If You Plant It They Will Come: A Garden For Pollinators - Pt 2
By guest blogger Kimberly B.
It wasn’t planned or even anticipated, but happened quite unexpectedly. While happily pulling up carrots in my first-year garden, I noticed little caterpillars munching on the carrot tops. Not thinking much about it, I clipped the greens off, leaving them in the garden, and brought the roots inside for dinner. But a few days later those little caterpillars had grown much bigger and seemed quite content to live in the carrot patch.
I didn’t realize at the time that I was hosting the tiny larval beginnings of what would later become beautiful Black Swallowtail butterflies (shown above). Such was my surprise introduction into “gardening for pollinators” and I fell in love fast! Since then, I jumped all in and each year I continue to learn, experiment and add plants, flowers and herbs to my spaces that will attract a variety of pollen-loving, nectar-seeking insects.
Pollinators come in many forms - bees, bats, beetles, butterflies, moths, birds, wasps, flies - all are beneficial and welcome in the garden. Some even become a special interest. Like butterflies. Raising Monarchs has become an enjoyable hobby for me that easily compliments having a pollinator-friendly garden.
It all began with one lonely Milkweed growing in a neighbor’s field that had just been sold for a new home to go in. I knew how vital these plants are to the Monarch lifecycle. So I dug it up, the whole thing and let me tell you, they grow one long taproot! Quickly I transplanted it into my garden and hoped for the best. Not only did it recover, it later produced the most beautiful, fragrant blooms! AND it did attract a mama Monarch...so my enthusiasm to learn more about them and their lifecycle began!
Fast forward ...My family is accustomed to the menagerie of various jars and containers lining a table, each holding Monarch caterpillars in various stages of growth (called ‘instars’) and munching on fresh Milkweed. It’s a hobby I take seriously, regardless of the opinions of others. And it’s very satisfying knowing that these incredible future butterflies are protected, nourished, and well on their way to being a link in the eventual fall Great Migration. Watching them “hatch” (called ‘eclose’) from their chrysalides and later setting them free is such a wonderful experience that makes all the work raising them worth it!
There are many garden stories and encounters that I could share, but suffice it to say that I have learned to be curious about the insects and to observe them. Sometimes it’s easy to pass quick judgement on a type of bug that’s munching on your plants. But instead of assuming they’ll destroy your garden and pick them off, do some research about them first. You might be surprised how beneficial, or at least benign, they actually are ~ like my carrot patch Swallowtails!
To attract pollinators, you first need to make your garden or yard friendly for them. An initial step toward that is to stop using chemicals and go organic. This provides a safe environment for them to find you. Listed below are suggestions you might find helpful in gardening organically:
* hand-pick pesky bugs
* make homemade, non-toxic bug repellent sprays from items you probably already have in your kitchen pantry
* use row covers or individual mesh bags to protect against unwanted nibblers
* some people use pheromone traps for serious infestations
* attract birds to your garden
* use quality organic compost and soil amendments
* promptly remove weeds & sickly plants
* allow plenty of space around each plant to discourage airflow issues that could promote disease and opportunistic pests
* hand-pull unwanted "weeds", spray them with white vinegar, or carefully pour boiling water over them
* edge your garden spaces
Previously, Part 1 of “Gardening for Pollinators” lists many types of plants that I’ve found successful in Nebraska for attracting and sustaining pollinator lifecycles. Certainly there are other plants that could be added, but if you’re curious to begin a pollinator garden you might consider the suggestions there. I am not a trained expert in these matters, but an enthusiastic gardener who is always learning and truly passionate about understanding nature and living peacefully with it. Hopefully you will find some inspiration here to consider pollinators more closely, thus enhancing your gardening experience too. Always be growing, friends!