Garden Like Our Lives Depend On It
October 13, 2020 3:49 PM   Subscribe

As habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects and wildlife rapidly disappears, the argument that it will be up to private landowners to provide crucial homes and corridors for migration thereby rescuing us all from extinction (if the insects go, we all go), is gaining ground. Groups all over the world are providing information and instruction to gardeners and land owners to help them provide resources for the world's dwindling wildlife. I'd planned to spend a day compiling a list of resources for gardeners by country and post it, but 10 mins of searching brought me to this SubReddit, and I don't think I can do better.
posted by WalkerWestridge (26 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
I converted about 1/3rd of the grass in my backyard to a native grass and flower mix this past spring. It wasn't much to look at this summer, but it should be pretty neat next year and especially year three when everything matures. My front yard will eventually be grass free as well, although that will be a little more traditionally organized.
posted by MillMan at 3:58 PM on October 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

It's fun to consider your natural environment from the perspective of feeding bees. You can see how they move from one type of plant to another as the season moves along and different blossoms become available. It also gave me an appreciation of clover and dandelions, as they are reliable and reasonably abundant flower sources. No bee is going to scoff at a mere weed, after all.
posted by factory123 at 4:04 PM on October 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

the argument that it will be up to private landowners to provide crucial homes and corridors for migration thereby rescuing us all from extinction

I hope this isn't focusing too much on the framing over the link, but -- this sounds good, as long as there is a realistic assessment of who "private landowners" are, so this doesn't end up in the emissions situation.

According to a recent working paper by New York University economist Edward Wolff, in 2016 the wealthiest 1 percent of households owned 40 percent of the nation's non-home real estate, while the next 9 percent of households owned another 42 percent. That left the remaining 90 percent of households owning just 18 percent of the country's non-home real estate. [...] The nation's largest private landowner is telecom baron John Malone, with 2.2 million acres — an area considerably larger than the state of Delaware — to his name in 2017. Ted Turner is No. 2 on the list, with an even 2 million acres.
The 100 largest owners of private property in the U.S., newcomers and old-timers together, have 40 million acres, or approximately 2% of the country’s land mass, according to data from the Land Report and reporting by Bloomberg News. Ten years ago, the top 100 had fewer than 30 million acres. [...] It may not seem like much—all told, just about the size of Florida.
Today, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that at least 30 percent of American farmland is owned by non-operators who lease it out to farmers. And with a median age for the American farmer of about 55, it is anticipated that in the next five years, some 92,000,000 acres will change hands, with much of it passing to investors rather than traditional farmers.
I couldn't figure out any good links for corporate land ownership on the fly, it's very hard to figure out. In the US, the federal government is still by far the largest single landowner (640 million acres).
posted by advil at 4:44 PM on October 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

We went hiking with some friends on Sunday and the kids had a blast running up to all of the milkweed plants they saw and hitting them to release their seeds. At some points it almost looked like it was snowing around them. Hopefully the seeds will be able to grow wherever they land. We took a couple of seed pods with us to plant in our side yard. We're already in the process of replacing the grass there with wildflowers so if any of these take it'll add to the food available for pollinators. I guess every little bit helps but really its the farms and resource extraction industries and how they manage their land and pesticide use that'll determine how effective any of this is as less than 1% of my province is urban by area.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:21 PM on October 13, 2020 [4 favorites]

My garden is a part of a Butterflyway. It was really easy.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:39 PM on October 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

Insect hotels can be built with locally available materials or purchased pre-made from a few shops online.

That being said, the paradox of in/action is frustrating - social inequity is such that our individual efforts are not enough of a mitigation to matter, but there cannot be positive social change without us beginning to alter how we live our lives anyway. What we do probably won't help, but we will all have to adapt regardless so we may as well try to be drops of water in the wider sea of society/ecology rather than drops of poison, to pinch a phrase from someone here several years ago.
posted by Lonnrot at 9:50 PM on October 13, 2020 [5 favorites]

I get government support to protect a specific butterfly, and obviously the things we need to do work for biodiversity in general. I'm also member of an association that provides courses and information about biodiversity. They send me seeds sometimes, too, but I think the deer eat the sprouts. I have a love/hate relationship with those deer. Their flock is steadily growing, this morning 5 of them were in my garden just a couple of meters from the windows, looking adorable, eating everything I have planted and probably spreading ticks all over the place.

Some years ago, the back part of my garden was cut down completely and reduced to sand dunes while I was traveling, all because of a failure of communication. I was shocked, but it was also cool in a way. For one, there is much more light in the house now. I asked a landscape designer friend what to do, and he said: wait and see. Which is what I did. Now it is a grassy meadow, with some brambles in part of it, and some new little fir trees are growing up. I think I'm going to pull up most of the fir trees and plant an orchard (there was a locally famous orchard historically). Eventually, there will be free range poultry, too. I'm looking a lot at forest gardening online, and trying out some stuff, but the deer...
posted by mumimor at 1:25 AM on October 14, 2020 [4 favorites]

Thanks so much for this! I just cleared out a section of our garden to plant a pollinator garden using Virginia wild flowers. The subreddit is awesome.
posted by bluesky43 at 8:04 AM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm making a very tentative foray into native-plants gardening this year: I have a bare patch where there used to be a fence and a lot of random weeds, and I'm planting it with Prairie Moon's Pollinator-Palooza seed mix. I'm going to see how that goes and then think about making bigger changes. My next-door neighbors keep bees, and their hives are pretty near my bare patch, so at least I know it will make somebody happy.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:33 AM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

What you do might not have as much as an effect on the planet as Ted Turner, but it has a great effect on your neighbors. If you are spraying pesticides and herbicides, that is going into your neighbors' yards and the local groundwater.
posted by tofu_crouton at 11:57 AM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

I love gardening Reddit! In a depressing world, destroying my grass has been my happiest hobby. I’m in year two for a large part of my backyard (progress pics here!), and it is so fun to see it evolve from tree pit to dirt patch to weedy baseball field to prairie. I also grew a clover yard and am converting a couple other patches of lawn to native plants.

My long-term goal is to have zero “lawn,” but for now I’m keeping a large enough section where my kid can run through a sprinkler when it’s hot outside. My spouse is not on board with my total grass eradication plan, but he started to come around a bit once the prairie bloomed this summer.
posted by Maarika at 1:12 PM on October 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

I grew a garden this summer. It was going greatly and I was enjoying watching the pollinators do their thing and there was such a variety. No one had gardened that bed for a decade at least, and I wondered what obstacles I would face. Well, the obstacle is that my next door neighbor has a guy come spray weed, feed, and pesticide, four times per year. So right at the height of my garden, the pollinators vanished, and the enemies of the enemies of my garden were gone too. What was left was mites that ate the new growth tissue of my Armenian cucumbers, the yellow squash stopped producing altogether, and died back, but the basils kept it up. The green beans fell prey to grasshoppers, and whatever else. But I bought 1,500 lady bugs and let them loose on the situation, and there was improvement in the cucumber department. You know, screw the companies that sell this poison, shrugging and saying we have no idea what is killing the bees. Go into any garden center, there is a wall of stuff that is killing the bees. So things have perked up, but the pesticide guy will be back just in time for a fall application.
posted by Oyéah at 2:47 PM on October 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

100% recommend any and all of this. Our house is built toward the front of its lot, so the front yard space is small-ish, but the backyard space is pretty generous. Especially since we're on a cul-de-sac, we pulled up all the front yard grass when we bought the place a few years ago, and after a couple of failed versions, now have a beautiful, low-maintenance garden in front of our house. Our neighborhood bees LOVE all the varieties of sage (our basic blue sage plants are stupidly huge because of all the bee attention they get, ongoing from ~Feb-Oct.), but everything we planted makes some combination of bees, butterflys and hummingbirds happy.

We've been slowly converting chunks of the back yard since, with some pollinator space and some food garden space. Our most recent awesome change there is the addition of platform bird feeders and a bird bath. Some days it's like a bird sanctuary back there, it's incredible (and this is with three dogs who have free access, to go chase and make them scatter every so often). The news about increased reproduction among song birds because of massive decreases in noise pollution, is definitely a real thing. (My only two, very amateur home-birder tips: use waste-free bird seed, they love that; and clean & refill the bird bath every'll have little bird pool parties back there once they find it and know it has fresh water all the time, promise. It's becoming more clear to me that I will want them to have a heated bird bath once it gets chilly.)
posted by LooseFilter at 2:52 PM on October 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

