Pollinator Friendly Gardening

The current period of warm weather surely doesn’t signal the end of El Niño rains, but it does bring to mind the coming of spring. And with that cyclical change comes the inspiration to plan for garden development.

Our gardens can support many different objectives. One timely objective to consider is to support healthy lives for nature’s pollinators, primarily bees and butterflies.

We have frequently touched upon the vital role that bees and butterflies fill in the propagation of plants. The development of fruits and vegetables, which are essentially seed cases, often depends on bees, and butterflies are important pollinators of wild and cultivated flowers.

Our pollinators are threatened by civilization, notably habitat loss and agricultural chemicals. In May of 2015, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency, in response to a directive by President Obama, established the Pollinator Health Task Force. That multi-agency group has begun reporting on studies and releasing recommendations to help bees and butterflies. We can expect a continuing flow of constructive new directions.

In June of 2015, with endorsement by First Lady Michelle Obama, environmentalists created the National Pollinator Garden Network and launched the Million Pollinator Challenge, with the goal to create one million new pollinator gardens by the end of 2016. Clearly, individual gardeners are invited to join in nationwide efforts to support pollinators.

In this context, we have a new book by Master Gardener Rhonda Fleming Hayes: Pollinator Friendly Gardening, (Voyageur Press, 2015).

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 12.51.35 PM

This is a valuable resource for developing a garden that supports healthy lives for bees and butterflies. Fleming, a dedicated advocate of pollinators, provides a readable and complete introduction to the subject and maintains a calm and informative style. (We respect fervent commitment to a cause, but the strident alarms and urgent calls to action we sometimes see can be trying.)

Fleming offers three principals for pollinator-friendly gardening: provide blooming plants all year, allow nesting and overwintering sites, and avoid uses of pesticides.

She also focuses on native plants, which have co-evolved with many insects and developed reciprocal dependencies. These relationships are site-specific so that the plants and insects that are native to California are not the same as the plants and insects of the east coast of the U.S. Many garden books, including this one, address national readerships, so each reader should adapt plant lists to his or her own garden environment.

Also, note that honeybees were imported to the U.S. long ago from Europe and other regions, and do not relate to U.S. native plants in the same way as the thousands of species of U.S. native bees. Imported bees particularly appreciate plants from their native lands that have been introduced in the U.S.

Here are sources for more information on pollinator-friendly gardening:

The Pollinator Partnership

National Pollinator Garden Network

Xerces Society

Monarch Watch

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

A pollinator-friendly garden has direct benefits for the bees and butterflies, and also serves the gardener with the pleasure of beautiful surroundings and the satisfaction of ecologically sound practices. Also, an enjoyable and educational counterpart to bird-watching is the emerging activity of bee-watching. There is much to learn from the bees!

Million Pollinator Garden Challenge

We are in the midst of National Pollinator Week (June 15–21)! An unprecedented group of twenty-four conservation and gardening organizations has formed the National Pollinator Garden Network and, with First Lady Michelle Obama, launched the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge.

MPGC-FINAL-315x315

The Network challenges the nation’s gardeners to create one million additional pollinator gardens by the end of 2016.

This campaign encourages home gardeners to help reverse the decline of honeybees and native bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators. This extraordinary initiative underlines the importance of pollinators to our food supply and invites home gardeners to take effective personal action even as the nation’s Pollinator Task Force mobilizes more than fifteen federal agencies to improve pollinator health.

In a recent column, we urged keeping your garden free of synthetic chemical pesticides and herbicides, and using less-toxic alternatives. The Pollinator Partnership (www.pollinator.org), a member of the new Network, offers specific advice:

  1. Plant for Pollinators (the website includes a link to a cellphone app that lists 1,000 pollinator friendly plants native to the United States)
  2. Reduce or eliminate the impact of pesticides.
  3. Register as a SHARE site (see more about this below)
  4. Reach out to others – inform and inspire
  5. Buy local and organic produce, including honey
  6. Conserve all of our resources; use less and reduce your impact.
  7. Support the work of groups promoting science based, practical efforts for pollinators

The Network concurs with these recommendations, as expected, and adds these complementary ideas:

  1. Provide a water source
  2. Situate your garden and/or plants in a sunny area with wind breaks
  3. Create large “pollinator targets” of native or non-invasive plants
  4. Establish continuous blooms throughout the growing season

Once you establish your pollinator habitat garden, visit share.pollinator.org/ to register your garden on the Pollinator Partnership’s SHARE site. Adding your garden to the site’s map of the United States gives you personal bragging rights as a friend to pollinators and supports the effort to encourage others to participate in the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge.

