By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter
Being an agriculturist and urban gardener I have always gardened for 2 reasons.
One, reason is for food and two, for my own personal beauty.
As a human being I have enjoyed manipulating the environment to create what I want regardless of the monetary and environmental cost until now.
I have always used somewhat regional plants for my landscape and my garden has always been full of whatever my family and I like to eat, forget nature in my vegetable garden. We all feel that less nature in the vegetable garden would be very helpful but… But without nature we have no food and as Albert Einstein believed if bees died out the human race would only last 4 years, so to all gardeners we need to take a stand and save the pollinators of the world.
As I sit in my backyard with squash, tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, pumpkins, etc. blooming in my garden I see or hear a total of zero bees. A few flies visit me, a hummingbird, and morning doves but no bees. It almost feels like a remake of Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring being played out in my backyard. As a responsible human being and gardener I do not want a future without pollinators so what can I do.
First I need to look at what I have in my garden and reevaluate what I plant. Next I need to consider the 3 basic needs that all organisms need that is food, water, and shelter.
Food for bees is simple. It consists of flowers that are shaped bee friendly and produce nectar. These are typically native plants that have grown up with bees in that area. Next water is something that is a limiting factor for bees and plants but the key for bees is that it is clean. And in some areas this is a big problem. So if you won’t drink it do not expect the wildlife to drink it.
Finally shelter, which is disappearing every time a subdivision goes up. Natural habitat destruction is removing areas that naturally provided all bees needs. And before you think this is all hogwash talk to your local beekeeper or bee wrangler and get their take on bee numbers. I think you will greatly be surprised.
My whole gardening life has been organic. I pick off bugs, use manure for my fertilizer, and no-till when possible. No chemicals, no erosion has been my belief but I have never really gardened for pollinators. So this year’s garden I plan to make it pollinator friendly. Clean water and food sources will be around along with a beehive for honeybee, a mason bee house, and a bumblebee cafe. But I am not stopping there I have addressed the needs of major pollinators during the day I am also going to address the nighttime pollinators needs that is moths.
Moths have a reputation of eating holes in wool, flour and many other things but they are also necessary for nighttime blooming plants such as gourds. Without these creatures of the night we would miss out on Thanksgiving decorations and Native American utensils such as dipper gourds. But how can a gardener protect these 2nd shift pollinators?
Moths require food, water, and shelter. Making moth bait can provide food. This bait can be made from heated cola that is mixed with brown sugar, and black treacle. Continue to stir until sugars are dissolved and cool. Then paint on tree trunks, or posts. The second way to make moth bait is through the creation of a wine rope. This rope is created by heating up a cheap bottle of red wine and mixing sugar into it. Heat until sugar is dissolved and cool. Then dip lengths of rope or cloth into the solution and hang in trees. Both these baits will make any environment irresistible to any moth and help with night pollinators.
Another way to provide food is through the creation of a moon garden. This type of garden consists of tubular shaped flowers that are white or very light colored and has a sweet smell. Examples of such plants are yucca, lavender (Lavandula), and gourds (Lagenana). These plants also provide shelter, create a nursery, and a food source for the moth larvae.
Water again is important and as long as clean water is provided all organisms, animal and plant alike, are happy. And with happy organisms life is good. Supporting pollinators through creating chemical-free zones, creating homes and pollinator friendly environments, and realizing that without them the human race will forever be singing where have all the flowers gone. Einstein’s quote will live true without our helping the pollinators.
I am making a commitment to my local pollinators and I realize that beauty goes far beyond the tropical paradise that some try to create. I grasp the concept that beauty can be found in my local foodshed, my local landscape, and can be created by my local pollinators. Without them beauty dies where pollinators do not fly so lets all do our part to protect all pollinators who work around the clock to provide for the human race.
Let me hear from you about your bee protection projects. If you need help read Bees that Pollinate Crops Include Bumblebees: Make Bees Welcome and Help Save Bees from Decline-Build a Box for Mason Bees. And if you would like to contribute to research visit the bumblebee nesting box trial. All of this can help protect all creatures great and small. Until we blog again may the sun always shine, the bees buzz around your head and your bounty be big enough to share.