Tag Archives: Native Prairie

You Had Me at “No Chocolate or Coffee”!

Pollinators are My Passion (in case you haven’t noticed)

If you’ve read my previous blog posts or have spent more than five minutes speaking with me you know that I am obsessed with native prairies, pollinators, and preaching the gospel of having a pollinator friendly lawn. I began adding native plants to my yard around six to seven years ago and took my first step at restoring a portion of my backyard to a native prairie three years ago.

        Starting with the day I planted my first native plants, I’ve noticed more pollinators in my yard – last year their population had progressed to a point where I became a certified butterfly counter. This spring things have ramped up even more: with barely anything blooming yet I’ve counted five butterfly species and seven different bee species so far. Did I mention birds? They’re pollinators as well (as are bats, moths, flies, ants, wasps, and even some smaller mammals) and over the past two weeks there has been far more bird activity in my yard then any year in the past (you mean that if plant a habitat that attracts food for them, the birds come to eat it?). One thing I’m very excited about is that while I’ve had Monarch caterpillars in the past, this is the first year I’ve actually found Monarch chrysalides.

“But What Do They Do”?

The previous two paragraphs aren’t what this post is about. When someone asks me why I’m so into these things I can go on about the decline of our pollinator populations, the eradication of their natural habitats, and how all of it circles back to climate change. But just yesterday I had a small epiphany when I was showing my neighbor’s granddaughter the new chrysalides (hey – I looked it up and it is the plural form) on the side of my house. She looked up at me, said they were pretty and asked me why it was important. I launched into one of my patented lectures. When I was done she stared at me and asked, “but what do they do”?

It was then I realized the important step I’ve been leaving out of my discussions: just how much do we depend on pollinators? Two great resources for this type of information are pollinator.org and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Feel free to explore their sites when you have time. Meanwhile, here are a few basics to know about pollinators and what they do for our world:

  • Approximately 75-80% of all flowering plants require pollinators to assist them in the pollination process. No pollinators = none of these plants.
  • 75% of our crops are dependent on pollinators as well.
  • To put it a bit more dramatically, one out of three bites of ALL food you consume exists due to pollinators.
  • People ask, isn’t there an alternative for pollinators in the pollinator process? No, in the majority of all examples the crop in question requires manual pollination and it is often from a very specific type of pollinator.
  • Pollinators are responsible for $217 billion dollars of the world’s economy.
  • Without them, there would be NO CHOCOLATE or COFFEE!!

It took a five-year-old to make me realize that I was missing one of the core parts of my argument with people on why pollinator habitats and pollinator friendly lawns are import. You know, the “why they matter” part. To test my theory on how presenting this information may help my cause, I just called my uber smart twelve-year-old and her two friends up to the office and asked if we could talk about pollinators. My daughter was quick to go into how important it is to plant places for them to live and give them food because there aren’t that many left in the world (their decline in population is a whole other blog post). When asked if any of them knew why pollinators are so important it was all blank faces. We did a quick review of the bullet points above and I could really see the light bulbs going off in their minds when they heard “no more chocolate”.

Lesson learned – and it’s a very basic one – we all need a personal reason why we should care about something before we are told how to do care about something.

(Oh yeah…I almost forgot my previous vow to be more random, so please enjoy this lovely photo of part of my tiki-themed bathroom…)

Honestly – Option A or Option B(ee)?

Seriously…honestly tell me which option sounds better: A) cranking up your smoke belching monster of a mower to keep up with the Jones’s next door to see which of you can create the most greenhouse gases possible, pollute our water supplies, and contribute BILLIONS of dollars to a lawn industry that results in only causing damage to the environment and your pocket book or B) spending the afternoon lounging in your green lawn, feeling the soft carpet of clover beneath your feet, maybe finding a four leaf clover or two, and knowing in the back of your mind that you are making the right decision to keep your property in a pollinator friendly matter that also happens to be a huge benefit in keeping green house gas emissions in check? I know my answer…

In my previous blog post https://mdst485class.wordpress.com/2019/05/21/yep-im-that-neighbor/ , I discussed the importance of switching lawns back to their native prairie status for a variety of reasons. Currently, I am part of a group project focusing on climate change, specifically what behaviors can individuals do to reduce their impact of greenhouse gases on the environment. While researching I came upon this article: https://healthylandethic.com/2012/10/03/the-unbearable-ubiquitousness-of-mowing/. It discusses many of the values of leaving your lawn in a native state. Did you know that Americans use 800 million gallons of gas annually on their lawns alone (the average lawnmower emits as much greenhouse gas as FORTY cars running for just one hour?), over $5.2 billion in fertilizers that come form fossil fuels, and over $700 million in pesticides? Also, two-thirds of the drinking water consumed in the U.S. is used on lawn watering. This doesn’t even go into the damage that lawns do to our critical pollinator populations. A lush “perfect” green lawn is one of the greatest acts of unsustainability that there is.

