Plant Insectary Strips Of Pollinator-Friendly Crops

In addition to providing nectar for honeybees and native pollinators, insectary strips provide some non-bug benefits, too—including food and flowers!

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by Leah SmithApril 28, 2022
PHOTO: Rothamsted Research

In addition to offering food sources to honeybees and native pollinators, insectary strips can provide your homestead with noninsect-derived benefits. Though permanent (perennial) strips are worthwhile, they do require careful planning, substantial upfront costs and more specialized maintenance. Annual (or temporary) insectary strips keep it simple. They are composed of annual plants whose seeds are modestly priced and easily sourced.

However, many of the plants that follow can self-seed. Light tillage and spot replanting can maintain a strip for more than one season.

Whenever possible, include at least three plant varieties in a strip. And don’t feel you must plant uniformly mixed strips, as “integrated clumps” are preferable. Some excellent plant choices include the following. 

Holy Basil

Also called tulsi, this plant is prized for the tea made from its leaves. Pollinators simply love it, too. Though any other basil or member of the Lamiaceae (mint) family attracts them also, holy basil’s superabundance of flowers and eagerness to self-seed make it the top choice. 


Read more: Everything is better with basil!


Runner Bean

As a member of the Faba­ceae (bean) family, the runner bean fixes nitrogen into the soil. For you, it offers edible flowers, beans (choose from snap bean and fresh or dried shelled bean stages) and even roots.

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The ubiquitous scarlet runner variety is highly ornamental, plus—as prolific viners that require support—runners will “create space” by sending your insectary strip up. It’s attractive to many bees and hummingbirds!

Buckwheat

A Polygonaceae (rhubarb) family member, buckwheat’s unique root exudates will improve the biodiversity of your soil microbes community. Buckwheat is a favorite of honey bees. The variety Takane Ruby—which possesses stunningly beautiful pinkish-red flowers suitable for fresh arrangements—offers a nectar source from which honey with 100-times-greater-than-average antioxidant levels is made.

Buckwheat is also especially attractive to predatory and parasitic insects (such as wasps and syrphid flies).

Coriander

Coriander plants provide the leaf herb cilantro and, once having gone to seed, the seed herb coriander. The Apiaceae (parsley) family is a particular favorite of various bees due to the convenient umbel shape of its plants’ flower clusters.

Coriander is also a favorite of syrphid flies, paper wasps and other small beneficial wasps. Plant its family member dill for these same reasons.


Read more: Coriander is a flavorful—and ancient—winter spice.


Cornflower

Also bachelor’s button, cornflowers may be picked fresh or successfully dried. A ready self-seeder that attracts many bees, its leaves have extrafloral nectaries that are productive even prior to blooming and attract lady beetles, lacewings and wasps.

Partridge Pea

Another Fabaceae member and nitrogen fixer, partridge pea also has extrafloral leaf nectaries. Nectaries plus flowers will attract countless small flies, wasps, ants and bees—thus beneficial parasites, predators and pollinators.

Daikon/Korean Radish

Thanks to their large roots, these radishes greatly improve soil tilth. Pull a few for food or fodder, too. Those left to flower will attract many different bees.

Other common garden plants well-placed in an insectary strip include borage, cosmos, marigold and (dwarf) sunflower. Just make sure you share these—some for you (edibles, “cutting flowers”) and some for the insects! 

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