Sage is amazing. I should plant some more.
posted by mumimor at 2:56 PM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

^ Highly recommended--we have 9 or 10 varieties of flowering sage planted, all are very popular with the pollinators.
posted by LooseFilter at 3:58 PM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

The idealism surrounding this is rather depressing. Placing the onus of rescuing the planet upon the individual when it is corporate activity which is causing the problem is a Band-Aid and nothing more. The indiscriminate use of pesticide and herbicide is the major culprit. Big Ag is to blame along with the failure of any EPA activities controlled by a political elite hell bent on profit over well-being of the populace.
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 11:12 PM on October 14, 2020

The idealism surrounding this is rather depressing. Placing the onus of rescuing the planet upon the individual when it is corporate activity which is causing the problem is a Band-Aid and nothing more.

No one is saying that wild gardening alone will save the planet. But it can do two things
- first of all, many of the regions where the insect life and the water table are most at risk have huge areas of suburbs with gardens managed with excessive use of pesticides, herbicides and scarce water. Homeowners can make a significant different by creating biotopes where species can survive while we do something political about the main culprit, big ag.
- second, while doing this, citizens send a clear visual signal to their local and national politicians on where they stand concerning the environment.

I forgot, there's a third thing: it's fun. It's fun to do with kids.

I am right now working on an article about the catastrophic effects of industrial agriculture, and another one about urban greening. I don't disagree with your main point of view. But I find that giving citizens a sense of agency and an impression of how alternatives might look is politically important. Most people today are quite estranged from the agricultural landscape, for good reasons. But that means that most people find it hard to imagine alternative solutions to industrial agriculture. The farmers' associations scream that everyone will starve and you can't have a burger if we change things, which is not true, but if you can't see the alternatives in your mind, you will be more reluctant to vote and work for change.
posted by mumimor at 3:12 AM on October 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

An homogeneous lifestyle creates a need to behave in a specific way. America has some fairly distinct land use categories which all have their own issues and sub-categories; Urban (cities, industrial, industrial wasteland...), semi-urban (strip malls, shopping malls...), suburban (old with back yards, new w/o back yards or apartment complexes, big/little cookie-cutter beige-villes...), highways and byways (railways and rail yards, strip malls again, large industrial (e.g. chemical & oil works)...), industrial rural (distribution centers, orchards, dairy farms...), semi-rural (larger homes and small developments), rural (smaller farms, land plots bigger than 1 acre), rural-wild (isolated populations with little if any land-usage), wild (you can hear the silence if it were not for the wildlife), and 'here be dragons' desert or bleak type of environments which are inhospitable to humans. NOTE: these are but a few that I can think of currently and they do not include the varying climatic or specific areas.

In all of these environments the impact of humans is ever present. I am lucky to live in a rural-wild environment and still have issues when the State department of transport has indiscriminate use of glyphosate at the roadside to 'control road incursion by vegetation'. Despite their claims that the spray used 'dissipates quickly' water testing has shown it is present in our well water. I am surrounded by dense woodland so the potential source is limited to one main culprit but they still deny any involvement. I am now forced to put up 'No spraying' signs on my property which is (apparently, due to litigation by others) an effective measure requiring them to perform the 'costly' act of mowing the edge.

For most suburban environments (the above-mentioned beige-villes and so on) the resident/home-owners rules require minimum lawn areas and are strict regarding what can be planted or grown in/around the home. Equally, many home-owners or HOA's contract in landscaping firms who manage the environments and use industrial methods to control weeds etc. I saw contractors the other day spraying a lawn with green dye the other day! WTF?!!!

Large corporate interests have done their best to hide the damage they do, even to the point of influencing what is 'allowed' to be printed on product labels for insecticides/pesticides/herbicides/fertilizers. The revolving door of lobbyists and political appointees to crucial departments of government is ever present. A simple look at people holding positions in the EPA, FDA, and (dare I mention it) the postal service are prime examples of stuffing positions with people who are mere puppets of corporate America.

As points of reference to this I suggest looking for 'The World According To Monsanto' (I believe it is till on YTube), the very recent post, and a much earlier one relating to how Americans are addicted to lawns with huge acreage of land devoted to this (unable to locate this one currently).

