Posts Tagged ‘pollinators’

No Mow May has been a success at our house. Ratings so far:

  • Big bees, medium bees, teeny tiny bees say: 10/10+
  • Robins say: 10/10 (comment: “But water more please, it makes it easier to catch the worms”)
  • Grackles: 9/10 (relevant quote: “stupid insects have more places to hide, but there are more of them, so it’s ok I guess”)
  • Mourning Doves say: 8/10 (quotes: “The taller plants were nice but now that the sun’s out there are quieter places to nest” and “We like the backyard bird bath” and “Please put out more of that nyjer thistle seed, it was nice”)

I also spotted a new plant in the front yard, Blue-eyed Grass. Despite its name, it’s actually a member of the Iris family, and a pretty one at that. So that’s fun.

Blue-eyed grass in the meadow,

And the laden bee’s low hum,

Milkweeds all by the roadside,

To tell us summer is come.

— Mary Austin

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Photo by Maxime Doré on Unsplash

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We’ve reached the point where most people are aware that pollinators need help, that traditional grass lawns do little to support bees and other wildlife, add to pollution, waste water, and contribute to a host of other environmental problems. 

I have mentioned that I am not a big fan of grass lawns. We also know that Mrs. Mannerly (not her real name) down the street will give us stink eye if we don’t toe the weed-whacked, chemical-laced, 2-inch tall, monoculture turf line.

What’s the answer?

Partly, it’s changing what we grow, and we’re adding pollinator-friendly plants as much as we can. But until we’re ready to completely upend the lawn paradigm, we need better ways to deal with the grass we have.

And we’re hoping to bring our little corner of the world along for the ride.

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When Mr Man and I moved to this charming area a decade ago, a typical weekend was filled with the roar of lawn mowers. One fellow a few doors down sported a first-generation corded mower, but for the most part our new neighbors were all about gas.

Garage doors would open each Saturday morning to show off rows of gas-powered mowers, bright red gas canisters, leaf blowers and battle-hardened lawn trimmers. Our morning walks often required us to step gingerly around streams of spilled fuel and shout to be heard over the racket. 

No more.

Sure, that one neighbor with the riding mower still manages to spend a large proportion of his afternoon outside, but that might have more to do with his home life than his landscaping needs.

Otherwise, a remarkable sense of peace has taken over our street.

As new homeowners standing in front of the row of mowers at Home Depot, gas power did not appeal. We picked up a battery-powered unit that played well with our other power tools. The unit was light, easy to use, quick, quiet, cut well and, perhaps most impactfully, was a bright fluorescent green.

The neighbors noticed. The couple across the street watched us for months, then asked about it. It took time, but eventually they converted to an electric mower. Other neighbors on afternoon walks eyed us up as we mowed. Several years in we noticed another handful of neighbors had made the change as well. As minds changed the trend continued to spread.

Now a decade in, it’s hard to find a neighbor with a gas mower, and that’s terrific. 

* * *

What’s the next challenge? Our neighbors still mow early and often. The good news is that the city lets our extensive network of road separators grow bumper crops of dandelions. Bright yellow carpets fill the streets (and feed the bees) for weeks. Still, private lawns account for a substantial amount of acreage* and could be key to turning the tide for bees and the rest of our unpaid pollinator workforce.

“When you run the numbers, it turns that almost anything is better than a grass lawn — except pavement.” 

Lawns are the No. 1 irrigated ‘crop’ in America. They need to die.

Take No Mow May. This movement started in Britain but quickly jumped the Pond to North America. 

What Is No Mow May | Better Homes & Gardens

No Mow May isn’t about laziness (although that is a side benefit); it’s about helping the bees.

Also laziness. Whatever works for you, no judgement!

No Mow May: 8 Reasons to Let Your Lawn Grow This Month – Bob VIla

When it comes to spring yard work, what if you could actually do more by doing less? By participating in No Mow May, you’ll spend less time, money, and energy on your lawn while helping to improve the planet.

I’m hoping that at least some of our neighbors will realize, as we have, that in the case of mowing, less is definitely more.

Why You May Not Want to Mow the Lawn This Weekend

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I hope our shift to an electric mower had some small local impact but it’s not just us, of course. The folks around the corner switched to a xeriscaped yard and posted signs about helping pollinators. The world is noticing that the pollinators need change and wants to help. The question is now less about “what” and more about how to do it in ways that work with the world we have.

So this year I’m supporting my local eco organizations, planting native flowers, and braving potential side-eye from Mrs. Mannerly across the street. 

Who knows? Next time I see her across my bee-filled yard, she might even smile.