The website for the Challenge (http://millionpollinatorgardens.org/) provides links to each of its members, and most (or all) of these groups identify pollinator-friendly plants.

Still, because gardening is specific to location, Monterey Bay area gardeners should focus on plants to native to the local region. To find such plants, visit these websites:

California Native Plant Society 

Las Pilates Nursery

Xerces Society

Join the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. The bees and other pollinators will thank you, and your garden will be richer for the effort.

Protecting the Pollinators

The next time you are in your garden, tell the bees a national strategy now exists to protect their health.

The document, dated May 19, 2015, responds to President Obama’s memorandum of June 19, 2014, establishing the Pollinator Health Task Force, co-chaired by the Secretary of Agriculture and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and including representatives of fourteen other federal agencies. The president asked for a report in six months, but it required eleven months.

Monarch Butterly

Monarch Butterly

Several federal studies on pollinator health had already been conducted, and most observers recognized that the decline of honeybee and butterfly populations was resulting from several factors:

Loss of Habitat. The use of Roundup to kill weeds in crop fields also has been eliminating milkweeds (Asclepias tuberosa) that Monarch larvae eat.

Exposure to Chemical Pesticides. The use of neonicotinoid pesticides (“neonics”) also has been killing honeybees and leading to Colony Collapse Disorder, and perhaps killing birds as well.

Attacks from Pests. The Varroa destructor is a tiny parasitic mite that first appeared in the United States in 1987. It infests bee colonies and feeds on bee blood.

Other threats to pollinator health include loss of nutritional forage, diseases, and even stresses related to trucking beehives to pollinate agricultural crops.

The Task Force report addresses four themes: research on pollinator losses, public education and outreach, improving pollinator habitat, and developing public-private partnerships to carry out these activities.

The Task Force also identified three target outcomes:

  • Reduce honeybee colony losses by to no more than 15% within ten years;
  • Increase the Eastern population of Monarch butterflies to 225 million butterflies by 2020;
  • Restore or enhance 7 million acres of land for pollinators over the next five years.

The Task Force, working with numerous federal agencies, has developed a series of action plans and resources to pursue these intended outcomes. It also has committed to annual assessments of progress toward these goals.

Another bureaucracy has been created!

Bee-friendly organizations have been less than enthusiastic about these plans. For example, the Xerces Society said, “The national strategy includes valuable long-term plans that could, over time, strengthen the pesticide regulatory system. But it fails to offer pesticide mitigation to address issues currently facing pollinators.”

Similarly, the Center for Food Safety said, “the plan is unfortunately too weak to actually accomplish these goals.” The Center called for speedy action to reduce uses of chemical pesticides and herbicides that have been identified as threats to pollinator health.

We’ll watch for the results of these action plans. We would like to tell the bees that the federal strategy is working.

Meanwhile, help to protect our hardworking pollinators by keeping your garden free of synthetic chemical pesticides and herbicides, and using the less-toxic alternatives. For more ideas, the Pollinator Partnership has provided,  “7 Things You Can Do For Pollinators.”

More

Another bee-friendly group that advocates reduced uses of neonics is Beyond Pesticides.

The Bees Need Our Help

Gardeners can enjoy gardening at many levels. We can experience the Zen of Weeding, as I did this afternoon, and then shift to enjoy one of gardening’s many other dimensions.

Gardening often turns up in the wonderful world of public policy, a dimension that can resemble a house of mirrors.

The Case of Colony Collapse Disorder, an example of gardening in public policy, is in the current news with a flurry of contradictions.

Bee on Purple Flower

Colony Collapse Disorder refers to the widespread, sudden mysterious deaths of entire bee colonies. We deplore the premature demise of these colonies, and sympathize with the industrious victims, and fear the potential threat to our own wellbeing: bees pollinate about one-third of all the fruits and vegetables we eat.

Scientists studying the causes of CCD suspect a combination of factors, and environmentalists focus on neonicontinoids, a category of very effective and widely used systemic pesticides. Both commercial crops and garden center plants and seeds are often treated with “neonics” (as they are called). Several European nations have banned neonics, but the United States currently permits their uses.

Manufacturers of neonics have insisted that CCD results from several other factors, e.g., Varroa mites, Nosema fungus, viruses, drought, and loss of habitat. Others have speculated that bee colonies are traumatized by the practice of trucking hundreds of beehives to large-scale agricultural sites, such as California’s almond trees groves.

In May of 2014, Harvard University reported an environmental scientist’s research that “strengthens the link between neonics and CCDs. The head of the National Academy of Sciences’ earlier study of the problem dismissed that research, and called it “effectively worthless,” because it was based on bees’ exposure to pesticides at doses far above typical levels.

On June 20, 2014, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum calling for the creation of a federal strategy to promote the health of honeybees and other pollinators. This call to action included an order for the Environmental Protection Agency to assess the effect of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on pollinator health. The Task Force, including multiple federal departments, was to develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy within 180 days, so its report was due around Christmas time last year. Presumably, it has been subjected to internal review since that target date.

On March 20, 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that honey production in 2014 was up 19 percent from 2013, leading some to conclude that the CCD problem was over. Beekeepers had imported Australian honeybees to replace hives lost to CCD, so that conclusion might require another look.

These events provide a glimpse of the process of creating public policies, which are influenced by environmental, economic and political forces, and which eventually impact our interests as individuals.

No one has suggested that neonics are good for the honeybees. The goal is to balance the undeniably negative effects of agricultural chemicals with the anticipated positive long-term effects on our food supplies, recreational gardening and quality of life.

Gardeners can help the bees in small ways.

  • Plant bee-friendly gardens.
  • Do not use garden chemicals containing neonics.
  • When buying plants or seeds, ask the retailer if those items are free of neonics.

Organic gardening methods would be best for gardeners…and bees!

More

A friend at Suncrest Nurseries, Inc., a large wholesale company in Watsonville, responded to this column by saying, “Suncrest does not use neonicotinoid pesticides at all, in any way, shape or form on any of it’s plants !  I think we are the only non-organic nursery to do so !”

The Internet offers much information on bees and threats to their health.  deaths. Here are some interesting websites:

UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab

Genetic Literacy Project: The USDA Study on Bee Deaths

The Genetic Literacy Project supports GMOs, dismisses neonics’ role in bee deaths, and doesn’t like organic foods. The project seems friendly to the chemical industry.

Environmental Protection Agency to Limit Use of Neonics

USDA Release on Honey Production

An increase in honey production is welcome, but it doesn’t mean that bees and other pollinators are safe from pesticides.

Presidential Memorandum Calling for Pollinator Health Strategy

This task force was to report in 180 days. That would have been around  Christmas, 2014. Let’s watch for the report.

List of Pesticides Containing Neonics

Friends of the Earth: Bee-Toxic Pesticides in Garden Center Plants

This paper is a couple years old, but still relevant.

 

Gardening to Save the Planet

We are learning about humanity’s many impacts on the near and distant future of our planet. Some people are in denial about these impacts, while others are concerned and ready to do whatever we can to ensure that our Earth will support future generations.

To support and encourage such positive action, leading botanist Peter Raven will visit the UCSC Arboretum next week to meet with UCSC faculty and staff, and present a public talk, “Saving Plants, Saving Ourselves.” Raven will present an informed update on the increasing threats to Earth’s environment, and emphasize the special role of public gardens in conserving plants that could be lost through habitat loss and climate change.

