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We’ve all heard about the decline of the honeybee, and how dangerous that is to our success as humans. Since the 1990’s, beekeepers have been warning us of the disappearance of the honeybees. Unfortunately the case isn’t as simple as we would like. A combination of pesticides, parasites and climate change all threaten the delicate honeybee colonies.
Without honeybees, and other pollinators, however, most of the fruit and vegetables we eat on a daily basis wouldn’t be possible. This is a big deal! 326 million people in the US alone have to eat every day! However, we’ve lost a total of 40% of the US’s commercial honeybees in the last 10 years.
However dire the situation feels, there are things we can do individually to help our local pollinators survive (and hopefully thrive).
Rethink Your Lawn
Oftentimes, the weeds we think of as pests (dandelion, henbit, plantain) are often the first flowers available to our pollinators after a long winter. Instead of mowing your lawn or spraying to get rid of these weeds, let them grow and bloom. Think about shrinking your lawn and letting some of it be reclaimed by the wild. If you’re maintaining a large, golf course-style lawn, consider mowing only a fraction and letting the rest grow unhindered. This gives your local pollinators more area to feed.
However, even bare lawn or dirt can provide shelter for ground-nesting bees.
Possibly more important than food, however, is access to water. Bees, butterflies, beetles and birds all need safe, still, shallow water to drink. If you have a bird bath, add a portion of gravel for the more delicate pollinators. Sprinklers or leaky faucets can also provide shallow pools of water. Although, if you’re regularly watering a vegetable garden, they’ll be able to find a drink there.
Providing a steady supply of nectar for pollinators is as much an art as it is a science. In addition to providing flower plants for nectar, think about the native host plants for local butterfly and moth populations. These host plants will become pock-marked and ugly, so if you’re concerned about looks, tuck them away where they won’t be an eye-sore. Many garden stores will sell a collection of wildflower seeds that you can spray throughout a field, or plant in a dedicated wildflower garden. Plan to let some of your herbs and vegetables go to seed to harvest for the next year – the flowers provide much needed nectar for pollinators.
In addition to volume, be sure to plant a wide variety. Do a search online for “plants that attract pollinators in [your state]” If Professor Google comes up short, make friends with local beekeepers and ask them what you should grow.
If at all possible, avoid using any herbicides, fungicides or pesticides that could spell death for your pollinators. If you must treat an issue, try to find natural cures first, or apply treatment judiciously, in affected spots only.
Have you noticed any plants your bees or butterflies are attracted to? Do you devote an area for your pollinators?