Do you go to a talk on climate change, listen to the projected disasters soon to descend upon you, and then leave feeling not only overwhelmed but also saying to yourself, “THEY will take care of this. THEY say that technology will solve everything. And, anyway, there is really not much that I can do about it. Hey, I recycle — isn’t that enough?”
NO, it isn’t and YES, you can! You can have the key to unlock the tool chest to rejuvenate and save the most basic foundation needed to support human life. “And what is that?” you ask. It is the vast and quickly diminishing community of native pollinators of bees, birds, butterflies, beetles, flies, and small mammals that work together to supply 85 percent of the main global crops that feed people — fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and oils.This hardworking group also is responsible for being the food for many other animals, besides us, in the ecosystem.
Then you might say, “That sounds too huge a job and I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”
And I would answer, “It is actually pretty easy once you see the why and know the how. All it takes is the choice, openness to change, and learning the tools to put the “how” into practice.
If you discovered that the foundation of your house is rotting away, would you choose to ignore it and hope, in vain, that somehow someone would mosey by and fix it? Or do you find out what is causing it and then set about to implement the best solution to stop the destruction and reconstruct a sturdy and lasting support?
Of course, you could also just move out, find another place to live, and forget about it. Right now, though, we have only one earth to live on — there being no rentals advertised on Mars yet and Venus is really a bit too hot to hang out on.
How is all this connected to food, climate change, and — finally — pollinators? It is because if they go, we go. So strongly is the vital health of their population connected to the health of our whole ecosystem. You can be a key factor in contributing to their health.
What are the factors that are causing the pollinator decimation?
• Vast lawns of grass that are barren of pollinator support and are saturated with salt-based synthetic fertilizers that work in concert with the applied pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides to kill the vital life of the soil food web
• Destruction of habitat by increased “development” which includes new structures, non-porous paved parking lots and roads, monoculture farming, industrial waste land poisoning, and filling in wetlands
• Introduction of invasive non-native plant species that overwhelm the native plants that have co-evolved with the native pollinators to benefit each other’s propagation, thereby depriving the native pollinators of food and nesting sites
• Farmers no longer create native plant hedgerows that would, in turn, increase the quantity and quality of their crops and provide the balance between predator and prey of the insect population
• Farming that depends on the vast use of pesticides that destroy the native pollinators
How can you regenerate the necessary habitats for these creatures to both survive and increase their population? It is not dependent on the size of your yard, your balcony, your community garden, an empty urban lot, or large corporate campuses. Plant and they will find you.
You will discover the incredible beauty of the plants that are native to wherever you live and the knock-your-socks-off intricate and colorful patterns that our native pollinators are dressed in. Not even our most outstanding clothing designers can match the delicacy of detail that is on display.
Take a section of whatever your outdoor space includes and create an oasis for pollinators by planting the native plants for your area that can include flowers, shrubs, small trees, and large shade trees. Plan it in an arc of seasonal blooming that provides food for them in the spring, summer, and fall. Because all these plants are perennials, their root systems grow deeper every year and thereby sequester more carbon (got it? part of the connection with climate change also includes the expansion of greening our plant).
You can still have some lawn, but implement better practices for it. You can still have some of your favorite annuals — just not the ones that jump into our forest and choke out the necessary diversity of growth. Never, ever plant bamboo, multiflora rose, English ivy, and all the other most egregious of plants on the invasive species listing that you can google for your location.
So it’s not so difficult to start, but you do need a plan so that you are not just sticking plants here and there randomly. Just like us, they need their environment to support them. Soil type, sun or shade, moist or dry conditions, and other considerations are important factors to know. Throwing them into the ground with some fertilizer is not sufficient.
Just like you when you go on a trip, you need to have places to stop and get food, drink, and rest. That is what we need to supply in order to rejuvenate, revivify, and restore our wonderful and generous native pollinator co-existors. Working together brings a joyful reward.
Judith K. Robinson designs pollinator native plant habitats for all size gardens and pollinator hedgerows for farmers. She teaches Native Plant Garden Design at Mercer County Community College, the Princeton Adult School, and other venues. Visit www.ourworldourchoices.com