Bee Happy, Plant a Pollinator Garden

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My Baltimore City pollinator garden has milkweed, Echinacea, lavender, Mountain Mint
Milkweed, Purple Coneflowers, Lavender, Mountain Mint, Liatris, Joe-Pye Weed, Butterfly Weed and Agasthe are bee magnets.

Maryland’s honeybees are having a rough go. Though Maryland passed historic pollinator legislation this year, you can also take a “beeuatiful” step and help by planting your own pollinator garden. Not only will honeybees thank you, but your tummy will, too. Bees pollinate about one out of every three bites of food we eat. Check out my new pollinator garden –  it’s been a busy-bee garden!

 In 2015, more than 60 percent of Maryland beekeepers’ honeybee colonies died. That’s twice the national average. Bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is now a major focus for the Environmental Protection Agency because our nation’s food supply could be in danger. CCD is when worker bees take off in search of pollen, but don’t return to the waiting queen bee and food in their hives.

Research suggests that a triple-play of factors is most likely causing CCD. The Varroa mite has taken hold in honeybees and is weakening honeybees. Widespread pesticide use, namely the neonicotinoid pesticides (a.k.a. neonics), also weakens honeybees and possibly jams their beehive-GPS-system. Add in that honeybee natural habitats are all but gone, and thirty to sixty percent of hives are collapsing. Bee-friendly habitats are key because they provide a buffet of honeybee food, rather than the current limited corn and soybean diets.

2016 Pollinator Protection Act passes

Maryland’s General Assembly took a historic and decisive step this year by approving the Pollinator Protection Act 2016. Spearheaded by the organized Maryland Pesticide Network coalition, legislators passed a bill that by 2018, neonic pesticides will no longer be sold to consumers in Maryland. Turns out backyard gardeners are a bit heavy on neonic pesticide application, about 120 times too heavy.

How You Can Help? Plant a Pollinator Garden

From the start, I knew that moving my vegetable garden wasn’t a good idea. The veggie garden was in the middle of the kids’ play area, it just didn’t work. We moved the garden and simultaneously, a nearby oak tree drank some juju juice and grew like a weed. So much so that the tree shaded the veggie garden just a little too much. We tried for two years to compost and water this garden to a happy place, but realized there’s just not enough sun.

In researching bee-friendly plants, we realized that many are perennials and also quite pretty. We asked our landscaper for suggestions and Brian Brister at Foxborough Nursery helped us lay out the perfect bee garden.

Here’s what I’ve learned: A pollinator garden is beautiful. It’s also shocking how many honeybees and butterflies visit and work our little pollinator garden. Other than water the garden on hot days (thank you dear husband), a pollinator garden is maintenance-free. The plants will be trimmed down in the fall. 

Shot on an iPhone 6. Actually an iPhone 5 C.
Honeybee dining on mountain mint. Shot on an iPhone 6. Actually shot on an iPhone 5 C!

Where to Start?

Peruse Beyond Pesticides’ Pollinator Guide and see for yourself the many unique and attractive pollinator plants. Check out this excellent Pollinator Partnership guide for Maryland pollinators. Or, just visit Blue Water Baltimore’s Herring Run Nursery and find the pollinator section. Many local garden stores also offer pollinator plants. While big box stores may carry pollinator plants, I’ve read that their plants may have been sprayed with neonic pesticides. Since no regulation exists requiring clear was-it-sprayed-or-not-sprayed labeling, it’s worth asking the nursery if a plant is truly bee-friendly. With hope, reduced and smarter pesticide use, better farming practices (see photo below), and more bee-friendly gardens in Maryland, just may lead to better honeybee outcomes.
Conservation Magazine reported that wildflower strips planted next to farm fields increased crop yield by 10 percent.

Laurel Peltier
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