Friday, June 19, 2015

Pollinators & Garden Beauty

Earlier this month the Lincoln Journal Star published an editorial on pollinators -- the issues surrounding their decline, especially here in Nebraska. The focus was on honey bees, so I had to send in a reply which won't be published, but I leave here for you to read. Look for a longer piece in a future issue of Prairie Fire.

I applaud the Journal Star editorial board for continuing to bring attention to the plight of our pollinating insects, and especially the loss of prairie which has only been exacerbated with the decrease in CRP funding associated with the most recent farm bill. We also need to stop mowing our highway edges more than 1-2 times a year, and plant native pollinator gardens at home, at businesses, and even on capitol grounds. 

However, European honey bees are responsible for so much commercial pollination because we’ve made that the case. It takes 60% of all U.S. hives to pollinate just the almond crop in California, and the stress of shipping them across the country surely exacerbates their troubles, as well as the lack of diverse flower forage. This agricultural practice is a dangerous monoculture that supports other dangerous monocultures, systems which diminish diversity and a landscape’s health and resiliency. Yes, helping honey bees will help so much more, especially if this means fewer lawns and more prairies, but we have 4,000 native bee species, too.

These native bees are, collectively, over 90% efficient at flower pollination whereas honey bees are only 70% efficient. Many native bees have evolved very specific relationships with native plants – in some cases, the absence of one leads to the absence of the other. The more bees of all species we have pollinating, the higher the fruit yield, the better the quality, and the longer the shelf life at grocery stores (I’m especially thinking about produce like strawberries that require a diversity of pollinators to set fruit). 

The Xerces Society has recently begun a pilot program on about 100 acres of almond groves in California, planting the edges with native hedgerows and underplanting the trees in a meadow of wildlfowers – the goal is to end the dependence on honey bees, reduce water consumption, and mitigate the need to spray for pests. We should also look to the Prairie STRIPs program at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. 

Here in Nebraska, and Lincoln specifically, I’d love to see us become the prairie capitol of the nation: prairie along road edges following the lead of New Mexico and Iowa, native plants in our garden beds and in the new pedestrian mall downtown, and one side of the state building in designed prairie gardens vs. a desert of lawn. Our lives, and the lives of other species, may depend upon a new landscape aesthetic that incorporates both human concepts of beauty and unseen ecological function that supports native bees, monarch butterflies, and far more; what we need is a beauty that extends to species beyond our own.


Diana Studer said...

do those biodiversity-friendly almonds, get marketed as such?

Diana Studer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Benjamin Vogt said...

They just installed that project this year, so who knows how it will go.

Anonymous said...


It is a grand idea to do all this planting but you need to find someone knowledgeable to tend these gardens of wild children.(please not that I am not using it and thing) Here in Hastings the Museum just removed their prairie garden because they mistakenly believed that this garden didn't need tending. It was marketed to them as a "low maintenance" and they heard
"NO maintenance". So they didn't make provisions for the care of the garden.

You are doing a great service in you effort to teach the craft of wilding. But we need more students.

Looking forward to your presentation next Friday at the Platt River Field Day.

Best Regards

Karen Hamburger

Benjamin Vogt said...

Karen -- I also think such gardens can be designed better / smarter. And yeah, low maintenance is NOT no maintenance -- it's know maintenance. See you next week!