How to Care for Pollinators
How can we use household items to support garden insects (and plants!)?
This Lesson Plan is part of the Gardening and Sustainability modules of SustainEd Farms' virtual programming.
Pollinators are the tiny inhabitants of the world -- various birds, bats, and insects -- that allow flowering plants to reproduce, along with abiotic pollination that occurs through wind and water. When foraging for food, like nectar [and pollen itself], these animals inadvertently transfer the sticky pollen from the anther of one flower to the stigma of another, thereby setting in motion the process to produce a seed -- the next generation of the plant.
Not only do plants rely on this process to carry on the existence of their own species, but humans do too: in fact, pollinators bear some level of direct responsibility for around 75% of the production of seed-containing foods. Yet, despite this importance, populations of pollinators are declining and facing extinction due to human activities such as irresponsible pesticide use, interruptions in landscape features like migratory pathways, and habitat destruction. The magnitude of this problem is becoming more apparent in the context of a changing climate, where warmer temperatures have caused the onset of flowering in certain species to accelerate faster than the emergence of some pollinators, like certain bees. Intuition reveals to us that as these environmental changes hasten, the resulting divergence in the emergence behavior of these interacting species will, likely, result in a shortage of pollinators at the most critical moments in a plant’s reproductive cycle. Almost assuredly, the decline in pollinators and pollination rates will result in an increasingly limited global food supply.
While these scenarios seem bleak, you can make a difference for pollinator populations in your own backyard with a very simple technique. With a few household items, the method described below allows you to create a suitable location for passing pollinators to eat and drink. The setup will attract useful and beautiful insects for your garden vegetables and flowers, like bees and butterflies.
Students will be able to...
Understand the benefits of creating pollinator-friendly habitats
Create a water and food fixture to attract pollinators to certain locations
pollination /ˌpäləˈnāSH(ə)n/ verb. - the transfer of pollen from an anther of a flower to the stigma of the same or different flower
1. Gather your materials. You will need the following supplies:
Shallow container(s) (a small or medium lid, bowl, dish, plate, plant saucer, etc.) · rocks, small enough to fit in your container, and enough to cover the surface · water · optional: fruit slices (oranges, apples, peaches, grapes, strawberries, etc.)
2. Watch the following Youtube video to see a demonstration of how to create your own water and food fixture for pollinators. Then, follow along with the remainder of the lesson by reading the steps below.
⚘⚘⚘ Did you know … that some flowers, like the bee orchid, will mimic the appearance of a female bee in order to attract a pollen-bearing male bee. These amazing mechanisms employed by plants to ensure reproduction are the result of years and years of natural selection through competition: only those plants that are able to attract pollinators the most effectively will go on to produce another generation.
3. Fill the container with rocks, covering the entire bottom of the container. Ideally, the rocks should be spread evenly and remain shallow (don’t pile the rocks -- this may attract unwanted animals, like mosquitos looking for a location to breed). The rocks in your container will serve as a place for insects to land, drink water, and consume food.
4. Fill your container with enough water to cover the bottom, but not enough to submerge the rocks fully. Aim to submerge the rocks about halfway, leaving enough dry space for insects to land safely.
5. If you have it available, place your pollinator food source (most fruits will do) on top of the rock layer.
6. Survey your garden and/or yard, and place your pollinator food and water fixture among things that pollinators are already attracted to, such as other flowering plants. The water and food should be near plants that you want to have pollinated, like the vegetables in a garden. Avoid putting the setup in a heavily trafficked area to ensure that distance is kept between pollinators and anything that may interfere with their natural behaviors.
7. Check back on your fixture often and fill with water, since much of the water is likely to evaporate. Enjoy watching your pollinators feed and frolic!
Download the PDF version of this lesson plan: