As I sit outside (on our first gorgeous non-snowy day in MN) contemplating my garden strategy for this upcoming summer I am reminded of all of the different articles I have read regarding bee colony collapse disorder and the significantly dwindling numbers of monarch butterflies. Both play an important role in gardening and our agricultural system as a whole. Wondering what I could do to help with these situations, I did a little research and thought I would share some of the tips and simple steps that I discovered that we can all do to support these invaluable contributors to our gardens and farms.
Worker bees have been abandoning their queens, and their hives, in record numbers only to die and leave their hives empty. This is a big concern due to the fact that bee pollination adds $15 billion in increased crop value to our country’s agriculture each year. According to the USDA, “About one mouthful in three in our diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination.” There are numerous theories that contribute this bee tragedy to everything from pesticides to global changes or even parasites, but an exact cause has yet to be determined. The good news is that we can help the bees. Planting pollinator friendly plants is a great way to support the bee population. Marigolds, daisies and native plants will keep bees coming back to your yard and pollinating away. In addition, be very discriminating in the pesticides that you choose. The Honeybee Conservancy has a great step by step guide for creating a bee friendly habitat in your own yard. http://thehoneybeeconservancy.org/act-today-2/plant-a-bee-garden/.
Monarch butterfly populations have also been on the decline in recent years, most likely due to logging in Mexico (where Monarchs like to winter), climate changes and GMO corn which hosts a bacterium that is toxic to butterflies. In addition, many of the herbicides utilized in modern farming kills off the milkweed plants in the fields, which Monarchs prefer to all other plants
When you’re in the process of putting together your bee garden, add a bunch of native milkweed plants and you will have a very happy Monarch population to observe as well. Butterflies lay their eggs on milkweeds and their caterpillars utilize the pods as their sole form of nutrition during this stage of development. The food and shelter that milkweed plants provide are critical to sustaining the Monarch species. It also happens that honey bees enjoy milkweeds as well, so this is a win-win for both insects
I encourage you to do your own research as you begin to strategize your yard for the summer. There are countless resources available on line, and of course, your local greenhouse or nursery will be happy to help point you in the right direction. It always feels good to help, and this type of help can impact more than just the beauty of your garden, but also the food on your plate .