Pollinators have been all the buzz in recent years as research has shown steady declines in populations. We’ve heard a lot about how pollinators are losing habitat and we need to plant more native species; or how pesticides like neonicotinoids are decimating bee populations across the country; or how our tendency for monocropping destroys the diversity of the ecosystem and the pollinators that depend on it. Overall, research regarding bees and other pollinators has come a LONG way over the past decade. Continue reading
We don’t want to be an alarmist blog. But there’s something you need to know.
Modern Agricultural Practices Will Kill Us ALL!!!
Did I get your attention? Good. Now, let me walk that statement back a bit.
The industrial agricultural model, or “conventional” farming, is built on a combination of mono-cropping and use of chemical inputs. This is an efficient system designed to produce high volumes of a specific product (like corn, wheat, soy, or cotton) to meet the demands of a growing population.
This system produces more than enough to feed and cloth our entire planet and has its benefits. The people that utilize this combination are meeting the demand in a way that works, but at what cost? And, to generalize, instead of prioritizing soil health or diversity, farmers who utilize this method are prioritizing scale or the commodification of crops, which isn’t a bad thing! It is a “big ask” to feed the world, and with the use of appropriate technology, more people are able to be fed by fewer farmers. We need to look at farming through a different lens, one that views farms as ecosystems.
This month we are focusing on the importance of the pollinator. Coming from an urban background (Brainerd, MN so please allow me to be liberal with the term) I have a limited experience with pollinators in general. However, looking into the many types of bees and then looking at the central focus they have on pollinating our yards, gardens, and crops, it can be eye opening to see anything more than the common honeybee.
It’s no surprise that with the popularization of the honeybee in our culture, it’s the most recognized pollinator out there. There are THOUSANDS of species of bees in this world. But, did you know that the vast majority of the pollinating done by bees is NOT done by the socially inclined bee.
Pollinating is done mainly by solitary bees, like Carpenter Bees, Leaf cutter Bees, and Sweat Bees. These species perform the majority of pollination throughout the world. And it’s pretty easy to get them naturally in your garden.
I found out that there are, in fact, stingless bees! Check out this video. Stingless bees don’t make honey at the rate of the honeybee, so it’s pretty neat to see them part of someone’s yard like that.
On campus, we’ve housed several colonies of honeybees, but are currently taking a break from hosting duties. We did this as a method of getting our gardens pollinated adequately, encouraging a natural ecosystem, and, (of course!) for the honey. On some of our collection days, we collected up to 14 quarts of the sticky gooey treasure. But we also fed the bees sugar water before the plants bloomed and kept them safe from natural predators with a fence around their hives. Check out this video from when we harvested our honey.
So, the question stands: What does your garden (or even just your lawn) need to attract busy little bees (stingless or otherwise)? Instead of creating a common green desert of Kentucky bluegrass you should try to grow things that bees will actually like…you know, like flowers.
YOU can make your own lawn a pollinator paradise. If you’ve got any size green space around your home, you can help bring pollinators to your area. Here are four simple ways to make that happen.
Build it and they will come
It’s simple. If you plant pollinator-friendly plants, the many varieties of pollinators will find them.
If your lawn is like the green area above, you probably have zero bees in your yard. This is a picture taken of one of our fields. Dave W. explains that we keep it this way to minimize any growth on the south fence. It looks much like any other green lawn (except it doesn’t really need to be mowed). There is no bug life out here except grasshoppers who thrive on hot open sandy areas.
Now, take a look at this picture taken just across a tiny access road. It’s a field that has been allowed to grow naturally. It has a variety of wildflowers, bushes, moss, trees, and other things that grow in northern Minnesota. This section of our field is alive with all sorts of bees, butterflies, and other insects (yes, including grasshoppers). In other words, without a habitat that supports the insects you want, you won’t get those insects to live there!