Bees, Butterflies, Beneficial Insects

Pollinators are in the news a lot, partly because we have more information about how vulnerable they are to human-caused dangers. The top three threats are: 

  1. Pesticide use (regulations do not keep up with the toxic effects they have on many species)
  2. Habitat loss
  3. Climate change 

Gardeners are in a unique position to do something to help in all three areas.

We do not need pesticides for the most part – even less-toxic controls – if our gardens provide a habitat that mimics a natural ecosystem. Caterpillars? Perhaps they are the larvae of butterflies, or moths that feed the birds. A host of beneficial insects look like bees but are actually flies or wasps: more pest eaters! Did you know there are stingless wasps? Lots of native bees are very gentle too. Leaf cutter bees make perfect holes in leaves as if done with a hole punch and use petals and leaves to line their nests. That can resemble damage from caterpillars or slugs, so it’s important to know what is making holes before immediately going off to find something to spray.

If you have a variety of plants in bloom from late winter into late fall, you will be providing food and shelter for many organisms. You will also be supporting the beneficial critters that help keep things in balance.

A friendly habitat for sensitive species like birds, and ground-nesting and twig-nesting bees, is also good for microorganisms that break down fallen leaves, predators that eat pest species, and even those that prey on your native bees.( Predators indicate that there are enough of their prey for them to survive). As long as a plant is healthy, it can afford to give up some leaves. If it’s not healthy, there may be something you can do to correct a problem that is not pest related.

Providing habitat is largely a matter of leaving things alone. Let the leaves protect your soil over the winter. Wait to cut stems until late spring when twig nesting bees are hatched. Make a nice layer of upper, mid, and lower canopy plants to moderate the climate in your yard and give birds a place to shelter and look for food, such as those caterpillars and bugs that live on plants.

Store more carbon in your soil – it’s easy if you follow best management practices to feed your soil organisms. Add organic matter, and do not remove the free stuff that falls from your plants. Keep the soil temperature moderate with mulch. Use compost instead of chemical fertilizer, because it increases soil microbiota instead of damaging it.

More fun facts:

  • In Oregon alone, there are over 600 species of native bees. This one is a handsome metallic sweat bee (Agapostemon sp). Most are ground-nesting species and many are solitary. Make sure you keep some bare ground for them, and don’t compact the soil by walking where nests could be.
  • Native bees do not include European honey bees
  • Native bees can be better pollinators than honey bees
  • Habitat for native bees helps all your crops

Get in touch for a consult and help with setting up a maintenance schedule that fits your little ecosystem.