Protecting Pollinators

gardening insects mindful spring Apr 01, 2024

Spring is here! The days are getting consistently warmer. Children are spending more and more time outdoors. There may be a garden that you are itching to clean up. Wait! Many pollinating insects are still in their sleepy winter state. Disturbing them now can be harmful to their populations. Instead of moving right into raking, debris removal, mowing, and tilling, consider some alternative activities first, to keep the insects safe in their winter beds. Teach children about what insects do in winter, start seedlings in moveable trays, and approach spring clean up from an insect-focused perspective.


“Diapause” is the term used for the suspended state that bees and other invertebrates enter during the cold season. The development of these critters pauses. Look at or review insect life cycles to see each state of development. The Schlitz Audubon Society gives examples of the developmental states that different insects pause in. Bees diapause in any phase, depending on species. Some bees do not diapause at all. There are species who diapause solitarily and others that diapause socially. Instead of entering diapause for a single season, there are solitary bees that remain in diapause for up to ten years. Most bee studies for children are conducted around social bees. Social bees make up only 9% of the bee population. Reviewing or studying social bees is a great spring activity, but don’t stop there. Take a look at solitary bees too! The Paleontological Research Institution displays a variety of bee nests. Peruse the gallery with your children before taking a nature walk to see if you can spot any places where bees may be nesting. Then perhaps, build a bee hotel as suggested at the end of the article.


While it may be too early to plant your garden, it’s an excellent time to sow seedlings. Start by researching your climate. Find out when the last frost date is expected. Discover which plants grow well from seed and choose the options you want. The seed package will tell you how long the plant needs to germinate. Make sure that whatever you plant is given enough time to germinate before moving outdoors and won’t have to spend too much extra time indoors. Don’t be afraid to experiment, either. Purchasing seeds is much more cost effective than plants. All the information you gather can be applied next year too. Buy or make your own compostable pots and store them all on a tray or two. You’ll want the trays to be sturdy, water proof, and with a substantial lip. Restaurant buffet style trays work well and can be used from year to year. Mix seed starter with water and fill the pots part way. Add seeds according to package directions and add soil to the top. Keep the soil moist and provide 12-16 hours of light, either by window or grow lights. If your indoor space is limited or access to light is an issue, make milk jug greenhouses instead. These can be kept outside and offer a way to reuse plastic prior to recycling. Welcoming Simplicity provides step-by-step instructions. 


There are a few practices you can use in your garden to get to work and protect the pollinators. Start by collecting twigs, branches, and anything that could be hollowed out and made into a home by bees. Set them aside to be removed in early summer. Let stems and cut off stalks be. When new growth begins, these will not be so visible anyway. Protect bees that nest underground by not tilling. If you must, keep the tilling shallow at 6 inches or so. Leave the leaves! Leaf piles are excellent bee homes during the winter, and great mulch for your garden. Research your local area to see what types of bees are common and where they may be wintering. You can also find more specific dates or temperatures that cue you into bee-safe garden clean up.