Please forgive my rant – but these are issues of importance to me. People have often viewed my opinions as being on the outside of traditional lawn ideas. However, things are beginning to change, and individuals are showing an increased desire to preserve pollinators and their habitats (and at the same time make an impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions). An encouraging sign of this has been the State of Minnesota recently passing a spending plan to assist homeowners in restoring their lawns to native habitats: http://www.startribune.com/program-pays-minnesota-homeowners-to-let-their-lawn-go-to-the-bees/510593382/?refresh=true . Full details of how the plan will be allocated are still to be determined, but grants should be available for the spring of 2020.

The Minnesota spending bill is a major step in pushing these issues out into the forefront of the public view. I am involved personally in many local and national pollinator/prairie groups and there is a great interest in the spending bill. There have been tens of thousands of hits, links, comments, and posts online since it passed earlier this week. On an interesting side note, I have received a couple dozen DMs from people I only know as an online ID asking if I have information on the program. Also, as of this morning, over 35 of my personal friends (many of who have accused me of being a bit militant on these subjects), have reached out to me as well about it.

There is still a long way to go, but it feels good on a personal level to see such a sudden burst of interest from the mainstream on a subject I’ve been involved with for a while now. And if you need my answer – option A is the way I go every time (when I’m not working on working on creating more prairie in my yard).

Yep – I’m THAT Neighbor…

The above picture may not be exciting to you, but to me it is – I’ve been working for a couple years to get Prairie Smoke plants to grow in a difficult space in my front yard and this spring they came back!! Yep – I’m THAT neighbor. While my yard doesn’t look like The Addams family lives here, you will immediately notice the front lawn has more than its fair share of dandelions and Creeping Charlie (excellent early pollen resources for the bees) and several spaces devoted to native prairie grasses and plants. If you were to look in the back yard, you would see even more native garden spaces (I’m excited to begin this year’s project – converting 50% of the remaining backyard green space back into its natural native prairie state).

If you speak to me one on one for almost any amount of time, my passion for pollinators (including bees and butterflies), the reestablishment of native prairie spaces in city spaces, and hatred of all things green lawn related will come up almost immediately. Things haven’t always been this way for me…it all started around seven years for purely selfish reasons. My divorce was complete, and I was stuck with a much too large house with an even larger yard. It was all too much for one person to maintain, so looking into ways to mow my lawn less was a priority. Almost immediately I found this article: https://healthylandethic.com/2013/11/17/why-prairies-matter-and-lawns-dont/

I bought into its message without hesitation: green grass lawns provide no long-term benefits to our, or the populations of wild animals, living experience. The article provides a great launching pad into this topic that everyone should be informed on. It states the obvious – the overuse of chemicals, combined with the overwatering of lawns is detrimental to our water supply (did you know that 99% of all open bodies of water tested in the United States contain common lawn pesticides?).

The article discusses how native prairies not only provide vital habitat to native birds and pollinators, but how their root systems extend up to 15 feet into the ground (as compared to the few inches that green grass lawns due). Why is that important? All green plants pull carbon gasses out of the air and store them in the ground. Native prairies are one of the most efficient ways we can reduce carbon gas from entering the atmosphere. Prairie root systems are also important for water filtration purposes (not to mention, once established they take little to no watering or maintenance). Be sure to check out the graphic showing different root systems compared to standard lawn grass.

As mentioned, I started looking for ways to cut back on lawn maintenance and it has quickly grown into a passion. As such, I can go on about a variety of topics related to lawns but will stop here for now and ask one thing from you: If you have a lawn, please consider returning some of it to a native state, or at least include native plants in your gardening and landscaping – our world needs it. The more you do, the more you will see your ecosystem change and I promise you that once the bees and butterflies begin showing up, the native birds will as well (it sounds geeky, but it is pretty cool). While you aren’t solving all the world’s problems, you will be contributing to the solution in a tangible way. Who knows, maybe it will become one of your passions that you can spread along to others as well.