Tag Archive | Backyard Wildlife

It’s Pollinator Week–How Can I Help?

Pollinator Week occurs every year this time.  You can find out more about the initiative at the website, pollinator.org.

It was designed to draw attention to our dwindling pollinators like the monarchs,  originally.  But then bats became affected by white nose syndrome and it became clear that honeybees were in trouble, and our native bees were becoming more scarce and so Pollinator Week has really expanded to include all sorts of pollinators and to bring awareness to ways of gardening and backyard living that can help them.

Another cool thing that Pollinator Week does is draw attention to all the other different types of pollinators besides the ones mentioned above. Birds, flies, beetles, my beloved ants and insects–all of those can be pollinators and some of these can be endangered as well.

So how can you help? First, check out the website.  It will have resources for your part of North America  (sorry if you aren’t in North America–perhaps you recognize some of the plants mentioned for a similar latitude?)

Next, even if you can’t add any plants to your garden, practice responsible pesticide use in the garden you have.  We use no pesticides–& a pesticide is defined as a fungicide,  a herbicide or an insecticide–on our property. We don’t even use algacides in our pond.

But if you do, please use them responsibility.  Read and follow the label directions.  If you are spot treating something,  try to do it at a time when no or few pollinators are present–dusk is often a good time. And that is usually better for the plants (& the gardener) as well since it is cooler and causes less stress.

Finally if you are adding plants, consider natives.  It is a proven fact that they feed all wildlife in all stages of their lives more often than ornamentals.  But don’t feel that you must go crazy.  I will show you why  ( I hope) on Friday.

Happy Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day.  Thank you to all who have served our country.

I honor this day in a bit of a strange way.  I always plant my tomatoes on Memorial Day. What on earth might that do with honoring the memory of veterans, you ask?

Well,  for years, I used to plant tomatoes with my Dad, who was a World War II vet. Even after we gardened in different places, I still grew tomatoes for him and, if I had to,  I shipped them to him.

He will be gone 17 years this summer,  but the tomato planting always helps me to remember him–& all veterans.

As a bonus this year, my poppies opened this weekend too.  Very fitting.

Pollinators Are Great–but What if I Grow Edibles?

Okay, think about this for a moment. Food crops are the hottest “new” thing in gardening. It seems that everyone wants to grow them and everyone is trying to grow them creatively–in containers, vertically, in raised bed, or even in with ornamental plantings (a bit more about that on Wednesday).

And that’s great. I’m all for it. I’ve been growing fresh veggies and herbs for 45 years now. And for the most part, I’ve been doing it organically. Because after all, if you want vegetables that have been sprayed with chemicals, you can just go down to your market and buy those. Why go to the effort to grow them? Growing your own can be a bit of work!

But the payback is enormous, of course. Not only do you get delicious fresh vegetables (or fruits if you are growing those. I don’t talk much about fruits because I don’t grow many of my own. But the concept is identical), but you get the satisfaction of your own harvest, and the benefits of working in your own garden, no matter how large.

Just being outside, even if you are harvesting a few patio tomatoes from a pot on a balcony, puts you in touch with nature. I used to garden on a balcony in Hartford on the 7th floor of a condo. And the first thing I did every morning and the last thing I did every evening was to go outside on that balcony every single day of the year. It told me the air temperature, whether it was damp, or humid, I got to listen to a few moments of bird song (and car horns!) and I just generally got to experience nature. I faced south so I could see both sunrises and sunsets. It was lovely.

But no matter what we are growing, or where, we need pollinators. Nothing sets fruit without something to pollinate it. That’s why I encourage you, if you are growing plants in the ground, to include flowers in your edible garden. I always include alyssum, and I have plenty of herbs that flower for my pollinators: dill, fennel, parsley (not that that flowers, but the swallowtail caterpillars feast on it) occasionally cilantro, marigolds and nasturtium.

Not only does this make the pollinators happy, but it makes the garden pretty too. You should try it!

Bee Counted!

An aspect of the Million Pollinator Challenge is to register as many gardens as possible and to try to create a network of gardens and landscapes for these pollinators so that they can have safe spaces to breed, nectar and migrate.

So far over two hundred thousand gardens have been registered. Anyone can register a garden and gardens of any size–from a container habitat to large prairies–can register.

You may already have a garden that qualifies. I did–I have the garden that I call my “Wildlife Garden” that has lots of native plants and nectar plants and of course when I plant, I try to specifically enhance that garden for butterflies and bees. It’s not that they will ask you much about the garden–they will ask your street address to register your garden.

The next step is to get that garden registered in the Million Pollinator Garden challenge. That’s where the “street address” part comes in.  Go to the site I’ve linked to throughout these posts.

Go here to register your garden.  Don’t worry if you don’t have a photo (and completely ignore that YouTube stuff unless you want to–I didn’t even upload a photo!).

It’s a simple process. They basically want your name, address, a user name so that you can remember how to get back onto the site (that may be the hardest thing) and a little description from drop down boxes about your garden–in other words, is it rural, suburban, city, etc.

There is also a drop down box for Organization/partnership Affiliation. If you do not belong to another organization, select “Association for Garden Communicators (GWA)”. That will tell the GWA that you are registering because you read about this in a GWA-member post somewhere.  They like to know that stuff.

As I mentioned, I love to do this sort of thing. It’s called “citizen science,” and it helps the “real” scientists out. I do it as a bird watcher and a weather spotter and I’ve got my garden registered as a backyard habitat and now as a pollinator garden.

