Grow veggies, help honeybees
Get the buzz on how rewarding home vegetable gardens can be.
Wed, Jun 10, 2009 at 01:53 PM
THAT STINGS: A honeybee resting on a pumpkin blossom. (Photo: Kazakov/iStockphoto)
Buzz, buzz: Homegrown veggies are, ahem, a mushrooming trend, with food prices rising at the fastest pace in 18 years. Average folks are tearing up lawn and laying in kitchen gardens to save money, live greener (local! organic!) and eat safer (you know exactly where that tomato came from and how it was handled). In choosing what to plant and what to buy, gardeners and consumers can also help honeybees, those beneficial insects who pollinate 30 percent of our edible fruit and vegetable plants. Now's the perfect time to get started, in the midst of National Pollinator Week (June 22-28), which was founded last year to begin counteracting the massive die-offs of honeybees known as Colony Collapse Disorder.
Adding pollinator-friendly plants to your garden is a huge way to help. Bees can sup on just about any flower, but native varieties will grow best in your region's climate and soil. The North American Pollinator Campaign (NAPCC) has lots of information, including fast facts for gardeners. You can begin with a free packet of bee-friendly wildflower seeds from Burts Bees, an NAPCC Honeybee Health Improvement Project sponsor which, starting this June, is donating five percent of the proceeds from every sale of its special edition Beeswax Lip Balm to the campaign. All Burt's products are paraben and phthalate free, including their classic gardener's hand salve and their gentle Royal Jelly Radiance Eye Creme, just the ticket for the queen bee in your hive.
Before planting edibles, it's a good idea to test your soil, both for its nutrient levels, and for contaminants, especially if you live in an old neighborhood or near a highway or industrial center. Toxic heavy metals such as lead, from the days of leaded gasoline and housepaint (both banned in the late 1970s), and arsenic from chromium copper arsenate (CCA) treated wood, once widely used in fences and decking, can persist in soil for years and be absorbed by plants (and those who eat them). For more information and soil analysis services, contact your nearest state university cooperative extension.
Seeds are great, but they take a while! There's still a chance you might get your hands on some organic vegetable seedlings. Ask your state or regional organic farming association.
Order now to get organic garlic plants in September; or plan ahead for next year: Organicseeds are available year round, and seedlings are sold in early spring by Seeds of Change. Go for cover crops like alfalfa, oats, hairy vetch, sorgum, winter rye, and clover, which keep soil healthy and in place and are simply the bees' knees of pollinator preference. Ah, for some alfalfa honey!
Soil no good or no got soil? Plant in containers and windowboxes. See Windowbox.com.
Herb plants (thyme honey!) are available now, tomato plants will be sold till July 16th, "cool" season fall plants will be available for shipping August 18th from the Tasteful Garden.
National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service's resource guide to organic and sustainable vegetable production.
Andiamo, alfalfa! Basta, bok choy! Zounds, zucchini! Blossom bounteously for our tables and the bees.
Story by Mindy Pennybacker. This article originally appeared in Plenty in June 2008. It was moved to MNN.com.