While a large number of people like the idea of helping bees and other pollinators, becoming a beekeeper is simply not realistic for some of us. Luckily, you don’t need to become a beekeeper in order to create a more pollinator-friendly world! Here are ten things that you can do to support pollinators without being a beekeeper.
Sometimes we want to help bees and pollinators, but we have no clue where to start. Other times we cannot physically help honey bees for fear of being stung because of our allergies. On the other hand, we may not be able to help bees because we are concerned about the unforeseen consequences. Maybe there just is no time in your day or resources to get started. No matter what your reasoning is for not being able to become a beekeeper, it is okay. We understand. That’s why we wanted to put together a list of 10 things you can do to help honey bees and other pollinators without becoming a beekeeper.
Just because you are worried about being stung or don’t want to keep bees doesn’t mean you cannot plant a pollinator friendly garden. In fact, most of the pollinators that visit your garden rarely sting. If they do, the stings tend to be mild. When we think of bee stings, often they are confused with wasp or yellow jacket (which are not pollinators) stings that hurt and cause severe reactions and swelling.
Choose the plants and foods that you grow carefully based on the native pollinators in your region. If you are looking to grow tomatoes, select a variety that is not genetically treated with pesticides and you will enjoy seeing many large fluffy bumbles (Bombus affinis) scouring your garden. If you like blueberries and live in the Southeastern USA, you will enjoy the southeastern blueberry bee (Habropoda labriosa).
If you are able, remove chemicals from your management practices. There are natural ways to handle pests through natural means. For example, aphids can be easily removed by spraying them with a stream of water from a garden hose, sprayer or watering can. There are many non-chemical or organic forms of pest management. Often the best way to naturally manage the insects in your garden is with predators of those insects. Mother Earth News has a few different resources on choosing the correct predator to eat those plant eaters. Click here to read more from Mother Earth News and their take on Organic Pest Control. These are just ideas, but there is a better idea to contemplate is how the natural world works.
It is important to remember that some damage to plants is part of the ecology of your garden. Biodiversity in plants, insects and microbes helps to keep the micro-ecosystem healthy and thriving while being part of the larger environment around it. When a bug eats part of your leaves, it creates a population of protein for other insects and animals like beetles, spiders and birds. When you remove a piece of the food chain by using chemical means, it causes a chain reaction up the food chain when the bird still decides to eat that dead bug on the ground. If the bird eats a number of the insects that have been killed by your pesticide because it is easy food, now it has a concentration of those chemicals in its system.
If there is absolutely no way to refrain from using chemical treatments to protect your plants or garden from insects, read the label and apply and dispose of it correctly. Take careful time to plan out your pesticide application and are specific about the pests you are trying to combat, you can reduce your impact on the pollinators and the entire ecosystem in your area. Often, this takes some time and planning to ensure that pesticide impact is minimized. All pesticides have been designed to dissolve over a time period or half-life. These half-lives can be found on the container or online at the manufacturer. If you cannot find this information, do not use the pesticide. Using the half-life of the chemical and understanding how to accelerate the half-life by sunshine or precipitation will help you to identify the best application time in a 24-hour day. Using the pesticide right after dusk or before the sunrises (while plugging up beehives in the area) will help to minimize the effects on the pollinators in the area. Think of it as minimizing the harm done to the organisms that you are trying to help because the dosage or concentration they may be eating, touching, etc. will be lower than if they are in contact with it directly after application of the chemical. This is just one way to look at how to minimize pollinator harm, but not the best option.
If there is an organic pesticide option, these often reduce the impact on the local animals and flora significantly by design. Mother Earth News has a variety of suggestions and recipes. Click here to read an article from Mother Earth News about Organic Pesticides and how to use them. Even though these are organic, that does not mean there will not be consequences. The most important thing to remember is moderation. Never douse any plant in too much of anything, including fertilizers. Also, Check out this article by Dr. Edward Group and some of his suggestions. Beyond concerning yourself with what not to do to pollinators, there are a lot of things we can do to help in supporting pollinator populations with nutrition.
One thing most people take for granted is water. We can just go to the tap and retrieve a clean glass of fresh water anytime we like. Bees, butterflies, beetles and others cannot. Helpful insects, birds and animals do not have easy access. One thing you can do is make sure there is a fresh birdbath with some corks or rocks in it so bees and other pollinators can drink from it and take it back to their hive. Honey bees use water in their colony in hot summers as a way to cool their hive. They evaporate it inside the colony in the same way that our sweat works. The water molecules help remove internal heat from the hive as some bees use their wings to fan and control air flow. Therefore, in some areas, water is extremely important where there is high heat and the bees are hard at work. So take some time, clean out that bird bath frequently enough to not let mosquitos grow and throw some pebbles in there so your bumbles and butterflies can drink up, too.
