How to Plant a Bee-Friendly Garden

Bee Garden

Declines in bee populations have made headlines in recent years, both because of the possible reasons for the decline and because bees play such an integral role in ecosystems. Additionally, we rely on bees for food, since they pollinate many of the plants whose fruits and vegetables we eat. If you’re a home gardener, you can take steps to make your garden bee friendly. Doing so will not only help your plants — since the bees will pollinate many of them for you — it will also help maintain your local bee population.

Bees consume pollen and nectar from flowering plants, so to attract bees, you will need to plant flowers. Many people assume this means planting ornamental flowers, but many edible plants produce flowers that attract bees as well. Lemon balm, basil, and mint, for example, all beckon to bees.

One of the most important considerations for planting flowers in your yard or garden is the timing of flowering. Plants bloom at different times throughout the year, so select varieties that bloom at a variety of times rather than all at once. Doing so will ensure bees have access to food throughout the growing season. Also consider planting more than one color and shape of flower, as this may attract more bees and allow different sizes of bees to feed on your flowers, according to The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

To learn what flowering plants are suitable to your area, it’s advisable to check with local gardening organizations. Many university extension programs offer great information about this topic. The important thing to remember is that the answer to the question of what plants attract bees really depends on where you live. For example, poppies are ideal for attracting bumblebees and honeybees in California, but in the upper Midwest, lupine may be a good option. Many gardening resources suggest choosing native plants, too, since research indicates bees are more attracted to them than they are to nonnative varieties.

To further assist bees in your garden, try providing shelter where they can raise their young. To do this, simply leave open patches of soil or sand, since many bees nest underground. Alternatively, dried-out sunflowers from last season’s garden can offer nesting space. If you already have a garden, making it a bee-friendly one is worth the effort. You’ll help the bees, the bees will help your garden, and the local ecosystem will get just a little bit healthier.

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Farmed Fish vs. Wild Fish

Photo: Flickr/Northwest Power and Conservation Council

What’s the difference between farmed and wild fish? Photo: Flickr/Northwest Power and Conservation Council

Fish is a lean protein that’s a major source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, important vitamins such as calcium and iron, and essential minerals like magnesium and phosphorus. Studies have shown that including fatty fish in your diet is excellent for heart health and brain health. But not all servings of fish are created equal — the provided health benefits can be dependent on where the fish spent its life swimming.

Fish farming, or aquaculture, is a practice that has become popular in recent decades due to its manageability and an increasing demand for seafood. Fish are raised commercially in enclosures, commonly in the form of net pens in offshore coastal saltwater or freshwater environments, to eventually be sold for food. Aquaculture has been a valuable innovation and is largely why fish and other seafood are consistently available for our consumption.

While farmed fish can help with the problem of overfishing and can cut down on distance traveled to your plate, they also have a greater risk of disease, larger concentrations of toxins, and the potential to negatively impact local ecology.

Pollutants like polychlorated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins are released into coastal waters by way of land runoff and thus are in highest concentrations in near-shore areas where most fish farming takes place. As a result, farmed fish commonly contain significantly higher concentrations of these harmful pollutants compared with wild fish.

Why? Imagine you’re in an airplane with one flu-ridden passenger. By the end of the flight, other passengers are likely to have caught the flu as well. Farmed fish are in a similar situation when kept in enclosures like net pens — the high density of fish in a small area keeps them in constant contact with one another, allowing disease to spread easily.

Salmon has heart-healthy benefits — but it can also have contaminants. Photo: Flickr/Gwen

Salmon has heart-healthy benefits — but it can also have contaminants. Photo: Flickr/Gwen

Farmed fish are fed pellets usually made from grain or other plant material. It turns out that the reason why fish is high in healthy omega-3s is due to their diet in the wild. Therefore, farmed fish tend to have significantly lower concentrations of omega-3s. The food pellets at these farms are also inefficient in terms of energy and resources; it takes more energy to produce enough pellets to feed farmed fish than the fish will provide as food themselves. Wild fish are easier on the environment due to their self-sustaining dietary habits and contributions to the local ecosystem.

