Bring In the (Good) Critters

As I shared not long ago, we bought a house and I began gardening. Very quickly, my reading in conjunction with this new venture has given me a new desire: to create a safe haven for certain wildlife in my own backyard.

Did you know that bee populations have been radically declining? While neonicotinoids (the root in there is nicotine, for pronunciation help) are likely part of the problem, and avoiding using them or buying plants treated with them can be an important step, it’s not the whole picture. Scientists aren’t precisely sure what the whole picture is yet, but it’s likely a combination of factors, one being overuse of pesticides on the plants bees collect pollen from. Bees are vital to our food supply, and need our protection.

Bird populations are also declining nationwide; faster in some places than others. Much of this is habitat destruction, so obviously sharing our habitat with them could be of vital significance in stopping this trend, along with greater conservation of natural resources.

 Although we don’t get many this far north, monarch butterflies are included in this sad trend. In 2003 they took up 27.5 acres in the hibernation area in Mexico. In 2013, it was just over 1.5. They bounced back some last year, but not totally. Again, herbicides in agriculture are of some of the blame.

Bat populations are on the decline too. Part of this is a disease, likely caused by a fungus.  The disease will likely sort itself out once the population decreases to resistant bats and they breed, but perhaps only after extinction of some species. But part is also habitat destruction. We may not all like bats (I personally have no problem with them), but they are hugely important to pest control. Insofar as we can help with the habitat problem, we should.

So what can the average homeowner do to help all of these, even if in small ways? After all, enough people doing something small can add up to a big difference.

For bees, we can switch to safer pest control. If we want to get more involved, supporting petitions and legislation again overuse of harmful pesticides and looking for/utilizing safer, viable alternatives in agriculture is an option too. Further, when considering flowers for your garden, consider flowers that are particularly attractive to bees. If you’re providing safe pollen sources, you’re doing your part.

Further, if you have a bee hive too close to your house, or encounter a swarming hive, call a beekeeper rather than an exterminator. But if you have land, no one allergic in your home, and they’re not too near the house or frequented areas, just leave them be and give them space. Your garden will thank you.

Finally, for bees, make or buy a bee condo and mount it in a sheltered location. Female mason bees will use them to lay their eggs. Mason bee males don’t sting and females rarely do, so they’re pretty safe to invite into the yard. They’re blue, which is pretty cool. There’s no beekeeping responsibilities with this option, unlike keeping a hive. If you have the space and inclination for keeping a hive, go for it.

On to butterflies! These are also pollinators, so your garden will thank you for them too. Like bees, flowers that attract butterflies are a great option. There’s a lot of crossover between the two.

Providing food and water sources, which can be very decorative, helps too.

 

My perennial garden includes this super simple butterfly puddler. Butterflies have to drink from shallow water, mud, or damp sand, all of which become more scarce in summer. Adding one of these, kept wet, in warm weather can attract butterflies for a drink. A butterfly feeder hung from a tree is another possibility.

Birds may eat our berries, but they also eat bugs and are vital to the food chain, so welcoming them by leaving nests in trees, adding a bird bath to the yard, and hanging a feeder and bird houses from a tree is free pest control.

Ditto to bats. Mosquito reduction like no other. And guess what? There’s such thing as bat houses. They have to be hung 15-25 feet high (no more, no less) and placed in the sunshine. It can take a few seasons to get some roosting critters in there.

A lot of these include projects that can be done with kiddos, along with fun learning experiences. Don’t pass up the opportunity!

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