fruitless fall: pollinators & the garden

mason bee

This year for christmas Jeff got me something I’ve been pining for for a while . . . No, not a designer handbag or diamond jewelry – BEES!!!

Ever since I read Fruitless Fall I’ve been extremely aware of pollinators in my garden and do everything I can to provide them with food and safe habitat. I knew honeybees were having problems for a while, but it wasn’t until I read Fruitless Fall that I got the whole, terrifying picture.

Honeybee colonies all over are suffering from a mysterious malaise called “Colony Collapse Disorder” or CCD.  Basically, entire hive populations are simply disappearing. Poof. Just gone. No bodies, no sign of where they went and no clue as to what happened. You can imagine how alarming that would be for a bee keeper – but not just beekeepers should be concerned.

If you enjoy vanilla or coffee or almonds or squash or just about any kind of fruit and most veg – you should be worried too, because all these things depend on pollinators like honeybees to produce.  No bees and you’ll be like Jeff, out there every morning with cu-tip in hand, carefully moving pollen from one bloom to another.

female varroa mite

After reading the book I couldn’t understand why the scientists were so confused about why this was happening. They blamed the varroa mite, but when you read about how we handle our honeybees I think they’re suffering from the same malaise most of the western world is; they live a stressful, busy life being transported long distances from orchard to orchard to orchard to do way more work than they should outside of their normal seasonal cycles, are constantly battling exposure to chemicals and pesticides and are fed a crumby diet of cheap food. Sound familiar? Your immune system would be pooped out too.

The one positive thing about the entire situation is that this is a problem that people like you and me can do something about.

First things first: STOP USING PESTICIDES!!!

I can’t get over how many people still feel it’s necessary to spray the hell out of their gardens, eradicating every living creature in the air and soil. I’ve even seen blogs detailing how to get rid of helpful decomposers like the completely benign (and cute) pillbug!? What gives?

pill bug

My garden is absolutely swarming with bugs and flying creatures and creepy crawlies. I have no idea what the majority of them are. The great thing about gardening beyond-organically is I don’t actually have to know. I practice plant-positive gardening, not pest-negative gardening.

Ok what the heck does that mean? It means I give my garden credit that it can look after itself. I make sure my plants have what they need to be healthy and they are just fine, thank you very much. If a particular bug does get out of hand, rather than break out the Raid, I take it as a helpful indicator that that particular plant is weak and not getting what it needs. By eliminating pesticides, we allow a diverse community of bugs and birds and critters to thrive, and the best defense against an outbreak of any one particular bug is a host of healthy, hungry predators waiting in the wings.

Once again it goes back to being a lazy gardener. Why on earth would I bother spending my day killing things when I could be enjoying a beer and letting the garden look after itself?

So please, put away the carcinogens. If you don’t care about pollinators, at least care about yourself. That toxic soup ends up in our ground water, our air, and ultimately in us and our children.

Make your garden a happy home

Declare amnesty for all pollinators, bugs and creepy crawlies. Make your yard a refuge and safe place to land by providing plenty of food and habitat. This is easy peasy.

bees love catmint

All you have to do is what you’re probably doing already. You need lots of pollen and nectar sources (aka flowers), a water source and places to hide and hibernate. The bonus is – lots of things that you like to eat, the bees like to eat too. Some of the bee favorites in our garden include the catmint you see above, regular mint, thyme, bee balm, cilantro, chives, dill, lavender, borage . . . the list goes on. The big fuzzy bumblebee hibernates in the ground in winter so provide him with lots of nice mulch and crevices to tuck into.

a bee in the garlic chives

We have also built a bee bath – a low ceramic pot full of pea gravel and water plants. The gravel allows the bees safe access to the water without fear of drowning. Also, it looks nice.

bee bath

Last but not least, become a beekeeper!

Ok I’m not breaking out my smoke and white suit just yet, but I am practicing beekeeping. Mason Bees are native to North America and you can actually buy them, and their home, at your local garden store. (Definitely one of the best christmas presents ever.)

my mason bee house

Here is my little mason bee house, hiding it’s treasure trove of mason bee cacoons just waiting for spring.  Mason bees and their care deserve a post all their own, but for now know that they are probably the most proactive step you can take to help the pollinator population in your community.

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