Thursday, June 18, 2015

Planting for Pollinators

Honey bees and native pollinators thrive in weedy areas around farms, fields, and areas surrounding urban and suburban homes. These natural areas that provide food and habitat have been greatly reduced by agricultural and lawn-care practices that control weeds with tilling, mowing, and the use of herbicides. This loss of habitat can be quickly relieved by planting pollinator gardens, simple plots managed without chemical pesticides. Pollinator gardens may be small window boxes, patio container gardens, flower, herb, or vegetable gardens, or landscape plantings around homes or businesses. Larger plots of one quarter acre or more, such as unmowed and unsprayed expressway interchanges, make pollinator pastures. These gardens and pastures will be connected along interstate highway, pipeline, and transmission line rights of way. One such corridor is planned along Interstate 35 from Texas to Minnesota will provide a 200-mile-wide path for the migration of monarch butterflies from Mexico to the Upper Mid-West, This ambitious plan will require the planting of millions of milkweed plants, the only food eaten by monarch larvae. While the I-35 corridor is being built to aid the monarch butterfly, many species of pollinators—bees, butterflies, moths, and bats—will benefit.

I conducted workshop sessions with Larry Kichler, a beekeeper with 50 years of experience, at P. Allen Smith’s Moss Mountain Farm, We talked about honey bees and pollinator gardens. I encouraged everyone to register their gardens in the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, We encouraged the beekeepers and gardeners to build pollination gardens in sunny locations with wind breaks, provide sources of nectar and pollen, provide a source of water, use large plantings of native and non-native plants, include larval host plants like milkweed, provide continuous bloom throughout the growing season, and eliminate or minimize the use of pesticides. While many pollinator gardens are simple, random plantings of herbs, vegetables, and flowers, like my garden; others are more formal, like Smith’s Moss Mountain Farm plantings overlooking the Arkansas River Valley shown in today’s photo.