Peter Raven has a long friendship with the UCSC Arboretum, and a national reputation as a conservationist and advocate of global biodiversity: Time magazine hailed him as a Hero of the Planet. His visit to the Monterey Bay area inspires us to reflect on the home gardener’s unique role in saving the planet.

Here are ten everyday practices that gardeners can apply to help sustain the environment and protect plant diversity.

  • Irrigate your garden wisely, using drip technology to deliver water only where needed, and mulch (organic or inorganic) to minimize evaporation and weed growth.
  • Recycle household water into the garden, using plant-friendly soaps and detergents.
  • Prune your acquisitions of consumer goods that bury our landfills and clutter our environment…and that you really don’t need.
  • Propagate plants that Nature’s pollinators (bees and other insects, bats and birds) love and need to survive. Clusters of flowering plants will enrich your landscape.
  • Conserve biodiversity by protecting endangered species and including rare and threatened California native plants in your landscape. (Visit the California Native Plant Society’s website, www.rareplants.cnps.org/ for info.)
  • Nourish your plants with organic fertilizers, and discontinue uses of artificial chemicals
  • Control plant-eating insects with insect predators and organic insecticides. Use physical barriers and non-toxic deterrents to control other plant-eaters, e.g., snails, gophers and deer,
  • Select plants that are native to California or other summer-dry climates, to enable their healthy growth, support wildlife and ease your gardening workload.
  • Compost the “carbon-rich” fantasies of climate change deniers with the “nitrogen-rich” facts of the world’s scientists to promote wise stewardship of the environment. (Alto, keep all biomass on the property by composting green garden waste!)
  • Cultivate these good practices among your friends and neighbors.

The UCSC Arboretum employs these practices regularly, and assigns high priority to its work in plant conservation.

pt sur Austin and Tim

Click to Enlarge

This photo shows UCSC student Austin Robey and Arboretum volunteer Tim Forsell as they replanted endangered California native manzanita shrubs on a steep slope near the Point Sur State Historic Park and Lighthouse. The Arboretum’s Brett Hall coordinated the conservation project.

Your practices in your own garden also could help to save the planet. A good start would be to attend Peter Raven’s talk..

***

Registrations for the Peter Raven talk sold out quickly. To receive timely announcements of future events at the Arboretum, visit arboretum.ucsc.edu/get-involved/.

If you would like to sponsor an educational event at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, contact Jennifer Macotto, 831-427-2998 or jmacotto@ucsc.edu.

For information on how you could help save a rare species: visit arboretum.ucsc.edu/education/plant-sponsorship/.

Poisoning the Pollinators

It’s about time for National Pollinator Week, June 16–23. Check it out at Polllintaor Partnership.

Big agriculture uses many synthetic chemicals. Consumers are concerned by neonicotinoids (“neonics”), which are sprayed on nearly all cornfields, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects this year will cover an area equal nearly the size of California.  Neonics also are sprayed on many garden center plants, and are used on seeds used to grow soy, wheat, cotton, sorghum, peanuts and other crops.

These chemicals persist in soils, travel through plants and poison nectar and pollen. USDA scientists found an average of nine pesticides and fungicides in a sample of plants. The contaminated pollen is eaten by hive bees, which pollinate many of the plants we eat, and many wild bees, which pollinate 90% of all flowering plants.

Neonics do not to kill bees, but seem to reduce the bees’ ability to resist infection by a parasitic fungus and could make bees more susceptible to the parasitic Varroa mite. Researchers at Harvard University also suspect that neonics impair honeybee’s memory, cognition or behavior, and damage their ability to navigate back to their hive.

Increasingly, research indicates that neonics contribute to “Colony Collapse Disorder,” which refers to the sudden decline of entire beehives. During the past five years, some 30% of bees in the United States have simply disappeared. This is about 50% greater than the expected rate.

The Environmental Protection Agency now requires that neonic product labels include a bee hazard icon and directions to minimize use where bees and other pollinators could forage, or where sprays could drift to hives or “pollinator attractive habitats.” Sadly, the EPA’s labels do not address neonic-treated seeds, which also affect bees.

