The first two posts of this series highlighted current issues and corresponding causes of pollinator decline. This post offers tips, solutions, and many resources for helping you help our most important winged beings live well and prosper by way of creating habitat. The next/last post in this series will offer a plethora of thrilling tips for eliminating synthetic pesticides in your life. Don’t touch that dial!
Pollinators are no different from humans when it comes to basic survival needs: water, food, and a roof over their heads. The home environment of a pollinator, or habitat, is the place they rest, nest, eat, drink, and be merry. Join the international movement to create a special space in your yard for the pollinators. Or here’s a nutty idea: Remove your lawn altogether and replace it with pollinator habitat. You’ll save water and bees at the same time. Win-win.
1. Don’t be Bugged
While this may have very little to do with habitat, it’s a vital component of the topic, pollinators. For those who abhor insects (ah hem, I know a couple of you), growing a tolerance for insects is really the first step to appreciating and ultimately loving them. Try not to be bugged by the winged critters. According to experts at the master gardener classes (Oregon State University Extension), only 1-2% of insect species are considered pests or harmful. What does this mean for you? Unnecessary stress if you fear every little guy that stumbles into your house in search of a meal. So just because it looks like a fly does not mean it will eat poop and puke on your picnic lunch. There are some bees who resemble flies, and a variety of insects, like midges, who resemble mosquitoes. Don’t reach for the swatter until you learn more about pollinators here and many free guides by Xerces Society here.
Did you know a female bumblebee has six segments on her abdomen? Learn more about bumblebee identification by Xerces Society here.
UCDavis has a practical and useful poster on the natural enemies of garden pests.
One of my all-time favorite sites is What’s That Bug. The “Bugman,” Daniel Marlos of Mt. Washington, California has extraordinary powers to identify insects. I maximized on his vast brain resource (and his love of insects) while traveling around Mexico and South Africa. I’m sure a little donation goes a long way given the bugman’s work is free to the world.
~Check out the Integrated Plant Protection Center’s pocket guide (pdf) of garden pests.
~Here’s a cool poster (pdf) to identify native bees.
~Learn more about beneficial insects here (photos plus useful content) you want to have in your garden.
2. Create a Pollinator Garden
By creating a pollinator garden, you are contributing to the overall happiness of your local and busy winged friends. Take the million pollinator garden challenge here and be part of a growing movement to make the earth a healthier place for our beneficial winged beings.
The best pollinator gardens:
~~Include plants that provide nectar and pollen.
Going native will help create a garden that has a symbiotic relationship to the insects who visit. See more on the next section.
~~Provide a water source.
I keep little saucers of water around the yard, A fountain is preferable, because running water won’t encourage mosquito mating. For now and until I find a fountain, I empty my little dishes in the evening and fill them back up in the morning. Have you ever watched a bee or butterfly drink water? Super.Cute.
~~ Are pesticide free. Never ever ever ever use pesticides (herbicides or insecticides) on your pollinator garden. Ever. Please.
Here is a pdf from Renee’s Garden on attracting beneficial insects.
OSU extension has another document (pdf) that details beneficial insects and the garden flowers that attract them as well as beneficial insects and the pests they control.
According to Kristina Lefever of Pollinator Project Rogue Valley, for honeybees, grow more native flowers and pollinator plants (simple blooms), because the more complex the plant, like tomatoes and lupins, the less attractive it is to honeybees. Lefever added, “It’s challenging for a honeybee to get in there and move around inside a complex plant. Honeybees prefer a simple meal like dandelions, fennel, and sunflowers, because all they have to do is land on it. It’s less work. The complicated plants are pollinated by more agile or smaller bees.”
3. Go Native! Get Crazy. Bee Wild.
Evolution has designed native plants to withstand the climate in each particular region and to attract native critters making your garden less attractive to nonnative species. Go native. Your neighbors will LOVE it. Check out The Xerces Society’s pollinator friendly plant lists according to your region in the US. This same link includes information on pollinator plants in Mexico, Canada, parts of Western Europe, East Africa and Australia.
Another noteworthy resource is the US Native Plant Database from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (this information provided by Phyl Stiles of Bee City USA and Kristina Lefever of PPRV). As a side note, this site offers information on drought tolerant plants. When in doubt about which native plants work best for your space, visit your local nursery, you know, the one that supports organic or nontoxic plants, for advice on natives. Keep in mind that places like Walmart, Lowe’s, your local grocery store, and Home Depot spray their plants with neonicotinoids (neonics) ultimately contributing to pollinator decline. Some good news on that front: Home Depot is phasing this out and as of 2018 should have neonic-free plants for sale.
If you want nontoxic plants and are unsure, ask. At your local nursery, the grocery store, wherever. If you ask, “Do you spray your plants?” and the establishment does not know, then do not purchase there. If they say yes, clarify which products they use. If you choose not to purchase because of their practices, let them know, in writing, if possible (email). Be a pollinactivist (finally, one of my made-up words that does not yet exist on the intergoogle!) and good things will happen.
4. Impress Your Neighbors with a Dandy Yard
Dandelions are considered one of the first sources of fuel for native bees, and many bees enjoy this yummy treat. Add to it, they are a source of fuel (and great nutrition) for you in the form of dandelion greens, assuming your dog hasn’t peed on them. Kristina Lefever of Pollinator Project Rogue Valley shares her thoughts in a recent Op- Ed on the virtues of dandelions. Below is a 30 second video I made of a honeybee at our garden’s dandelion buffet. If he had words, I am certain he would be yelling, “I’m SO happy! Happy HAppy HAPpy HAPPy HAPPY!!!!”
