Encourage pollinators, like bees, to work your farm crops by protecting their natural habitats on or near your farm.
Just think about the time and effort you put into your hobby-farm crops—creating the perfect soil mix, planting the seeds and nurturing the growing plants. All that work would be in vain if it weren’t for bees, birds, butterflies, bats and other crop pollinators busily hopping between crops to fertilize them.
Due to pesticide use and other environmental factors, the number of pollinators aiding our farmland has drastically fallen over the years. According to the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, Honey-bee populations were nearly cut in half between the 1940s and 1995 and two bat- and 13 bird-pollinator species are listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Because the remaining pollinators have remained faithful to helping you produce a bountiful farm-fresh harvest, do them a favor by nurturing their living environment with these tips.
1. Plant a variety of native flowers.
Native pollinators use the nectar of native flowers as food and sometimes use the flowers as host plants for their larvae. Research the pollinators living in your area and the flowers that can best support their livelihood. For example, bumblebees are attracted to deep, complex flowers, like lupines, while other smaller bees are more likely to visit open flowers, like asters. By incorporating a variety of flowers into your farm landscape, you can nurture the pollinator populations in your area.
2. Protect pollinator nesting areas.
Don’t be fooled by the Honey bee’s honeycomb—this isn’t the only pollinator habitat you can host on your farm. Different pollinators depend on a range of habitats to create their communities and support reproduction. Some pollinators will make nests in dead trees while others will burrow tunnels in the ground. Try to foster these types of areas around your farm, especially if they’re near pollinator foraging sites. You many need to think twice about cutting down that old tree!
3. Be wise with pesticides.
When choosing a pesticide to use on your crops, consider the toxicity to native pollinators. Read the labels on pesticides to find out how the chemical may affect pollinators. Many pesticide labels contain “Bee Hazard” warnings or a Extended Residual Toxicity (ERT) indictor and offer guidance of how to apply it to your crops to minimize harm to pollinators.
If using pesticides, do so only when necessary. Try to avoid spraying in areas where pollinators live and during times of low temperatures, and guard against pesticide drift from ground or aerial applications. If possible, control pests instead by using integrated-pest-management techniques, which do not require the use of pollinator-toxic chemicals.
4. Preserve natural areas near farmland.
Encourage pollinators to visit your farm by providing them with natural habitat adjacent to your farmland. Most farmland lacks the habitat necessary to support native pollinators, so set aside a managed space (free from pesticide drift) where they can prosper. The Xerces Society, an organization dedicated to invertebrate conservation, recommends using land-management tools such as grazing, fire and mowing to foster a natural area that benefits pollinators.
5. Go the extra mile for pollinator conservation.
Many grants are available to help hobby farmers help pollinators. Check out a few of them below:
- USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service:
Funding for pollinator habitats available through Conservation Stewardship Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program and Agriculture Management Assistance
- Western Integrated Pest Management Center:
Ongoing grants up to $5,000 to address special issues in the West
- USDA Farm Service Agency:
Funding to establish pollinator habitats through the CP42 Pollinator Habitat practice
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:
Funds projects for bat and bird pollinators according to state conservation needs