Native pollinators are geocentric and usually have a strict diet of local plants that will give them specific nutrients. Think about cultural differences and diets in human beings. Oftentimes the differences in what people in different cultures eat are linked to what foods are available in their area. For example, coastal groups typically eat more fish, while people who live inland tend to eat more livestock-based meats like beef. The same principle applies to pollinators. If you’re not sure which plants are best for pollinators in your area, Pollinator.org has put out guides for much of North America. Pollinator Partnership also has excellent guides sorted by state/province to help you choose native pollinator-friendly plants. Simply find the guide that corresponds with where you live, and get planting!
Want to plant some pollinator-friendly flowers but don’t want to put in the time to figure out which ones? No problem! Beepods members can get their hands on our Bee Friendly Wildflower Seed Mix.
The biggest challenge when choosing plants is to note early spring flowering plants to late fall flowering plants. All of these are important, because pollinators need flowers in order to eat, and by having flowers that bloom at different times, you can provide them with a continuous source of food. A helpful tool in figuring out which plants to choose is the Pollinator Partnership’s planting guides. Each of these guides has a section on bloom periods which aids the reader in selecting flowering plants with varied bloom periods.
Is it really important to kill all of those dandelions and Creeping Charlie every year? We think not. Often these plants are one of the richest sources of nectar and pollen for pollinators. Because of the abundance of these plants, they have become a staple in many pollinators’ diets. So while you may dislike these weeds and want to get rid of them as soon as they appear, they are an important part of many pollinators’ diets, so if you want to help pollinators, consider letting some of the weeds live in your lawn. This blog post by the University of Minnesota Extension goes into more detail about why you should allow weeds to hang around in your lawn. This blog post by Dr. Judith Webb is a list of good and bad weeds for pollinators.
That dead tree or the brush pile at the back of your yard make great homes for all pollinators. That bush you haven’t trimmed back in years could potentially be a home to a bumble bee colony. That tree that you haven’t cut down could be home to bats or other healthy pollinators for your area. You can help pollinators by saving yourself some yard work. It’s a win-win!
The USDA has a great pdf showing how to identify natural nesting sites of native bees.
If you do not have pollinator homes currently, you can wait for nature to take its course, or you can find ways to build homes for your pollinators. Most pollinator houses are quite simple to make, so you can help pollinators and have a fun activity to do with your family!
Mason bees are a small, typically non-stinging type of bee. They are excellent pollinators, and are great to have around the garden. Hobbyfarms.com has a great step-by-step guide for building your own mason bee house. Find it here.
Carpenter bees are most often thought of as being a pest. This is understandable, since they build their nests in wood, meaning that their nests are often found in people’s homes. While many people choose to get rid of them by calling the exterminator. There is another, less chemical, cheaper option, though – you can build them a house! All you’ll need is a large(ish) piece of scrap wood and a drill. Find a how-to here.
Bats are great to have around. Not only are they great pollinators, they eat mosquitos, too! Who doesn’t want to get rid of a few mosquitos? A great way to ensure that you have some bats in your yard is to build a bat house. Find a tutorial on how to build a bat house here.
You don’t necessarily need to be an expert in pollinators to start a pollinator initiative or education program in your community. All you need is the desire to help pollinators and the willingness to do a little legwork.
Check with your local library or community center – they often have educational programs where speakers will come and talk about a wide variety of topics, and they will typically take requests from community members. Ask if they’ve done a program on pollinators, and if not, would they? This would be a great way to draw in people who are interested, and to create a network with such people in the community.
Go to your local garden center and ask about pollinator-friendly plants. Do they have a specific section for such plants? Are the plants marked as being pollinator-friendly? If these plants just seem to blend in with the rest, make a suggestion that they stand out more. Some people may not think of planting a pollinator-friendly garden until the idea is right in front of them.
If you think that the only way to help pollinators is to become a beekeeper, think again! There is a multitude of ways to help pollinators to flourish in your area without donning the beekeeper suit. You’ve just read about ten of them. You don’t have to do all ten – you can do any number of things to help pollinators – every little bit counts. If you’re like us, though, once you get started, you’re hooked.