Save the Pollinators!

At Sweet’s, we care a LOT about pollinators…especially the honeybees who generate one of the key ingredients in Sweet’s Syrup!  

There are around 4,000 species of bees in North America.  They and their overseas cousins pollinate 80% of the world’s plants, including 90 different food crops.  In fact, one out of every four bites you eat is made possible by a bee. When we include other pollinators like bats, butterflies, beetles, birds and small mammals, that figure bumps up to one in three bites.  

So naturally, we are VERY concerned that bee populations in the United States have experienced a 30% decline since the early 2000’s.  Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), in which seemingly healthy bees abandoned their hives and simply disappeared, struck up to a quarter of all U.S. honeybees in the mid-2000’s.  Thankfully, CCD sharply declined in 2011 and is no longer the primary threat.

But the bees aren’t out of the woods yet!  They’re still struggling against mite infestations within colonies, plus environmental factors.  Many of our pollinators, particularly butterflies, are suffering from habitat loss from development and widespread farm use of herbicides that kill off native wildflowers that are key to pollinator survival.  Climate change has caused more severe winters in some areas, increasing loss of overwintering bee hives. Warmer, earlier spring weather causes some flowers to bloom too early - before some pollinators emerge from hibernation - or too late for the hungry pollinators to feed on the nectar.

Pollinators need our help!  Here are specific ways you can jump in.

SPREAD THE WORD

Share this post.  Submit a list of native pollinator-magnet plants (detailed below) for your neighborhood association’s newsletter.  Gently and tactfully recommend your favorite non-toxic herbicide recipe to that neighbor who uses Round-Up. And if you want to wear your message, check out this awesome t-shirt!  

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PROVIDE FOR POLLINATORS

Set aside part of your yard or gardening space as a pollinator-friendly space.  You don’t need a big area to make a difference! Be sure to include:

Clean Water:  There should be a place for pollinators to get a drink of clean water.  Scatter pebbles in a shallow container filled with water or place a few stones in your birdbath, to give those pollinators with short legs a place to stand as they hydrate!  Remember to change the water often, and always keep the water source in the same spot so little critters can find it.

2.  Housing:   About 70% of bees burrow in the soil, so leave a section of your garden or a few pots of soil unplanted.  Other bees bore holes in wood to deposit their young, while feral honeybees and bumblebees nest in pre-existing cavities.  Consider leaving a brush pile in a sunny, out-of-the-way spot. If you’re into DIY projects, try building a home for mason bees using these handy instructions..  If you’re not quite as handy, you can buy one pre-made.  

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3.  Toxin-Free Space:  Watch what you spray!  Natural herbicides, combined with helpful garden insects, can control weeds and keep bad bugs at bay.  Cut your mosquito population without pesticides. Check out our earlier blog post for helpful suggestions.

4.  Appropriate Plants:  Choose 3-5 species of NATIVE pollinator-friendly plants for each growing season to ensure a steady food supply.  Concentrate on plants with purple or blue blooms (they produce more nectar and draw more pollinators) and supplement with other colors.  If you’re buying annuals, pick ones with single-top blooms (like daisies or marigolds) instead of multi-top blooms (like double impatiens). Pollinators find it easier to get at the nectar and pollen if the bloom is simple.

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Selecting native plants is CRITICAL here.  They are suited to your area’s climate and soil, and pollinators in your area rely on those particular plants at specific times of the year.  The native version of a plant is not always going to be available at a big-box store!  It’s important to bring a good list of appropriate plants along when you shop, and check the tag or seed packet to ensure the entire scientific name matches up to your list.  

Pollinator Partnership has very helpful planting guides for each region of the U.S.  Simply type in your ZIP code on this site and you’ll see a printable list of pollinator-magnet plants native to your area.  College botanical gardens regularly host sales of native plants and seeds, and your state’s extension office website can direct you to nearby suppliers.  

Many of these plants can be grown in containers, but some get rather big.  Check out each plant’s growing specifics before you choose a pot. Watch for an upcoming Sweet’s post on container gardening for pollinators - when you don’t have much space to spare!

For those of you in North Carolina - take this to your favorite garden store!

Top 25 Native Pollinator Plants - North Carolina

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- Tracy Dygert for Sweet’s Syrup

Sources:

  • Carolina Pollinator Garden

  • Natural Resources Defense Council, U.S. Department of Agriculture

  • New Complete Guide to Gardening, Better Homes & Gardens, 1997

  • NC Cooperative Extension Service: www.growingsmallfarms.ces.ncsu.edu

  • Pollinator Partnership:  www.pollinator.org


Stephanie Rickenbaker