Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

The Birds and the Bees

Two bird houses sit at opposing corners of the vegetable garden perimeter, perhaps twelve feet apart, attached to the posts supporting our deer fence. Last year we saw four nestings of blue birds move through them. So far this year, the houses have provided temporary shelter to both bluebirds and wrens; we are now on the second nesting in each. Watching the comings and goings and hearing the exhortations and wooings of our feathered friends has certainly enriched our time in the garden. And I’m sure that the birds’ consumption of insects has helped our garden from a practical standpoint too. Perhaps the diversity of plant life in our yard encourages birds to linger here; we are grateful that these wild creatures tolerate our close presence, though it must occasionally be upsetting to have us picking the sugar snaps right below their house, walking by as we do so, merely feet from their precious progeny.

Because we interact so directly with our gardens, gardeners are generally aware of our responsibility for our own little pieces of the natural world. The birds and bees in the garden remind us that everything we do in the backyard affects all living within it, as well as those beyond the garden’s boundaries.  Avoiding the use of poisons is one way to insure a welcoming environment in your garden or greenhouse, and provides a diversity of insects. We can also plant flowering and seed-bearing plants to further provide a welcoming environment for the natural world.

My neighbor across the creek keeps several hives of bees, insuring that honey bees visit our garden all season. When days are too cold or wet for them, I still see larger bumble bees patiently working the catmint and thyme. But gardeners and farmers everywhere aren’t as fortunate. Precipitous declines in the honey-bee population threaten our agriculture and food supply with far-reaching consequences. Pollinators aren’t limited to bees—many butterflies, wasps, flies and moths are specialists in this activity too.

The Home Garden Seed Association, www.ezfromseed.org offers some guidelines for attracting pollinators to your yard:

Provide a succession of flowering plants through the season to support a range of species.

Flowers of different shapes attract different types of pollinators.

Plant areas of flowers at least four feet across; these will attract pollinators better than scattered small plantings.

Remember that pesticides are a major threat to insect pollinators.

Many pollinator favorites can be grown inexpensively from seed.