In July of 2013, the Saving America’s Pollinators Act (H.R 2692) was introduced. This bill would suspend the use of neonics until proven safe, and harmless to pollinators. Observers give the bill a zero chance to become law.

Meanwhile, the principal producers of neonics, Bayer and Syngenta, insist that CCD is not caused by their pesticides, but by parasites, pathogens, loss of habitat and other factors. Monsanto, which treats its seeds with neonics, joins in these arguments.

As private and public interests clash, home gardeners can help to protect our pollinators:

  • Buy only certified-organic seeds and plant starts.
  • Eliminate synthetic chemical pesticides from your garden.
  • Plant wildflowers to attract and feed bees.
  • Leave part of your landscape natural for solitary-living native bees.
  • Ask your congressman to support the Saving America’s Pollinators Act.

A world without bees means a world without flowers!

Mote

Several organizations have posted formation about problems for honeybees.. Interested readers can conduct their own search for “Colony Collapse Disorder” or related search terms.  Here are some websites that I have found to be informative.

For more information for residential gardeners, see the brochure, “Bee Safe Gardening Tips,” by Bee Action and Friends of the Earth.

For a n analysis of the position taken by producers of neonics, see Michele Simon’s well-research report, “Follow the Honey: 7 was pesticide companies are spinning the bee crisis tg protect profits.” This report also is distributed by Bee Action and Friends of the Earth.

Another interesting and useful paper from Friends of the Earth, for home gardeners, is
Gardeners Beware: Bee-Toxic Pesticides Found in “Bee-Friendly” Plants Sold at Garden Centers Nationwide. It should not be surprising that garden centers, especially the big box stores, want to eliminate insects on the plants they sell, and use insecticides for that purpose, but it might be surprising to learn that about half the time those insecticides are toxic to honeybees.

Other websites to check out include the following:

Beyond Pesticides This site is about all pollinators, not just honeybees. In particular, see th recent article “Not Longer a BIG Mystery,” which concludes that there is no longer any ambiguity about the impact of synthetic chemicals on bees and other pollinators.

Melissa Garden A great source of information about Plants for Pollinators and information about bees.  (“Melissa” is a Greek word meaning honeybee.)

The Xerces Society An authoritative —and interesting—site for invertebrate conservation, with a focus on bees and butterflies and other threatened invertebrates,

 

Saving the Bees

The puzzle of recent years—what’s killing the bees?—appears to be close to solution.

Scientists have said that the cause of the bees’ mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) could be a combination of factors. The possible explanations, however, always include uses of pesticides that have some beneficial effects in agriculture, but that are toxic to both bumblebees and honeybees.

Both kinds of bees are essential to the success of about one-third of U.S. food crops. As the bees die, our food supply is subject to very serious threat.

Increasingly, the focus is on neonicotinoids, a class of chemicals that are used as systemic insecticides in both commercial agriculture and residential gardening.

This year, an estimated 500,000 bees were found dead or dying in Oregon. Ironically enough, this largest known incident of bumblebee deaths, occurred during National Pollinator Week, an annual celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture soon confirmed that a neonicotinoid insecticide, dinoterfuran, caused the bee die-off and announced a temporary ban on its applications on landscape trees and shrubs, nursery and greenhouse plants, turf grass, forests and agricultural crops.”

Despite the growing evidence of the negative impact of these pesticides on bee populations, and the European Commission’s continent-wide suspension of neonicotinoids, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been looking for other explanations of CCD and has established a 2018 deadline for completing its reviews of the major neonicotinoids.

Earlier this year, commercial beekeepers and environmental groups petitioned the EPA to suspend uses of these pesticides, and, early in July 2013, a coalition of environmental groups urged President Obama to direct the EPA to follow the European Commission’s lead by suspending uses of neonicotinoids.

This is high drama, indeed, with great consequences for our food supply and our gardens as well. There are of course several sides to significant issues, and this one is no different. Restricting applications of widely used synthetic chemical pesticides will impact farmers’ practices and constrict the revenue streams for manufacturers of agricultural chemicals. It will be interesting to see what arguments they will devise to justify the systematic killing of a critically important group of farmworkers: the honeybees.

