Monday, January 11, 2016

Attracting Native Pollinators

Back in June of 2016, I wrote an article about the Native Pollinator Workshop we attended at the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture.   Native Pollinator Workshop

I recall at the time I had intended to write some more about what we learned in that workshop, but, alas, we got busy with the garden and I forgot about it.  Forgot about it, that is, until this past weekend when we attended the annual Horticulture Industry Show.  This was the topic of my last blog entry.  HIS meeting

During the meeting I attended a session on providing habitat for native bees.  I posted a note about the session on our Windy Acres Natural Farm Facebook page and someone asked me if I could share some of the information I learned at the session.  This reminded me that I had intended to share information from the workshop we attended in June.  So, here is that belated post.

The Europeans brought honey bees to the new world and since that time, we have become dependent on them to help pollinate our crops.  However, before the Europeans arrived, there were already many native insects that did the job of pollination just as well as honey bees.  Now that honey bees are being decimated by disease, it is more critical than ever that we encourage preservation of our native pollinating insects.  

In addition to pollination, many natives eat pest insects.  For example, the larvae of many syrphid flies eat aphids.  The adult fly fuels itself by eating sugary nectar and then searches for plants with aphids on which to lay its eggs.  When the young flies hatch, they patrol the plant looking for aphids to latch onto and suck dry.  

So, how do we encourage these native pollinators in our yards?  Here are some tips.

  • Avoid using pesticides, but if you must, try to avoid letting the pesticide spray drift out of the area you want to treat.  Use low pressure and avoid days when the wind is blowing.  Even light wind can cause considerable drift.
  • Create a pollinator-friendly landscape.  Unfortunately, this does not go hand-in-hand with large manicured lawns.  Some lawn may need to be sacrificed to create suitable habitat for beneficial insects.  One can do this by creating flower and herb gardens that contain plants that attract butterflies and native bees.  Here are some recommendations for flowers and herbs that are good to plant.
    • Native wildflowers are excellent for attracting pollinators.  A short list of these includes Asters, Beebalm, Goldenrod, Milkweed, Joe-Pye Weed, Purple Coneflower, Sunflowers and Spiderwort.  There are many domesticated varieties of these you can buy at garden centers.  As I have mentioned before, we have a couple of large areas we only mow a couple of times a year to encourage wildflowers.  In one of those areas we have some beautiful native milkweed called Antelope Horn Milkweed.  Here's a picture of it.

    • Herbs include Basil, Lavender, Mint, Rosemary and Oregano.  Here are some pictures of my basil patch from last summer.  I let it go to seed during the latter part of the summer.  It was literally covered with bees.

    • Garden flowers include Mexican Sunflower, Cosmos, Russian Sage and Borage.  I grew Mexican Sunflowers this past summer and plan to plant them again this year.  In addition to attracting butterflies and bees, they are also a beautiful red color with yellow centers.  
  • Provide suitable nesting sites for native bees.  There are a couple of ways to do this.
    • About 70 percent of native bees nest in the ground, so they need access to bare ground.  Clear the grass from an area of your yard.  An obtrusive corner where you might situate a few large rocks so that it looks somewhat landscaped would work well.  The site should be open, sunny and have good drainage.

    • Other native bees are tunnel-nesters.  They generally nest in abandoned beetle tunnels in stumps or dead trees.  But, you can simulate these sites in several ways.  Here are pictures that illustrate how to do this.

The Xerces Society has excellent information on building nests like those above.

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