Natural foods produced without chemicals demonstrate the beautiful weaving of relationships in the natural world: between plants and animals, humans and the land. For example, beef cows love alfalfa hay, an excellent source of protein and energy. The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension conducted a study showing the benefits of alfafa for beef cows. Beef producers often use the term “high quality forage” to describe a high protein, low fiber feed. Finishing beef on alfalfa is a good alternative to grains for those who want to raise grass-fed beef as more and more people are interested in buying locally grown, all natural and organic meats. And guess what helps farmers pollinate their alfalfa crops? Honeybees! There would be no alfalfa, nor would there be apples, cherries, avocadoes, or almond crops without honeybees and a major concern is that billions of bees are killed every year due by combination of factors, including a mysterious plague. Beekeeping helps American agriculture and one way we can help bees survive is by planting a pollinator garden.
Christy Erickson, from savingourbees.org wrote the following article especially for This Old Farm’s newsletter:
How to Plant a Pollinator Garden to Benefit the Bees, Your Kids, and You
There are a few ways that the average person can help bees. Not spraying pesticides, choosing organic, pesticide-free foods, and opting for organic textiles are all excellent ways to support the world’s pollinators. But the best way to support bee health and biodiversity is also the most fun: planting a pollinator garden.
No matter how much space you have, you can start a pollinator garden at home. In a second-story apartment, that may mean a few herbs and flowers in pots on a balcony or in a windowbox, while on a large homestead it could be half an acre of wildflowers, flowering trees, and native grasses. No matter your scale, it’s worth it: Foraging bees may travel two or more miles from their hive looking for pollen and nectar, and any garden along the way is a welcome oasis.
To get started, select a site that receives at least six hours of sunlight a day, has relatively level ground, and can readily be watered. If the area has existing grass cover, you’ll need to cut and remove the sod before tilling the soil and adding in organic matter in the form of compost. If you’re planting a container garden, choose a high-quality potting mix from your local garden center.
Once your garden is cleared and the soil amended, it’s ready to be planted. You can either plant from seed or use seedlings purchased from a local nursery. Starting with young plants is often the preferred choice of new gardeners. If you shop at a nursery, ask the staff if their plants or the seeds they were grown from have been treated with pesticides. Many pesticides are harmful to bees and other beneficial insects, including ones approved for organic use, so it’s best to avoid them altogether.
As you design your plantings, leave bare space for native solitary bees to build nests in the ground. Dead branches provide housing for cavity-nesting bees, or you can built a bee hotel for a more stylish option. And don’t forget a water source — bees need hydration, too! The perfect bee hydration station is a small dish of water with pebbles that reach above the surface.
Planting is a fun activity that the whole family can get involved in. While adults should handle delicate seedlings, young kids can help out with digging holes, sowing seeds, and planting trees and other sturdy plants. After everything is in the ground, water thoroughly and continue to water daily until seeds have germinated and set roots.
While designing and building a pollinator garden is enjoyable, maintaining and monitoring it is where the real fun begins. As bees discover your garden, you’ll notice such interesting behavior as the waggle dance or washboarding. You’ll notice more species of bees than you knew existed, and you’ll likely spot their co-pollinators, butterflies and hummingbirds, hanging around as well. If you look closely, you’ll find a variety of nest types, notice which kind of flowers each bee species likes best, or even see the annual removal of drones from the hive as honey bees prepare for winter.
Observing the hive is fun for anyone, but it’s especially beneficial for kids. Not only is it a great way to instill a love of science and learning in school-age children, but gardening has also been linked to higher test scores, improved interpersonal skills, and better eating habits among kids. Plus, gardening together is a wonderful way to strengthen the bond between parents and their children outside the distractions of work, school, and technology.
When planting a garden helps the environment and your kids, is there any reason not to do it? Get started on your pollinator garden today by picking out native plants and dreaming up the perfect design for your home.
Image via Pexels