“She reminded me that the world was really one bee yard, and the same rules work fine in both places. Don't be afraid, as no life-loving bee wants to sting you. Still, don't be an idiot; wear long sleeves and pants. Don't swat. Don't even think about swatting. If you feel angry, whistle. Anger agitates while whistling melts a bee's temper. Act like you know what you're doing, even if you don't. Above all, send the bees love. Every little thing wants to be loved.”
— Sue Monk Kidd, "The Secret Life of Bees," 2003
I just had to include all of my favorite passage in "The Secret Life of Bees," because “bee yard etiquette” has never been so important, inside and outside of the garden.
The truth is that bees and other pollinator populations are in trouble because of accumulated stressors from pesticide exposure, disease and loss of natural habitat. Studies have revealed widespread contamination of managed honeybee colonies, with more than 120 different pesticides detected in samples of honeycombs and food that foraging bees process and distribute to other members of the hive.
Gardeners can “send the bees (and other pollinators) love” by creating what OSU professor Andony Melathopoulos calls a “small, thoughtful, committed pollinator habitat” in our yards. Here are some ideas to get started:
1. Note existing plants in your yard that attract pollinators, and add more of these plants to your landscape.
2. Become familiar with the sun, soil and moisture conditions of your garden and choose pollinator plants that are suitable for your site.
3. Use native plants that are suitable for your site. Native plants are uniquely adapted to local conditions and are the best way to support native pollinators. Two helpful resources available online are “Gardening with Oregon Native Plants West of the Cascades” from the OSU Extension Service and “Native Pollinator Plants for Southern Oregon” by Tom Landis and Suzie Savoie.
4. Use a combination of native plants that are commonly associated with each other in order to mimic a natural pollinator habitat. Include at least one type of native bunchgrass to support pollinators and help prevent weed invasion and soil erosion.
5. When using non-native plants, choose those that attract pollinators. Some plants are good for providing pollen, others provide nectar and some provide both. Still others supply food for larval-stage insects. “Plants for Pollinators in Oregon” includes a list of non-native pollinator plants.
6. Choose plants in a variety of sizes, shapes and flower colors. Pollinators can access flowers with singe petals more easily than double-petal varieties. Combine plants that will bloom at different times during the year. It’s particularly important to include plants that flower in early spring and fall when fewer resources are available.
7. Grow plants as a border around your vegetable garden, intermingled with the crops, or in a separate garden nearby. Keep plant sizes and heights in mind to avoid overcrowding and blocking sunlight.
8. Cover crops create good pollinator habitats, control weeds and improve soil health. Cover crops can be planted as part of a crop rotation, for overwintering protection, or interspersed among other crops during the season. “Plants for Pollinators” includes descriptions of several cover crops that support pollinators, as well as plants that support other kinds of beneficial insects.
9. Besides plants, provide water and shelter for pollinators in your garden. Shelters may be rocks, logs or wood piles, trees with exfoliating bark and cavities, patches of bare soil, standing dead wood, plants with pithy stems, or built structures. Keep shelter areas as undisturbed as possible.
10. Minimize the use of chemical pesticides in your garden. The insecticide, carbaryl, sold under the trade name Sevin, is particularly harmful to bees. Avoid spraying any chemical pesticides when flowers are blooming.
Melathopoulos will discuss more about creating successful pollinator habitats from 3-5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1, and he will talk about the Oregon Bee Project from 6-8 p.m. Feb. 1, at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, Central Point. Cost of each class is $10 with advanced registration and $15 at the door. Register and pay online at http://bit.ly/JacksonMG2017 or call 541-776-7371.
— Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at Rnowak39@gmail.com. For more about gardening, visit her blog at: http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/.