Help native pollinators find a home in your backyard

Published on Wed, Aug 21, 2013 by Steve Guntli

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Much of the world’s agriculture depends on European honeybees to pollinate crops, and the recent decline in the worldwide honeybee population has motivated the agricultural community to consider alternatives.

On Friday, August 23, Friends of Birch Bay State Park will host an hour-long presentation called “Creating a Backyard Habitat” to address the issue in-depth, as instructor Kelle Rankin-Sunter talks about the importance of alternative pollinators and the benefits they can offer local gardens. 

Pollinators are any insects – typically bees or butterflies – that spread pollen to flowers and fruit trees. Most people already have native pollinators working in their yards, but haven’t been providing the best atmosphere for them to survive, Rankin-Sunter said. “My focus is on teaching people how to create a habitat that encourages these native populations to thrive,” she said. 

One of those native pollinators is the Blue Orchard Mason Bee, which may be a viable alternative pollinator to the honeybee for Washington gardeners. Unlike honeybees, Masons are not social insects, preferring to live in solitary tubes housed in man-made wooden nest boxes. Their isolated nature makes them less susceptible to ailments like Colony Collapse Disorder, which is decimating the honeybee population. Masons are also known to remain active during cloudy and rainy weather, usually going into hibernation only during the winter months, according to the Portland Home Orchard Society.

“Mason bees are the easy ones for people to focus on,” Rankin-Sunter said. “Nest boxes are easy to find, build or create. The bees have a limited need to feed and they are very efficient. I have about 60-70 Masons in my yard every spring and it’s more than enough to pollinate all of my trees.”

Planting flowers that bloom year-round and avoiding the use of any pesticides are two important ways to encourage native pollinators. Rankin-Sunter will go over detailed yard maps with students to determine the best plants and arrangements needed to produce the best results.

“Creating a Backyard Habitat” is one class in a series sponsored by Blaine Community Orchards for Resources and Education (C.O.R.E.), a local group dedicated to producing more food-bearing plants for Blaine residents.

For more information on native pollinators, visit Blaine C.O.R.E.’s website at nwcore.org.