* * *

* For example, lawns can be counted as the single largest “crop” in the U.S. and are estimated to take up over 400 million acres in the U.S. And they don’t even taste good!

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Photo by Stefan Steinbauer on Unsplash

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A storm rolled through last night.

I’ve always loved good thunder and lightning, but this was next level. As I listened to the rumbles like drums and watched bolts of energy streak through the sky, I thought a bit about Mother Nature, and how we often seem to be playing catch-up.

When it’s wet, find a nice cave for shelter. If it’s cold, master fire. If it floods, head for high ground until the water recedes.

I’m oversimplifying, of course, but our instincts, and now our infrastructure and our policies, often seem static or reactive. Particularly in times of great change.

Wouldn’t it be nice to get ahead of the curve?

* * *

Take pollinators, for example. (You knew I’d get to that at some point, didn’t you?)

In the US and Canada, my home turf, communities are full of bylaws governing what you can and can’t do with property in the communal sphere. It’s your land, but you probably aren’t allowed to grow a towering oak directly under a power line or leave rusting car parts by the sidewalk as a tetanus reservoir for children and dogs. 

That all seems reasonable, and on the side of the greater good. But what about redefining “good” to include not just aesthetically pleasing symbols of European aristocracy in a bygone era (a.k.a. close-cropped grass lawns), but also what we all need for a healthy and successful future?

Take this gentleman as an example:

Kansas City Man’s Plea For Native Flower Justice Unites Gardeners Around The World

He did what scientists and ecologists around the world are encouraging, and turned his yard into a pollinator paradise. My hat is off to him. But the city reacted by telling him to cut it down because it violated city code. I would argue that this is because they are operating on an outdated definition of what’s “good.”

* * *

recent survey asked teens how they felt about the job their elders are doing on climate, and the results were both predictable and cause for a bit of reflection. The kids are deeply disappointed, and they have reason. The good news is that many members of “Generation Greta” aren’t waiting around.

That’s not to say that nothing has changed. Solar panels, electric vehicles, wind turbines, the push for accountability down the supply chain, all good things. Even so, many of our current policies remain stuck in the past. We’re on the right path but we’re not going fast enough. And not everyone is moving in the same direction.

It’s time for the sort of thinking at which writers and creatives (and teenagers) excel: new ideas, new approaches, and a reimagining of what we can do now, even in the face of current challenges.

Even if it’s something as small as what grows in your front yard.

* * *

As I sat there last night in my cave, rain and thunder all around, I realized that our definitions aren’t all that will matter in the end.

And that it’s always smart to stay on Mother Nature’s good side.

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Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash

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The Joe Pye Weed is in full bloom and buzzing with big bees, small bees and not-bees, and look who stopped by!

I only wish we had the space and sun for a dozen more of these plants, plus scads of milkweed for this monarch and all of its friends. Until then, I’ll do what I can with what I have.

Cliché? Yes, but still a pretty good motto!

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Itching for Good

We picked up a bunch of native plants from a local eco organization and added them to the garden over the weekend. To go along with existing pollinator plants like butterfly weed, chives, and Joe Pye Weed, I am now the proud owner of flowers like wild bergamot, yellow tickseed, and black-eyed Susan.

Also approximately one million extremely itchy bug bites, and as anyone who knows me knows, I really hate mosquitoes.


Birds and butterflies and pollinators in general need food and shelter. These plants will live outdoors and I had to get them moved into their new homes; the mosquitoes just took advantage of my helpful nature. (Also my delicious blood.)

So both arms are itchier than I’d like, plus I have a row of awkwardly-placed extra bumps on my spine (particularly fun) and what I’m pretty sure is a spider bite on my wrist, which is now extra red, itchy and swollen.

Still worth it!

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Photos by Evan BuchholzJoshua J. CottenAaron BurdenKarl-Heinz MüllerIlana GrosternGaétan Marceau CaronZdeněk Macháček on Unsplash

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A plant is running a casino in my yard. Also, yesterday was World Bee Day, so let’s talk about the intersection of the two.

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As I’ve mentioned before, lawns are a pain. Right now our lawn is an interesting mix of grass, ground ivy, and wild strawberry, with a few dandelions thrown in for good measure. It actually looks quite pretty, with green grass and purple, white and yellow flowers.  

The ground ivy, or Creeping Charlie, is particularly good at spreading.

We’re moving in, see? And there’s nothing youse guys can do about it.

It’s also good at bringing in the bees. Right now there are several big bumblebees happily flitting from flower to purple flower. Watching them fly, I noticed that they bounce from plant to plant before settling on a flower. Curious, I did a bit of research.