The future IS bleak for the environment and far more drastic action is required to prevent this. Yes, have fun with the children providing them with some form of linkage to the environment but do you truly think that any politician cares what your garden looks like? I do not.
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 6:22 AM on October 15, 2020

The idealism surrounding this is rather depressing.
I mean, I'm sorry to depress you with my idealism, I guess. But I've got this yard, and I need to do something with it, and this is what I'd rather do. It might just be a landscaping fad, which is fine. It's ok to do things that don't have deep political impact. I would like for my yard to look a little less bedraggled than it does now, and I would like to do that without using a lot of water, pesticides, or fertilizer. There are a lot of reasons for that: to keep my water bill down, to avoid hurting my neighbors' bees, because beekeeping is a hobby that they enjoy, to avoid putting stuff in my yard that could be harmful to people or pets. That's all. I'm not claiming to be Greta frigging Thunberg.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:44 AM on October 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

When we moved into our house six years ago our small front yard and long but narrow backyard already had no grass but I worked to destroy all of the invasive plants and replace with shrubs/trees/flowers for pollinators and songbirds. more to be done but it's been great
posted by biggreenplant at 10:55 AM on October 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

Also long live mycorrhizae (fungi) aka the "wood wide web" that shunts messages and nutrients between trees, among other things. The sheer complexity and interrelatedness of soil and plant life is mind boggling and super cool. Human beings have done a crap job with complex ecosystems -- see fertilizer-driven ag, see lawn monocultures. Down with tidiness! Up with messiness!
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:30 PM on October 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

Few things on line make me very happy these days, but your responses to this post made me smile ALOT! Thanks guys! Now let's go save the world!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 6:57 PM on October 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

do you truly think that any politician cares what your garden looks like? I do not.

Well, I know that many politicians care here, in the socialist paradise where I live, and I know that biodiversity activists have had a faster and stronger impact than many other environmental movements here, now about a fourth of Denmark's municipalities have at least some level of "wild" management of their road-edges and some park areas. We still need lawns for soccer and some decorative trees and hedges, it seems. The private activists have inspired this in many places, by showing it can be done.
I am also aware that rural areas in the US often have very red local governments, but they do in Denmark too (though we call red blue, just to confuse), and activists for biodiversity have been very succesfull even there, by engaging young families with children' books, apps and other stuff that really work. At this point it is hard to find a political party that doesn't embrace some sort of progressive environmental policy (albeit on a sliding scale), because voters matter. This goes for most of Europe, the last EU election was a landslide for the environment, not least because of Greta frigging Thunberg and many of the other kids in Europe.
posted by mumimor at 1:33 AM on October 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

Idealism may be the only thing that has a chance of saving us. People who are aware of the problem and participate in trying to make it better don't need to be chided for being idealistic. If you are offended/depressed by my idealism, well, damn, I'm sorry (not sorry). Maybe do your own post about what we can do to impose stricter regulation on big ag. I'll read it and thank you for the pointers, and I promise not to be depressed by your idealism.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 2:53 PM on October 21, 2020

And one more thing...

We've seen an enormous increase in small song birds in our yard this year. I attribute it to birds fleeing the fires all over the West. These birds are drawn like crazy to the Maxmillan sunflowers we planted (a native sunflower in our area). They can't get enough of the seeds. If these are displaced birds, a place to find a bunch of good eats is vital to their survival. As song bird species increasingly dwindle, the survival of entire species can rest in keeping even a few individuals alive until conditions improve. Home owners can make a difference. The wild sunflowers produce seed untainted by GMOs, pesticides, and herbacides which can kill them.

The whole "your idealism is depressing" thing sounds sadly familiar to the people saying, "your vote doesn't matter so don't vote." You do you, of course, but I'm gonna keep voting, and I'm gonna keep feeding as many wild creatures as I can.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:49 PM on October 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Have you heard about the whole Liz Christy Guerilla Gardening movement from the mid 1970's that led to a whole movement of people developing wasteland, unused plots, and barren brownfield sites?

They used seed bombs to propagate seeds on this land by mixing compost, clay, water, and seeds and making small hand grenades to throw over fences onto this disused land.

A great notion and a great modern method to improve or increase pollinator highways and travel routes, in particular bees. There are a number of projects going on with this same objective of increasing gardening space, growing wildflowers, and attracting bees and butterflies.
posted by BenHiltop at 3:02 AM on November 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

« Older Enter the bears, stage right.   |   Without despair we would all have to despair Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments