It can be overwhelming to begin a garden, and even more so if considerations are made for the environment. Every garden or farm should keep the local ecosystems in mind as they develop. A healthy garden helps to support the garden and the surrounding area, while a healthy-looking but toxic garden can severely impact the local ecosystem. Pollinators rely more and more on gardens planted by humans as their habitats are taken over. A great way to give them what they still need and to keep the region sustainable is to plant native and pollinator-friendly flowers and other plants.
Native plants are critical to ecosystem balance. Therefore it's essential to incorporate native plants into your garden. Every region and environment has a unique collection of plants and animals that are symbiotic. The animals need the plants to survive, and the plants need the animals to survive. Native plants help support honey bees and other native pollinators by providing food and shelter sources year-round.
Fertilizers and Pesticides
Fertilizers and pesticides are used far too much in gardening. Beyond natural treatments like compost, coffee grounds, or eggshells, harsh fertilizers can upset the natural balance of chemicals in the area. The addition of harsh chemicals leads to nutrient pollution, a lethal algae bloom that cause damage in lakes and local waterways. There are many natural solutions to increased nitrogen in the soil, including the use of native plants in the garden. Plants such as clover and alfalfa are commonly known in the world of agriculture as "nitrogen fixers", which means that the plants help to hold nitrogen in the soil that other plants can use. In the garden, peas and beans are wonderful nitrogen fixers. A self-fertilizing garden reduces the impact on local environments and pollinators.
Pesticides are also a problem that can be significantly reduced with better gardening. Again, the overuse of pesticides is affecting local ecosystems. Pesticides are great for killing pests, as the name implies. But the poison in them affects any animal that comes in contact with them. A toxic pesticide can be devastating for local pollinators such as honeybees and butterflies. If children or pets come into contact with the same pesticides, there are known links to cancer, Alzheimer's, and many other unfortunate health issues.
Flowers for Bees
As we just discussed, native plants are the first step to a pollinator-friendly garden. The second step is picking flowers and other plants that pollinators especially love. This will attract many good bugs and birds to support a happy and healthy garden. One healthy garden can help an entire neighborhood and an overall sustainable community. Butterflies love yellow, orange, red, white, and purples. Hummingbirds dive in for reds most of all, but also like other warm colors as long as their shape will fit their long beaks. Bees are particularly fond of various shades of purples and blues, along with white and yellow flowers. The following are great choices for a healthy native garden aimed at bees:
- Anise Hyssop
- Shrubby Cinquefoil
- Bee balm
- Joe Pye weed
Although native plants are the healthiest option for gardening in consideration of water waste, fertilizers, pesticides, and overall pollinator support, this does not mean that all non-native plants are harmful. There are many non-native plants that are perfectly safe and healthy for a more natural and eco-friendly garden. Many argue that a mix of both native and non-native plants is the best way to support a diverse and pollinator supportive garden, as it can produce a broader range of bloom times, ample and varied diet, and many other benefits. Honeybees have been shown to thrive off of this. Some non-native flowers to include in your pollinator garden are:
- Sweet pea
- Butterfly bush
Most people who are scared of bees develop this fear in childhood. This fear comes from a misunderstanding of bees, which can be solved by early education and positive associations. Children often love gardening because it is exciting to watch things grow and see the process of germination, growth, pollination, and fruition. The experience of working in a garden can inspire and educate children to love plants and pollinators and appreciate the natural world around them. Growing their own food will also help children understand how their food is made and the effort that goes into each bite they take. But one of the biggest lessons for our youth in gardening is to not fear bees. Instead, we should teach our future to embrace and be inspired by pollinators. Through gardening, they will see that their plate is often filled thanks to bees.
Another way to involve kids in bee activities at home is to have a mason bee house. These are easy to make at home, as they are often just a block of wood drilled with holes only big enough for a bee to fit inside or in a grouping of hollow bamboo shoots or reeds. Some people combine this with other natural materials to make a beneficial "bug hotel" for their garden. Mason bees (and other native pollinators) are just as essential to our ecosystems as honeybees but often don't get the same love from the "save the bees" movement as a honeybee. Mason bees are non-stinging solitary super pollinators! Keeping these gentle bees in your garden is a perfect way for children to learn how to appreciate and enjoy pollinators.
Don't forget that to do their jobs well; pollinators need a safe water source as they work! Bee baths are fun and easy to make; you can be creative by painting or decorating your bee bath, or use a simple container. Either way, the bees will thank you. To make a bee bath, use any shallow water container you can find, then add small rocks for bees and other pollinators to stand on as they drink between the stones. Read about 5 great ways to support bees at home here.
Keepers Collective in Snoqualmie WA, offers an outdoor bee camp designed to be educational, hands-on, and inspiring! Junior beekeepers ages 8-12 will learn all about the honey bee's life cycle, the ways they communicate, and their direct relationship to the food we eat. With interactive games, garden explorations, bee art and more, bee camp is buzzing with fun.
We all need to play our part in supporting our ecosystems, the path to healthy pollinator populations starts at home in our gardens. So dig in and remember to support pollinators as you get your hands dirty!
Learn more with us on our "Grow The Ultimate Bee Garden" blog post!
Get more fun at-home ideas and learn fun ways to encourage your children to love bees here.