For me, I think I get back more than I give. If you’ve never done it, you should give it a try.

Planting a Pollinator Garden

On Friday I talked about the Million Pollinator Challenge and I linked to the site. Today I am going to get more specific about one aspect of that challenge, planting your garden.

You may already have a garden that is a habitat garden of sorts. Or you may have a garden full of native plants. You may have one that you have designed to attract butterflies or bees or birds–or perhaps all three. These may already be pollinator gardens.

 

To decide, go to resources about planting your garden.

If you’ve ever done any sort of habitat garden, it’s very similar to that. Pollinators need exactly what any other “wildlife” needs: food (i.e., nectar), shelter, cover (in this case, it would be protection from wind, because they are sensitive to wind) and places to raise their young (so in the case of butterflies, you know that that means caterpillars and tolerating chewing damage–and not cleaning up the garden in the fall and cleaning it up very late in the spring, say). A nice sunny site is also desirable because in the case of butterflies, for example, many can’t fly until the temperature reaches 70 degrees.

A couple of other things–common sense to me but not always to everyone. If you read my “intro” at the top tab of this blog you’ll see that I became an organic gardener because when I moved to my property (24 seasons ago now,) there were no butterflies. A little bit of research told me that butterflies were highly susceptible to pesticides, so we went organic.  Within 2 years, we had 27 different kinds of butterflies and moths–a success story if ever there was one! So it is critical to avoid pesticides to every extent possible. That clover and those violets in your lawn are actually butterfly nectar food sources. And bees love them too!

Finally–and I talked about this when I talked about “don’t try to “get the garden done in a weekend!” It’s critical to have something in bloom for the longest time possible. At my house, it starts with snowdrops–or maybe hellebores–and it goes through to goldenrod and asters in late fall. Try your best to keep something in bloom during all the months of your growing season.

Our pollinators need–and deserve our help. With some of these tips, we can not only help them but grow some beautiful gardens as well!

The Million Pollinator Challenge

So who feels like a challenge? I talked on Monday about not cleaning up the garden until it’s safe for pollinators.

But how about actively gardening to attract and keep them safe in the first place?

GWA (that’s the association for garden communicators, formerly known as Garden Writers Association–you see the logo on the blog that means that I am a member) is partnering with the Million Pollinator Challenge to help gardeners learn about gardening for these important creatures. And before you decide that this sort of gardening isn’t for you, head over to their site. I’ve made it easy for you. Click here.

Okay, now that you’ve seen that you really don’t even have to touch a trowel to be involved, maybe I have your interest. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be posting about the various ways that you can take the million pollinator garden challenge but just so you have a taste of some of the ways, here they are.

First, of course you can plant something–and you don’t need to plant a prairie. A simple container of flowers will do.

Next, if gardening isn’t your thing–or perhaps you might have allergies (either to bees or plants)–you can read about the various pollinators (I have friends who hate the outdoors but love reading. This is a perfect way to join the challenge if you’re someone like that!)

If you’re someone like me and likes to register your garden for various things, you can sign your garden up for the challenge. I’ve already done it. We’ll talk about that in greater detail in a different post.

Plant sustainably–that one is dear to my heart. Again more to come.

And finally, spread the word, and if you do so on social media, use the hash tag #polliNATION. There you go. It’s not asking a lot, particularly since up to 1/3 of all of our edibles is pollinated. Think about that.

Isn’t it about time we gave something back?

Stop Right There! Is It Safe to Clean Up Your Garden Yet?

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You’re going to hear a lot about pollinators from me and all the other Garden Writers (yes, I use capital letters because we’re all members of GWA, formerly Garden Writers of America) in the next few months.

For years we’ve been hearing about particular individual pollinators like bats, who were in decline from white nose fungus, or monarch butterflies who were declining because of loss of habitat and perhaps pesticide use and of course the honeybee and colony collapse disorder.

But have we ever stopped to consider that we might be the cause of some of the problem? It’s a dreadful thought, and not one that any of us want to think about I’m sure.

I know that I like to think that I do my part for pollinators. I plant native plants whenever possible. And I am the organic gardener that I am specifically because of butterflies–or the lack that I found when I moved to my current property in 1994. As soon as I convinced the Spoiler we had to stop using pesticides, the butterflies came back (now, if only I could convince the rest of the neighborhood!)

But I recently read this fascinating piece from the Xerces Society about leaving spring clean up in the garden until later in the season to allow the ground nesting native bees to seek shelter on cooler nights and to permit the overwintering butterflies to hatch out.

Whoa! That’s huge! Why does no one ever talk  about this?

I know we’re just starting to publicize leaving leaf litter and twigs, etc in the garden in the fall for just these same reasons–shelter and cover for beneficial insects and native bees.

You’ll be seeing a lot more from me–this month and in June, during Pollinator Week–about this topic.

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The realization that for my climate I still need to be leaving the stems of my perennials standing a wee bit longer was amazing. I’ve been thinking about cutting them back for weeks and only time and wet weather prohibited me (thank goodness it’s raining again!)

If you live somewhere warmer, file this under “to be remembered.” The Xerces Society post has a great chart about how to know it’s safe to do spring clean-up by simple things like whether you have done your first spring mowing or whether the apple and cherry trees in your neighborhood have finished blooming.

Considering that’s a big fat “NO!” for me right now, I guess I and my neighbors will need to look at a messy yard a little bit longer–at least on my property!