One day in August I was sitting in an Adirondack chair midway between a busy bee hive and a large stand of lemon balm. I had a notebook and was trying to outline my next post. “You are so noisy, I can’t think!” I complained aloud. But I wasn’t addressing the hive, I was speaking to the lemon balm.
The lemon balm was drooping under the weight of yellow and black bumble bees. From each bee I heard Buzzzzz. Pause. Buzzzzz. Pause. Over and over multiplied by about 300. These were mostly males, not collecting pollen but drinking nectar and chasing women. “Carousing” comes to mind.
Pollinator-friendly plants attract many insects
Every year I plant a few more pollinator-friendly plants and I have been richly rewarded by an explosion of bees and butterflies. Each summer I identify more bees—species I have never seen before. And the influx of butterflies, moths, dragonflies, and beetles leaves me speechless. Their variety is astounding.
Spending twenty years in one place without the use of pesticides has been a once-in-a-lifetime journey. Of course, my lawn wouldn’t meet the standards of a homeowners’ association, the fruit on my trees is shared with the local fauna, and all those fat spiders think they’re in paradise. You could think of these as the bad things, but the pluses are countless.
Insects bring the birds
The many insects that live here attract a large diversity of birds. I’m not a bird person, but I can tell you there are big ones and small ones, red and yellow and blue and orange, some quiet and some loud. Birds that eat from the ground, out of trees, and in the air. The number of species has multiplied in the twenty years, and I think it’s because of all the food. The insects aren’t poisoned, nor the plants, nor the water, so it’s a fine place to live if you’re a bird.
In turn, the vast population of birds keeps down the insects. They eat the caterpillars, mosquitoes, ants, beetles, and thrips that might otherwise destroy my garden. Oh sure, they eat a few bees as well, but nature seems to be in balance. When everything is allowed to live naturally, no one species takes over, and each has its place. Each is a part of the whole.
Nature in balance
Clean water—that is, non-poisoned water—also attracts frogs, garden snakes, salamanders, and fish—many of which also eat mosquitoes and other pests. I see maybe a half-dozen mosquitoes during the entire summer, and all those spiders? They eat zillions of insects, too. In fact, a home inspector once told me that a crawlspace with webs and spiders was a good thing because the spiders scarf up the carpenter ants, boring beetles, and termites that can destroy a home. Kill the spiders and the bad guys can thrive; let the spiders live and you don’t need insecticides.
Having grown up in a pesticide culture and having been educated as an agronomist, I was skeptical of going pesticide-free. But when I moved into my present home, I knew there were fish in the stream and frogs in the woodland, and I didn’t want to mess with that. And honestly, the first time some fast-munching, feces-dropping, six-legged egg factory took out my vegetables, it was difficult to maintain my resolve.
It takes time. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and that is the hardest part. If you can get through the transition years, the land, the plants, and the animals will take care of themselves and reward you many times over. Even now, I remain in awe of the world I helped nurture, not by doing good, but by not doing bad.
Honey Bee Suite