I am so excited about my pollinator hedgerow, I just have to share! Matt and I started on this project two years ago, and this summer, it finally is happening!
Why are we so excited about a bunch of bugs? Many types of wild, native pollinating insects are critical to environmental health as well as to sustaining agriculture. Besides a variety of bees, this includes butterflies and other insects. Pollinating insects support the reproduction of over 85% of the world's flowering plants and more than two-thirds of the world's crop species. In the United States insect pollination is vital for many major crops including almonds, apples, blackberries, blueberries, canola, cherries, cranberries, pears, plums, squash, sunflowers, tomatoes, and watermelons—and alfalfa for our horses! Wild native bees (i.e., not honey bees) save money for producers by providing free pollination services and increasing crop quality and quantity. On a bee-per-bee basis, native bees are actually far more effective than honey bees at pollinating!
However, in North America, beneficial native pollinators are at risk as their populations are in steady decline. Two big things us horse owners can do to help reduce this decline are:
- Avoid or decrease insecticide use, including spraying for mosquitoes.
- Increase pollinator habitat in your yard, garden, along pasture edges, or in property corners.
Here’s the steps for how we created our pollinator hedgerow at Sweet Pepper Ranch:
- We chose the location and size based on where we could see it daily to enjoy it—and how it would enhance the look of our place.
- We killed the existing strip of grass. We chose to do this with glyphosate, but there are non-chemical means of doing this as well, such as smothering the grass by laying down cardboard and mulch.
- We chose plants (most were ordered from University of Idaho Extension in the fall with a March arrival time). The plants we chose were drought tolerate varieties that flower from early spring through fall, providing bee-food for as long a season as possible.
- In the spring before the plants arrived, we framed in the area, filling it with our composted horse manure and native soil.
- Then we planted, weeded, and watered—like crazy!
- We put up a sign on our gate to keep the County Mosquito Abate program from coming in and spraying the area—which would kill our pollinators.
Today we have insects galore visiting our flowers—lots more butterflies this year than I ever remember in the past. We’ve even seen a few hummingbirds come check out the new additions.
Even though we think of the West—and specifically the Pacific Northwest—as being pristine, practices like logging, farming, ranching, and housing development have caused a tremendous loss of native vegetation and critical wildlife habitat. Enhancing horse properties with native plants wherever possible not only promotes native wildlife, it also helps to control erosion, provides a visual buffer, and helps filter chemicals and nutrients. A simple hedgerow of flowering native plants may attract songbirds, butterflies, amphibians, and other interesting wildlife, along with pollinating insects—right outside your home or barn!
The easy take-home message is this: Plant more native plants. Reduce pesticide use. Protect and enhance insect habitat and nest sites.