5. Bee Hospitable
Hospitality is the key. Support the Mason or other Solitary Bees in your yard by setting up housing, bee digs, I call it. Learn more about creative bee hotels here. I’ve purchased this Crown Bees Mason Bee Holes Wood Tray, Small (it is very small) and Wildlife World Interactive Mason Bee Management System House for our local bees. It arrived just yesterday! I’ll write back with an update after I get it setup and our little mason bees get settled into their new crib. You can help the bees make their mud huts inside the housing by providing just a wee bit of mud nearby. They use the mud for their nests.
~~Check out the Xerces Society factsheet (pdf) on Nests for Native Bees, and then go out there help build some nests!
6. Get Messy
Lefever upholds that habitat is so important for native bees, that we humans could help by practicing a little untidiness in our yards. This is because native bees lay their eggs either on the stalks of dead vegetation, dead trees, old beetle tunnels, or in the ground. If our yards are nice and neat and tidy there is no place to lay the eggs, or if everything is covered up with mulch, the bees are unable to get under it to lay. Get messy, save time and money on yard work! Here’s how:
~~In the Fall use all your willpower and do not prune back all your shrubs. This will help any number of overwintering insects as well as birds who will savor the taste of dried seeds or pods. You can prune that stuff back midspring when everyone (meaning the insects) wake up and start to go about their business.
~~Change the ole mindset. Natural does not equal junky. Natural is beautiful. Ask a butterfly.
“If you cut down all the dead trees, where do the owls and woodpeckers go?”
7. Got Milkweed?
I just cannot help myself. I love the Monarchs whole-heartedly. Is it their stunning colors creating fiery brilliance on trees, shrubs, and in the clouds? Could it be their unique patterning making them the most familiar butterfly in history? Maybe, but mostly I love them because they are an unmistakable symbol of perseverance and transformation. These remarkable little beings travel 3000 miles to sustain their existence on earth. They endure the most difficult situations on that journey – strong winds, heavy rains in some places, lack of water in other places, lack of food, and this list goes on. They persist despite the arduous journey. But their battle does not end with seeking food, water, and shelter. They have much more than the daily elements-related obstacles to grapple with on this several week journey. They have to battle multinational, multibillion, agrochemical companies too.
Synthetic pesticides, like Roundup, sprayed along medians of highways, around farms, and at homes are either killing them off or adding strain to an already tough life for these resilient but flailing iconic winged beings. Monarchs are losing their battle.
What can you do to help the Monarchs survive?
~~Do not use synthetic pesticides (herbicides and insecticides). Ever. Please.
~~Grow native milkweed
Monarchs only lay eggs on milkweed. A Monarch Mama-to-be will die looking for milkweed. If she finds it, she may lay up to 400 eggs. If she doesn’t, the earth loses 400 Monarch baby opportunities. By growing milkweed, you will be helping this most precious butterfly, an internationally known ambassador of the earth, survive. Buy native milkweed at your local nursery or farm. Xerces’ Milkweed Seed Finder is the best place to start.
The Monarch Joint Venture has a cluster of resources for creating Monarch habitat. In addition to resources like specific milkweed for each region and specific instructions on creating Monarch habitat (including milkweed seed propagation), Monarch Watch is looking for the public’s assistance for seed donations and restoration efforts.
~~STOP supporting BigAg and avoid genetically modified food
Between the depleted habitat created by BigAg in the midwest (a major thoroughfare for the migrating Monarchs) and the certainty of crops being heavily sprayed with pesticides (both herbicides and insecticides), Monarch populations are dwindling. BigAg because of monocropping is harming the earth in countless and striking ways. The best way to avoid GM foods is to buy organic from your local farmer, but not everyone can afford that. Next best is your small-scale farmer who uses sustainable farming methods. Otherwise, you may have to remove corn, soy, canola, cottonseed (usually cottonseed oil), and sugar beets from your diet. No easy task in the US! Nearly 70% of processed foods have genetically modified ingredients.
Hope and Good news and All That Jazz
The Illinois Tollway Board is looking to plant milkweed along the nearly 300 miles of interstate highways to help the Monarchs. As many highway medians around the US are being sprayed with Roundup, ultimately killing the milkweed and the Monarchs, the Illinois Tollway is taking action to assuage the situation. Well done.
I recently started my online Zazzle store. I have not yet seen the finished product. If you order something, please let me know what you think. Fingers and toes crossed you like it. You’ll find stickers, tee-shirts, and signs. More stuff is being added regularly.
What are you doing at home to make your space for your pollineighbors?
What do you think about creating a pollinator oasis?
Share all your wild ideas in the comments section.
Let’s learn new things from one another.
“94 was a good year to be twelve. Star Wars still had two more years as Box Office King, cartoons were still hand-drawn, and the Disney “D” still looked like a backwards “G.” Words like “Columbine,” “Al Qaeda” and “Y2K” were not synonymous with “terror,” and 9-1-1 was an emergency number instead of a date. At twelve years old, summer still mattered. Monarch caterpillars still crawled beneath every milkweed leaf. Dandelions (or “wishes” as Mara called them) were flowers instead of pests. And divorce was still considered a tragedy. Before Mara, carnivals didn’t make me sick.”
~Jake Vander Art, The Accidental Siren