Bugs and bees
Of bugs and bees….
Many times I am sure all of us have heard Chris comment on the huge loss of insect populations, of taking a road trip and not having a single bug squashed on the front of the car or the windshield. Very different from the world of the fifties and sixties that I grew up in. Just five years ago I made a 1000 mile round trip from western Washington into Montana and back and didn’t hit a single bug. Not one!
Well something different seems to be going on now! I don’t know the reason but it may have to do with road crews mowing more and spraying less, maybe something to do with laws about salmon or something like that. But I am once again seeing cars with bugs splattered all over the front. Not just the odd few bugs, but hundreds. I asked a driver of a car parked near my condo in Edmonds, Washington (about 15 miles north of Seattle on the shores of Puget Sound) about where he had been to have accumulated maybe a thousand bugs on the front of his car. He said he had just driven across the Cascades to the edge of eastern Washington and back, maybe a little over 200 miles. I haven’t seen this many bugs on any car around here in I think decades! This is new, and I hope at least a small example of something positive starting to happen. Or maybe it is just the result of all the lockdowns keeping the spray trucks in the barn during Covid. I don’t know, but I am curious. Maybe others elsewhere are seeing something similar?
I have been looking after a fairly large garden near my condo for the last six or seven years. Three years ago I decided to do something to attract pollinators, mostly bees. We have a couple of hives of honey bees and some Mason bees, but I wanted to see if we could significantly improve the foraging possibilities for not only our bees, but bumble bees and other garden friendly insects. So I did some research and selected pollinator friendly plants that bloom in sequence from March into October and that are common to the Northwest. Each year I have added a new area on the property and I plan to keep doing this in the years ahead.
The results have been amazing, absolutely spectacular! We have hundreds and hundreds of bees now, and each year it is getting better. The process has ranged from working with cuttings, to planting from seeds under growing lights, to simply scattering a mix of sand and seeds meant for pollinators that are prepackaged from a seed company over a patch of ground that has been covered with weed barrier for a few months and then lightly raked with a little layer of peat moss scattered on top.
If you want to see something wonderful and completely forget about all this Covid crap for at least a little while, just stand in front of one of these patches and open your eyes. It seems like for the first handful of seconds I don’t see much of anything, and then there they all are, by the hundreds and hundreds, buzzing away like crazy, “busy as bees!” The bees are fascinating and I spend time watching every day. It just feels really good!
This year I have noticed an unexpected additional benefit. The pollinator plants produce huge numbers of seeds and these have attracted many small birds, for us mostly Juncos and several species of sparrows. I see these little fellows hopping around all thru the garden, especially among the brassicas. The cabbage moths are everywhere as usual, but the cabbage worms and even the slugs are gone! And my garden is thriving with all the help. Peppers, tomatoes, cukes, squashes and many other things are there in abundance and this bring great joy to my heart.
So if you need pollinators for your garden or fruit trees or want more honey in your hives, try planting pollinator friendly plants wherever you have some room. The reward for the effort is fantastic and your small part of the world will start smiling!
Fantastic, George. I spread packaged wildflower seeds in several beds this year. Lots of bugs, bees, praying mantis and a couple of frogs/toads (where these came from in the middle of the high desert, I have no idea.)
A great thing for the insects and birds is a simple bird bath. I float a solar bubbler in it and refresh the water when I water the garden. Lots of insects stop for a drink.
I also have a small dish I keep refreshed and full at the base for the smaller beasts and bunnies in this brutal, hot summer. My veggies are in elevated containers out of bunnies reach.
I love hanging out with the bugs.
That’s great, George!
If you want to give more details on your story – what you planted, where in the NW you live, even some pix – I bet many of us would be interested. I know I would be!
A couple years ago I cut out my residential grass and planted white dutch clover ~ 4-5 lbs of tiny seed. That was the best decision to make for my garden. It blooms prior to most flowers and through out the growing season. The bees LOVE it and enjoy watching them dance. We also added wildflowers to the perimeter of our property. We definitely do not have a synthetically enhanced golf course lawn
I have about 15, 2 gallon pots with dirt, & planted a simple flower mix.
