chocolate lover or bee advocate, or just treat yourself!