When most of us picture a pollinator, we picture a honeybee. But, honeybees are not the only pollinator out there. They are not our best pollinator, and they are not even native to North America. A more accurate pollinator picture includes native local bees, beneficial flies, moths, beetles, butterflies and even wasps. One third of our food supply depends on pollinators, but their numbers are declining. Gardeners can provide “sanctuary cities” for native pollinators, supporting and preserving them and our food supply. To do this, gardeners should dedicate patches of the landscape for pollinators to use as food and as habitat.
Approximately 4,000 species of bees native to the United States have been identified and cataloged so far. Some are tiny, others large. They come in a wide variety of colors and build nests in many different ways. Most do not look like or act like the stereotypical honeybee. Because they do not appear how we expect them to, many native bees go about their lives without us even realizing they exist.
Some native bees are in trouble, though, and they need us to learn to recognize them and their needs. Several native Nevada bees are in decline, and gardeners can help by planting ornamental landscapes and edible gardens with native pollinators in mind. The native Nevada bees in trouble include:
March 20 marks the beginning of spring. It is a tempting time for gardeners. We have been cooped up all winter, and we want to get our hands down into the soil just as our daffodils are peeking up through it. However, early spring is not the time to plant warm season crops outside. They can be started indoors, though.
Get started with seed selection. Grab seeds for crops your family will eat and your local food bank needs. Look for varieties that mature in 90-120 days. Also look at the date the seeds were packaged. Those put together for this growing season will have the best germination rates.
In the Great Basin Desert, we plant peas on Saint Patrick’s Day. This is because the proper growing conditions for peas are met in mid-March, and linking that with a holiday makes it easier to remember. To keep the Great Basin gardening tradition for early spring, you too should plant peas and other cool season crops on March 17.
This gets peas into the ground about the time when soil temperatures reach 40 degrees Fahrenheit and before temperatures reach 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Peas grown in these cool soils taste sweeter.
Math is not my best subject, but when I apply math to my favorite past-time, gardening, I am much more enthusiastic about arithmetic than I am otherwise.This is because seed circle swap and/or round robin seed swap math shows how swapping seeds saves money. And, saving money is something everyone can appreciate, even if they find numbers a bit less fun than plants.
To calculate your seed circle savings, first count how many fellow seed savers you have and how many varieties each of them are growing.Then, check out the price of seeds in your area. Finally, get out a calculator or a pencil and paper. It is time to total everything up.
Seed circle swaps are an easy way to start a seed swap in a community that does not currently have one. Seed circle swaps are a great way to source seeds. They are different from traditional seed swaps because they don’t require a venue. They can be small in size, making them easy to manage by one person. They are different from round robin seed swaps because instead of receiving a box of random seeds, participants receive seeds they specifically requested.
To start a seed circle swap, form a dedicated group of any size. Get everyone’s contact information and their seed wish list. Compile the seed wishes and share them with the group. Ask for volunteers to grow varieties from the list. Ask who wants to receive seeds from each of the varieties grown. Fill requests according to who is growing. Don’t let people who are sitting out this season take seeds before people who are growing this season.
If your community does not have a seed swap for you to source seeds, you can hold one of your own. Start with a small round robin or seed circle swap.
Participants in either round robin or seed circle swaps can be local. If they are, this will save money on shipping and ensure varieties in the swap are appropriate to grow in your area. Participants can be long distance as well, or a mix of local and long distance. Try to keep the swap domestic. It can be a challenge to send seeds overseas.
Get started with a round robin seed swap by collecting the names and contact information of those who will participate. Draw up instructions to swap participants. Let them know that when they receive the box, they should both take seeds from and add seeds to it. Provide tips on which types of seeds to add (hybrid vs. heirloom). If you have distance-swappers, remind your participants to provide zone information with their added seeds and check zone information before taking seeds. Instruct them to send the box to the next participant on the list.
A good place to source seeds is in your community. This is because people in your area know best what grows there. Ask friends and neighbors if they have seeds they can share with you. Also ask them to recommend you varieties to try and local garden centers, seed libraries or seed swaps where you can find them.
Seed swaps are events where people who have saved seeds from their gardens or who have excess purchased seed can trade seeds with each other. Knowledge, ideas and practices from different gardeners and their cultures are passed along too.
There are a lot of words to describe seeds that are not hybrid seeds– heirloom, heritage, open-pollinated or standard. No matter which word is used, heirloom plants have been handed down for generations. Originally, seeds from heirloom varieties were saved for the next year because whoever grew them fancied one or two particular traits. This means that single plants of older heirlooms may not look completely like their decedents. Now heirloom varieties are relatively stable, even though heirloom plants of the same variety are not perfectly identical to each other.
When parent plants carefully selected for their desirable traits are bred together, they produce hybrid seeds. These seeds are called hybrid or F1 hybrid seeds. Breeding plants together to produce hybrid seeds sounds simple, but it is a long process. Selecting plants to breed together over and over again to end up with the perfect hybrid plant can take years. And, each time the plants are bred, or cross-pollinated, it is done by hand. This means that every new hybrid on the market costs a seed company a lot of time and money. But, seed companies and consumers alike often say it is worth it.
Tired of playing buzzword bingo as you sift through seed packets for information? Here are a few plant industry terms decoded.
GMO: Genetically modified organisms are plants or animals which were altered using biotechnology. They contain a new gene or a new combination of genes. Why? To provide improved traits.
Seeds from genetically modified plants are sold only to farmers by the companies which produce them. Legal contracts which spell out exactly how the farmers can and cannot use the seeds are required. None of the seeds available at garden centers are genetically modified seeds.