Tag Archives: Bees

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Protecting insects the next big thing in gardening

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Protecting insects the next big thing in gardening

In Mark’s most recent book, The New Canadian Garden, he made the rather bold prediction that backyard hotels for insects and native bee habitats will be as common in Canada in 20 years as bird feeders are now. Say, what?

The idea of attracting ‘beneficials’ to your yard and garden is an idea that caught on in Great Britain a generation ago. Here, we are only beginning to wake up to the merit of it. Truth is, this can be a lot of fun, and kids love it too.

Take this novel idea for a Christmas present, as an example.

Last year, Mark made eight insect hotels for friends and family. Some seemed genuinely pleased to contribute towards a healthier level of biodiversity in their community, while others gave a look of utter astonishment, as to say, “Okay, now what do I do with THIS?”

What is it?

There are no rules for building insect hotels. Here are some general guidelines that will help get you on your way:

ROT AND DECAY ARE YOUR FRIENDS

Forget everything that you ever learned about hygiene and cleanliness…you are striving to create the perfect environment for overwintering insects through complete imperfection. This requires some grubbing around in your yard. Rotten wood (but not too rotten), pine cones, shredded newspaper, straw and the mature seed heads of most any perennial work just fine.

DUFF MATERIAL

Under evergreens you will find small branches, decay and needles. Grab a few handfuls of this stuff as it has value to insects looking for a winter home. Come spring, some insects make love in your hotel and next thing you know there are little bugs running around your yard looking for a meal. This is a cyclical thing and it is all good.

CHICKEN WIRE OR HARDWARE CLOTH

Every hotel requires security measures. The big risk for insects that sequester in your new insect hotel are foraging birds. As much as we love songbirds, they are not at the bottom of the food chain. Rather, they are aggressive foragers and many of them love munching on insects. By sealing the duff material behind a layer of chicken wire or hardware cloth, you are providing security for the little creatures, where they can live and breed without something with a beak sticking it where it does not belong.

DRAINAGE

You need to provide protection for the material that you put in your insect hotel. A roof overhead is a good idea and some drainage holes drilled in the base of the unit.

MASON BEES

Always provide some tubes for mason bees to lay their eggs. They will do this a couple of times during the gardening season and often late in fall, where they overwinter until spring when they hatch and produce flying progenies. You can use bamboo for this purpose, but make sure to smooth out the edges of the material at the entrance to the shoot. Or buy pre-made cardboard mason-bee tubes that are the precise length, calliper and smoothness for the bees to lay their eggs.

Watch the video

We will make you a bet: that you are the first person on your block to build an insect hotel in your yard. Neighbours and friends will think that you are nuts. And in a generation, you will be hailed as a visionary.

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada. He reaches over 2 million Canadians with his gardening/environment messages every week. Receive his free monthly newsletter at www.markcullen.com. Ben Cullen is a professional gardener with a keen interest in food gardening and the environment. You can follow both Mark and Ben on twitter (@ MarkCullen4), facebook (facebook.com/MarkCullenGardening/) and instagram (instagram.com/markcullengardening/).

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Garden Expert: Come One, Come All

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Garden Expert: Come One, Come All

Create biodiversity in your yard to ensure a growing population of pollinators

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” ~LAO TZU

I made several insect hotels in my wood working shop for some of my gardening friends. They were received graciously but, at the same time, with a common query: “What IS it? What does an insect hotel do? What kind of insects will it attract? Are they all good for my garden?”

An insect hotel encourages insects to visit and reside in your yard. It can be as simple or as complex as you choose. There are many designs for insect hotels, and if you are a creative type, you can create your own.

Clearly, this discussion has a long way to go. It started with concern about the decline in the honeybee population, and has extended to the general concern shared by naturalists everywhere about the problems with our native population of pollinators.

We are no longer concerned exclusively with the decline of honeybees. Truth is, there are over 700 species of native bees (honeybees are not native) that serve as primary pollinators ‘out there’ in the natural environment, many of which you can attract to your yard with an insect hotel. In addition, there are thousands of other invertebrates that either pollinate over 30 per cent of the plants that we rely on for food, or are essential members of the web of insects that make up the whole show.

Take a winter moment to digest the following and you will be on your way to understanding the whole, big picture.

1. UNDERSTAND THE MEANING OF BIODIVERSITY. The word comes from ‘biological diversity.’ WWF defines it as, “The term given to the variety of life on Earth. It is the variety within and between all species of plants, animals and micro-organisms and the ecosystems within which they live and interact.” Biodiversity in your yard is represented by the range of naturally occurring plant, animal and insect life that exists in it. There is much that you can do to increase biodiversity, or the range of life in your yard.

2. PLANTS–PACK THEM IN. Do not underestimate the impact that you can have on the beneficial insect life in your neighbourhood by planting flowering plants. The longer each plant produces a flower, and the more of them, the better. If you have a minimum of six hours of sunshine in your garden, you are in luck. The varieties of plants available to you are nearly limitless. If you are dealing with shade, you also have opportunities to plant flowering plants galore, but you will need to be more thoughtful about your plan. In either case, place your plants densely to attract the maximum number of pollinators.

3. GO NATIVE…OR NOT. A recent study in England indicated that it is not important to a bug that a plant is native, if it produces a blossom that attracts them in the first place. According to the results of “The Plants for Bugs Pollinator” research, it is the diversity of plant material that attracts the maximum range of bug species, not whether they are native. To quote the study, “The value of a site can be maximized for pollinators by choosing plants from different regions of the world.”

4. ADD WATER AND DON’T STIR. Adding a still-water element is the single most impactful feature that you can add to your garden or balcony for attracting pollinators. A pond in the yard or a half-barrel on the balcony works just fine. When you add a water feature, I can guarantee that you will discover wildlife in your yard that you have never seen before. As dragonflies, salamanders, frogs, toads, water beetles, amphibians, mammals and bugs discover your new drinking hole, they will grow, thrive and breed.

We are only beginning this discussion about the importance of creating biodiversity in our yards and gardens. As I look in to the crystal ball, I see the interest in attracting pollinators and creating biodiversity in Canadian gardens as growing steadily.

DIY INSECT HOTEL: Use natural materials and arrange them in such a manner that insects find attractive and move in. NB. They don’t like a sanitized environment. Instead insects like messy and thrive on clods of rotting leaves, rough-cut lumber, or better still, a stack of rotting, split firewood.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook. markcullen.com

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