I pull a translucent tarp over it, 6 mil poly, to shield it from the sun.
When I water the dirt in the morning, I am surprised by the number of dead wasps / yellow jackets on the top of the dirt.
It is store-bought G&B potting mix, comes in 3 cubic foot bales.
Maybe I will (eventually) mix some local dirt, and plant it in the same location with the same seeds.
Great to hear, George!
The pollinators (and pests for that matter) are so completely different every year here. Last year the honeybees on the fireweed that I let grow just off my porch were astonishing, all summer. I watched a crew of a dozen honeybees just ravage a single, huge poppy blossom. It was intense! This year, hardly any. But this year I let a lot of cilantro, dill and a few parsnips flower and there are hundreds of very small pollinators – flies, tiny bees – quiet and business-like. What a sight! And though there are not many, the bumblebees this year are enormous.
I like your idea of making sure there are flowers at all times in the summer. It looks like if you plant them they will come, usually. We sure live on the edge. No pollinators = no fruit. I’ve had a peach tree just go begging. Lots of blossoms, too early, no bees, no crop.
I didn’t realize that every year there would be a love affair with some plant or another in the food garden. I thought is was about growing food, not about love. Don’t ask me about eggplants because I’ll bore you to tears with my joy in their beautiful leaf-arms that talk to me about temperature and flea beetles, and who are so shy about their blossoms but still end up making gorgeous, shiny fruits. Anyway the are waiting outside for a chat about water and fertilizers so off I go.
BTW, talking about life on the edge, here in BC we’ve had no rain for an eternity – a very consequential trend. Wildfires abound and firefighters are in short supply. We have a fire only 7 km from here that eats its way through the forest wherever the wind blows it. Now it’s trying to eat homesteads. 77 firefighters on the job. No rain expected for weeks.
Thank you George!
I love that anecdote. Much to my immense relief, we finally did get two Monarch’s back in the yard. I track them as individuals each day.
We have bees all over the pollinator garden we put in out front.
Evie is entirely responsible for that garden which, just this spring was still little more than a pile of weeds and dirt.
Here it was:
Nothing I love more than watching the butterflies, the bees and the hummingbirds stop on by for their favorite foods. Which they do every day.
So great news if the insects are on the rebound! Fingers crossed.
I love having friends of other species.
I planted purple coneflowers next to the garage about 10 years ago, and we have to walk past them several times a day to get to the garden and the ducks. It is a gorgeous flower and blooms for a long time. It has been full of various butterflies, bumble bees, and some kind of tiny bee/wasp/ something-or-other for several weeks. There are also assorted spiders and beetley things. The flower is native American, so the wild folk love it. It spreads year by year with its own seed. There are shasta daisies next to them, but nothing seems to like them. They’re a cultivated flower. I’d recommend the coneflowers to anyone wanting perennial bug forage for July and August.
We have 2 huge gardens. We plant one with this year’s veggies and the other with cover crop. We switch each year. Our main cover crop is Japanese buckwheat. I’m often too busy to notice at first, but when it starts to bloom, my husband will suddenly say, “Can you hear the buckwheat?” The whole cover garden is noticeably buzzing with bees and buzzies of all kinds.
We don’t plant special early buzzy stuff because we have gill-of-the-ground growing wild in many spots, and raspberry flowers come next. There are a lot of wild flowers growing on their own out in the field and lawn, like clovers, chicories, golden rod, black-eyed susans, marshmallows, heliopsis and asters. So far we’ve never had a pollination problem.
It’s nice to have friends.
Butterfly bushes have worked very well for me in Virginia: they grow wild-unattended, get big-mine are over 10 feet) and spread easily, produce flowers continuously, and feed tons of butterflies and bees. (stock photo below-only similar to mine)
One side of the spot in which my tiny home/bus is parked is planted in milkweed. We can watch the butterflies coming and going all day long. Sweeeeet….