It turns out that Creeping Charlie is playing those bees like a fiddle.

“Creeping Charlie employs a unique strategy to attract some bee visitors, such as sweat bees, bumble bees, and honey bees, that is tied into how the flower produces nectar.  The flowers have a unique strategy for rewarding visitor pollinators, commonly referred to as the “lucky hit” strategy.  Creeping Charlie flowers produce an average of 0.3 microliters of nectar per flower, but the amount of nectar in any one flower varies greatly, ranging from 0.06 to 2.4 microliters. “

— Creeping Charlie: Management and Value to Pollinators | Turfgrass Science

Like the psychology of gambling, such random reward mechanisms keep those bees coming back for more. The good news is that on average, these flowers are worth the bees’ time and energy.

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I’m all for pollinator planting, but before you sign on to the Creeping Charlie train, let me say that it is considered invasive in many places and is most certainly difficult to remove.

“While Creeping Charlie could be a good nectar source for bees, we are not recommending that you let it take over your lawn.”

(It’s a bit late for that, but at least the bees and I can look on the bright side.)

Consider a turf alternative like this Bee blend, or plant clover instead. Bees love it, and they aren’t the only ones.

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Nom nom! Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash

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Today I’m applauding my mother, who wants to build a pollinator garden. What a fantastic idea, and one supported by the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, Honey Nut Cheerios (for obvious reasons), and many others.

She’s interested in planting a series of native plant species that will flower from early to late growing season and support bees and other pollinators like butterflies and hummingbirds. And it doesn’t have to be a large-scale project to make a difference.

I’ve talked about bees here before but the point deserves emphasis: we need them. Which is why this week I’m lauding the pest control company Ortho for removing neonics, the neonicotinoid-based pesticides linked to wide-scale bee deaths, from their outdoor products. Here’s hoping other companies follow suit soon with this and other bee-friendly strategies, before this Whole Foods nightmare becomes a terrible coffee, chocolate and fruit-free nightmare. Coffee, people!


Dandelions are pretty (and if you don’t agree there are more targeted ways to get rid of them), weeding is good exercise, and seventy-five percent of US fruits, nuts and vegetables are pollinated by bees. And killing off millions of enthusiastic workers doing their jobs for free seems awfully self-defeating.

Why care about pollinators? Personally, I like bees, and I like food. I like to imagine a future filled with more possibilities, not less.

I also care because we’re more dependent on nature than we like to think. Because a future of limited food and little variety is a recipe for human and natural disaster (also? bland!). And because I don’t want to spend my declining years describing the rich red taste of ripe strawberries to children who have no idea what I’m talking about.

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🐛 #NationalGardenMonth #milkweed #monarchs

A post shared by Pollinator Partnership (@pollinatorpartnership) on

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A new report is calling for the global banning of two common pesticides, neonicotinoids and fipronil. Why? Bees. Also birds, earthworms, other pollinators and aquatic invertebrates, but let’s focus on bees for a minute.

If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.

― Albert Einstein

Maybe you’re sick of hearing that chemicals are implicated in colony collapse disorder and bee deaths? Maybe your eyes glaze over when someone mentions the importance of bees to the ecosystem? Well, are you sick of eating? Because that’s what this discussion is really about.

One of every three bites of food comes from plants pollinated by honeybees and other pollinators.

The Task Force on Systemic Pesticides is putting out the Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the Impact of Systemic Pesticides on Biodiversity and Ecosystems (yeah, it’s a mouthful, just call it WIA, or on Twitter: #WIAlaunch). It’s the most comprehensive study of neonics ever done, it’s peer reviewed, and it includes industry-sponsored research as well as other source material. The picture it paints is not pretty. From a Treehugger article on the report:

Many of the findings are shocking. The concentrations of chemicals building up in waters exceeds levels approved as safe by pesticide regulations. Many of the species occupying critical links low in our food chains are being exposed via multiple pathways and by cocktails of chemicals acting together.

Scientists note that the prophylactic use of pesticides rivals CAFO antibiotic abuse; in both practices, chemicals are dosed into our environment causing real problems in a quest to avoid potential problems.

This Is What Our Grocery Shelves Would Look Like Without Bees

We’d be eating porridge, rice, bread — not much else. Life would be awful.

― Dave Goulson

We’re lucky enough to have a food factory where the most important workers do the job for free, and we’re dousing them with poison. Where’s the sense in that? Humanity is often smart and frequently innovative, particularly when something we care about is threatened. We got over our devil-may-care love affair with DDT when it was shown to have persistent toxicological effects on the environment and, you know, life. We can do this too.

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