Attracting Butterflies to Your Garden

August is Butterfly month! Butterflies, as with all other pollinators, are important to the health of any garden and farm. By planting specific plants in your garden or on your farm, not only will you be helping the butterflies, but you will also be able to enjoy these beautiful jewel-like creatures as they flit and fly.

To encourage your local butterfly species, you can plant plants for both caterpillars and adult butterflies. Caterpillars need “host plants” that they can attach their chrysalis to, so they can develop into butterflies. According to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, “Depending upon the species, this haven could be a bush, tall grass, or piles of leaves or sticks. If you leave these features in your yard, you will encourage butterflies to stay around and drink the nectar you provide.” These host plants include: Bleeding heart (Dicentra), Lupines (Lupinus), Milkweed (Asclepias) and even Aspen/Poplar (Populus) trees.

Adult butterflies need nectar-producing plants as a food supply. Some plants that will both attract and feed butterflies are: Aster (Aster), Milkweed (Asclepias), Bee balm (Monarda), Purple coneflower (Echinacea), and Sunflowers (Helianthus).
For more plants that will attract and support butterfly species, check out the Xerces Society’s Butterfly Gardening Fact Sheet.
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The Truth about Bats

Bats have been the cause of fear and trepidation for centuries, as well as the subject of scary stories and horror films. Over the years, scientists have proven that bats are vital to a variety of ecosystems, though. This knowledge, hopefully, has allayed some people’s fears about bats, and some have even gone so far as provide roosting places for bats in their own backyards.

bat

Many scientists and organizations work to preserve bat species throughout the world, as well as educate the public about their value. Bats play a key role in many ecosystems by providing insect population control. According to S. Chambers and N. Allen in “Create Roosts for Bats in Your Yard” (The Wildlife Garden set, Oregon State University), “in North America, bats are the primary predators of night-flying insects. Some species of bat can capture several hundred insects an hour, including insect species that can devastate valuable plants and crops.”

In tropical or desert areas (even in the United States), some species of bats are important for pollination and spreading seed of a variety of plants, including such important crop plants as bananas, peaches, and mangoes.

With 1,100 species in the world, bats count for about 20% of all mammals. With their key role in insect control and pollination, it is plain to see that it is important to preserve bats’ natural habitats and protect bats in urban settings as well. Check back later this week to learn what you can do to protect and encourage bats in your garden or backyard.

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The Decline of Bees

In the last decade or so, bee populations of all species have been in decline, a fact that will not only affect the natural environment, but also is taking a toll on the agricultural industry. Bees are important pollinators for many of the foods that we enjoy every day. In California alone, there are over 50 crops dependent on honeybees for pollination, including strawberries and almonds, which equals billions of dollars of produce every year. As honeybees decline, the yield of these crops goes down, and prices go up. Another side effect as the crop yield goes down is the loss of jobs.

Honey Bee

The main reasons for the decline of honeybees and other species of bees are disease and pesticide use. Diseases, spread by mites and parasites affect both domestic and wild bee populations. The spread of these diseases is being studies by researchers around the world, and strategies are being developed to decrease the spread of the parasites and the diseases affecting bee populations.

While the spread of disease among bees is left to scientists to deal with, the issue of pesticide use is something that all of us can help reduce and hopefully – someday – eliminate. Pesticides are commonly used as a cheaper way to rid plants of pests, but they often affect not just the pesky insects, but also the beneficial ones as well. Bees, in particular, take the pesticide-infused pollen and nectar from flowers back to their hive, affecting not just the individual insect, but an entire hive.

Though the problem seems much larger than any individual person, there are ways to help affect change as a single person, family, or farm. Choosing more natural pest-control options for your own garden or farm is a first step. These could include the introduction of beneficial insects, or the addition of nematodes to your garden’s soil, as well as many other natural pest-control options. You can also reduce, if not eliminate, the use of traditional pesticides by replacing them with organic pesticides that are friendly to bees and other pollinators. Check out this list from the Xerces Society.

Other more tangible options that both farmers and gardeners alike can take to help bee populations include:

  • Raising their own honeybee colonies, using healthier hives such as the Warré Bee Hive
  • Encouraging native bee populations such as bumble and mason bees by placing nest boxes on your property
  • Planting a diverse range of plants to attract honey bees as well as native bee populations

For more ideas for protecting bees, as well as other pollinators, check out the Xerces Society’s Pollinator Conservation Resource Center, where you can find lists of plants native to your area, as well as other ideas for helping to encourage pollinators in your area.

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