A: Bee, every time!
I recently attended a Pollinator Conservation workshop sponsored by the Xerces Society and the National Resources Conservation Service of the USDA. Knowing where my food comes from is my passion and bees, in many ways, equal food. 85% of flowering plants require animals to move their pollen so they can set fruit. Bees are the most important pollinators because they revisit flowers. Most of us know that the situation for pollinators in general, and bees in particular, is pretty grim. Frankly, I’m getting very tired of “pretty grim”! So, as I was sitting in this workshop being reminded that there has been a massive decline in bee populations over the past few years, a perverse but happy thought occurred to me. Pollinators need flowers and, as I have ALWAYS had flowers in my garden, they probably need to MORE flowers!
Here’s the thread. Those pollinators – native bees, bumblebees, wasps, syrphid flies, plus the honey bee that is experiencing colony collapse disorder, and others, need flowers to pollinate. And you want to attract these pollinators to your garden so they will, well, … pollinate — your veggies, herbs, fruit. What is more attractive, in any sense of the word, than flowers?
All the experts are telling us to grow flowers at all times of the growing season. Pollinator attracting flowers have what might be thought of as unexpected consequences. For example, it turns out soybeans, cotton and canola (rapeseed) don’t need pollinators to set fruit but when they are present those crops produce a higher yield. In other words, if you advertise your garden to beneficial animals by having flowers to attract them, you’ll reap benefits. And you will have more to eat!
Flowers make me happy and I have on occasion been accused of growing vegetables in my flower garden as compared to the reverse. I have perennials and self-seeders like phlox, clematis, Asian and native poppies, violas like johnny jumpups and chives that bloom fairly early in the spring, to be followed by daisies, strawberries and lupines, rosemary, delphinium and thyme. As the warm weather moves in, the coneflowers, black-eyed susans, daylilies, cosmos, morning glories, marigolds, and nasturtiums grow right into the early autumn and finally the asters and chrysanthemums chime in and bloom until it’s just too cold for the pollinators to be hanging around anyway. It is ever more important to grow native flowers to attract the native bees and I include “weeds” like asters, the milkweeds (butterfly weed), goldenrod, mullein and others to add to the collection. (To find a list of plants native to your area for attracting native bees, go to the Xerces Society Website). Filled in with additional edible annuals like sunflowers, my garden is a riot of color.
Having invited pollinators into my garden, I am careful not to use chemical pesticides. Neonicitinoids in particular, sold by huge companies like Bayer and Syngenta and in your garden or hardware store as Scotts, Miracle-Gro, Ortho brands are common. They have recently been banned by the European Union because there is clear evidence of their relationship to colony collapse. These poisons kill bees along with all the other things they kill. My local garden center has alternatives and there is a great deal of information online about what’s safe and what isn’t. Really poisonous poisons do the job to kill unwanted pests, but, alas, they kill everything.
Sometimes, I take my cup of coffee out to the garden on a summer morning and just listen – to the buzzing, the whirring of the hummingbird wings and the knocking from the woodpeckers investigating the sunflowers. At this time I can forget “really grim” and believe for a moment that all’s well with the world.