To help save the bees, do your homework.

• Download and read “Bee Protective Habitat Guide” (www.beyond pesticides.org). This free publication provides information on CCD and pollinator-friendly flowers.

• Download and read “Help the Honeybees: A List of Pesticides to Avoid”  (http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/fact-sheets). This is another free publication with a surprising list of popular pesticides that contain neonicotinoids.

• Take the Pesticide-Free Zone Pledge and post a Pesticide-Free Zone sign in your garden (www.beyondpesticides.org/pesticidefreelawns/pfzsign/). Bees and other beneficial insects) will thank you!

More

Here are several websites with up-to-date information on CCD and related topics, e.g., pesticides.

Beyond Pesticides

Center for Food Safety

Melissa Garden

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation

Pacific Horticulture’s “Pollinators: An information and Action Guide for West Coast Gardeners” (scroll to the end of the article to click on “Pollinator Projects for Citizen Scientists”

Here is a 4:25 video clip of Nature’s pollinators at work: The Beauty of Pollination.

 

 

 

Attract Pollinators to Your Garden

Synthetic chemicals have a variety of garden uses: adding nutrients to the soil (or directly to plants), discouraging/killing harmful insects and other small pests, and protecting plants from viruses, fungi and other scourges.

These benefits, however, come with downsides, including destroying microorganisms in the soil and beneficial insects, accumulating salts in the soil, and harming (or worse) pets and gardeners themselves. And there’s more, too much to review in this column.

Our present focus is on the harm that synthetic chemicals bring to insect pollinators: honeybees, native bees (which are different) and butterflies. Concerned scientists and citizen scientists have recorded significant population declines among these pollinators, and have pointed to pesticides as the likely cause of these declines.

Our gardens need these pollinators. They are essential in sexual reproduction of plants, including the development of fruits, vegetables and berries, all of which bear seeds, and both natural and human-directed hybridization of plants.

There are also asexual forms of plant reproduction, to be sure, but we’re concerned here with the pollinators.

The first priority in attracting pollinators to your garden is to adopt organic gardening methods, i.e., no synthetic chemicals. Safe organic products are available to address any gardening need, and integrated pest management (IPM) strategies work better and cheaper in the long run than the quick fixes of synthetic chemicals.

The next important priority is to plant more flowers as food resources for bees and butterflies. An excellent resource this subject is The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a non-profit organization. The Society offers reliable information on all aspects of attracting pollinators.

The Society’s guidelines for California gardeners get to the point:

  • Use local native plants (bees prefer them);
  • Choose several colors of flowers (blue, purple, violet, shite and yellow are good; pink and red not so much);
  • Plant flowers in clumps (a four-foot wide clump of one flower is much better than a scattering of the same number of plants);
  • Include flowers of different shapes (bees come in different sizes and different preferences);
  • Have a diversity of species flowering all season (both the bees and you will appreciate having flowers for most of the year).

Another helpful resource is The Melissa Garden: A Honeybee Sanctuary, which is located in Sonoma County. The owners offer an extensive list of plants that attract bees, and offer tours and classes in beekeeping, attracting pollinators, and related topics. “Melissa” is from the Greek word for honeybee.

Visit ongardening.com for links to The Xerces Society, the Melissa Garden and other resources for attracting pollinators to your garden, as well as for information on organic gardening and integrated pest management.

As you add flowering plants to your garden, choose some for the bees and butterflies.

More

The Xerces Society

Melissa Garden

Attracting Pollinators to Your Garden Using Native Plants

Organic Gardening: There are many books and magazines on this subject. A classic in the field is Maria Rodale’s Organic Gardening: Your Seasonal Companion to Creating a Beautiful and Delicious Organic Garden (Rodale Press, 1998)

Integrated Pest Management The University of California’s Integrated Pest Management program is a valuable resource for California  gardeners. Another useful resource is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s webpage on IPM Principles.