If you’ve been paying attention to ecological news over the past decade then you have likely heard of the pressing issue of pollinator decline, particularly the decline in honeybee populations due to colony collapse disorder. Considering the key role that bees play in the life cycle of an overwhelming majority of crops, one can see the cause for concern. While the individual home gardener is limited in their ability to influence large-scale commercial practices such as the haphazard application of potent neonicotinoid pesticides, there are a number of steps that can be taken to support healty pollinator populations in your personal garden.
While honeybees are the quintessential pollinator, in truth they are but one of a great number of insects that assist in the pollination of food and garden
plants. A reliable sign of the health of a garden is a diverse population of
insects — bees, flies, moths, butterflies, and even insects traditionally
known as “pests” such as wasps and mosquitoes fill specific niches as
pollinators for different plants. Knowing this, the first step to promoting
pollinator health in your garden is limiting the use of pesticides. Obviously
destructive garden pests must be dealt with if there are to be any flowers to
pollinate, but there are a set of best practices that can mitigate any effects
on desirable pollinators. Avoid harsh chemical pesticides in favor of natural and organic products, and only apply pesticides before dawn or after sunset to avoid times when pollinators are active. When you keep pesticide application to a minimum, you may be surprised to find that natural predators such as lizards, birds, and spiders will take over some of the work of keeping your garden pest-free.
The next step is setting up your garden to attract pollinators most suited for
the plants you are growing. For gardeners in most of North America and Europe typically this includes bees, moths, and butterflies. Filling your garden with many differing plants is key to catching the attention of traveling pollinators looking for variety. Consider growing local wildflowers and herbaceous plants — favorites of many pollinators — along with your usual garden fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Additionally, planting patches of alike plants rather than lone specimens can help to encourage pollinators to visit several plants of the same species, increasing the likelihood of successfull pollination. Finally, a small source of water such as a birdbath can help support a thriving pollinator population. Just be sure to clean out the water regularly to prevent mosquito infestations.
A more proactive method of attracting pollinators to your garden is to actually
build a new habitat for them. Particularly, “bee houses” like the one pictured above are gaining popularity for attracting wild bees such as leafcutter and mason bees. These solitary cousins of honeybees take refuge in the small holes inset into the bee house, hopefully flying to your nearby garden for food and to pollinate. Building these homemade bee homes is simple — just drill small
holes (roughly 1/4″ in diameter and 1/2″ deep) into any wooden block.
Periodically check on the bee house to clean debris out of the holes, and keep the bee house as dry as possible. With any luck you should be able to attract a number of bees, providing a valuable source of pollination for your garden and contributing to overall bee populations.