Over the last decade or so, I have been reading and hearing about how beekeepers and gardeners have been noticing that bees are less healthy and abundant than they have been in the past.
Last year, I noticed this troubling phenomenon in my backyard garden, as well. A lot of my friends who garden did, too.
Officially, the continuing decline in the honeybee population is called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). I've also heard it referred to as "Beepocolypse."
The good news is that everyone is talking about this. The bad, of course, is that no one has any answers yet.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is on task, and continues to release reports about CCD. In 2012, they said that the dying off of the bee population in the U.S. is "a serious problem threatening the health of honey bees and the economic stability of commercial beekeeping and pollination operations in the United States."
In the meantime, I 'm taking action to bring more bees, and all the other pollinators, back into my garden.
I am hoping for a ripple effect here, and that sooner than later, every home gardener will follow suit.
For three years now, I have been on a calculated quest to use native plants to attract more pollinators and beneficial insects to my front and back yard landscape.
An integral part of my plan is that I avoid using any chemical fertilizers or pesticides that harm the natural world. Instead, I count on organics, and Integrated Pest Management, or IPM. It uses an effective and environmentally-friendly approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices to get the job done.
So, in my gardens, the principles of IPM are keeping an array of winged workers, a.k.a. the bees, butterflies, birds and ladybugs and so on, coming back for more.
Out front, my seasonal soirée for "beneficials" begins with me planting a range of Illinois native flowers that offer a succession of bright blooms, in various shapes, sizes and textures. My aim is to offer the bees pollen in different "flavors" and containers.
To do that, I have all sorts of natives planted in there, from Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), to Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) which is another easy-to-grow Illinois Wildflower go-to that I plant in clumps so the bees can easily find them.
My newest arrival is Common Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), which I had to go on a road trip to mecca, Ted's Greenhouse in Tinley Park, to get. On Saturdays, they are also at the Oak Park farmer's Market peddling a truckload of pretty things. I tracked down this Illinois wildflower because of its reputation for being a powerful attractor for the bees.
I waited two seasons for this pretty Illinois native prairie plant to perk up. It's commonly called Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), and it was certainly worth the wait.
Here, courtesy of the University of Illinois Extension, is a Directory of more Illinois Wildflowers so you can browse and pick.
Since I can't seem to give up growing heirloom vegetables from seed to table, again this year, I have been in full battle mode with garden pests.
So, In anticipation of a repeat performance of last year's fight, in April I began bringing in re-enforcements by creating an "urban meadow" in the center of my yard. It has ramped up the biodiversity in my backyard's ecosystem
So far, flying in there have been a diverse dance card of bees, birds, a few butterflies and other beneficial insects like ladybugs and parasitic wasps, seen here eating this Tomato Hornworm from the inside out.
But, are all these "actions" making a difference out there, or even a dent in my neighborhood's pollinator count?
Well, I'd ask all those bees buzzing round in my front and backyard gardens, but they are too busy pollinating all my plants.