Another problem stemming from fish farming is escapees. Individual fish have been reported escaping from net pens, exposing themselves to wild fish populations where they can spread diseases or even out-compete them. The Atlantic salmon is an example of a farmed fish that may out-compete its wild neighbors; the superior size gives it an advantage in finding food and warding off predators. Atlantic salmon are commonly farmed on the West Coast of the U.S. in coastal net pens, so an escapee could certainly be detrimental for the local wild Pacific salmon.

When you’re choosing your seafood, consider the source — for now, sustainably harvested wild fish are likely to be the best option both for your health and that of the environment.

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Reducing Red Meat

Photo: Flickr/Ronald Sarayudej

How much red meat is in your diet? Photo: Flickr/Ronald Sarayudej

If you’re like many Americans, eating healthier was one of your New Year’s resolutions. Now that 2015’s in full swing, you may have strayed from the goal, but there’s one easy way to get back on track: Cut down on your red meat consumption.

Instead of a burger at lunch, try a plant-based meal like green salad, hearty pasta, or vegetarian soup. Why? It’s good for your health — red meat is full of saturated fats and LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol, increasing your risk of heart disease — and the health of the planet.

The meat industry is responsible for a massive amount of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane are released from the industrial machinery, processing equipment, and even the animals themselves. According to the UN, raising livestock is one of the most significant contributors to global environmental issues, accounting for about 9 percent of human-related carbon dioxide emissions.

Eating animals is inefficient in terms of energy resources, too: Producing 1 pound of meat requires 16 pounds of grain. That meat could provide meals for about five people in America — however, the 16 pounds of grain could feed many more. If we skipped the meat and ate the grain instead, we would be using our resources much more efficiently. After all, consuming an animal means consuming all the food and water that animal consumed during its lifetime as well.

Not only do livestock use up food and water, but they can even degrade land. When raising livestock, it’s important to carefully manage grazing areas in order to maintain self-sustaining land. Many industrial farms don’t manage their land properly, leading to overgrazing by the livestock and, consequently, no more green grass for the animals. Once the land is overgrazed, livestock must be moved to a new area where grass is able to grow. This area, in turn, also becomes overgrazed and more and more land is degraded.

Becoming a vegetarian isn’t the only solution, though. By choosing a plant-based lunch, you can save 2.5 pounds of carbon dioxide, 133 gallons of water, and 24 square feet of land, according to data from the PB&J Campaign. If you’re a born-and-bred brisket eater or hog wild about hot dogs, start with Meatless Monday, a global movement encouraging everyone to skip meat one day a week — even that makes a big difference.

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Don’t Waste Homegrown Produce — Donate It!

Can you eat everything your garden's growing? If not, donate it!

Can you eat everything your garden’s growing? If not, donate it!

In the U.S., 40 percent of our food goes to waste. Upon hearing that statistic, many of us tend to think about the waste that occurs in our kitchens or in restaurants. A large portion of that waste, however, also takes place on farms because of logistical issues during harvest. Additionally, an increasing number of people grow food themselves in backyards and community gardens across the country, and sometimes food even gets wasted on these small “farms.” During good growing seasons with adequate rain and few pests, people can wind up with too much of a particular crop and then don’t know what to do with it.

If you find yourself in this situation and can’t find someone to take extra produce off your hands, consider using one of the many nonprofit organizations trying to turn potential food waste into healthy meals. More than 50 million Americans face food insecurity, so it only makes sense to find ways to get food to those who need it (because the landfill certainly doesn’t need your produce!).

Ample Harvest, for example, is a national organization that connects people interested in donating their extra garden harvest to local food pantries. Currently, their system has 6,812 food pantries registered to receive fresh food, which is typically something food pantries are unable to offer their patrons because of the short shelf life of produce. To contribute, gardeners can use the Ample Harvest website to search for food pantries nearby and find out times when donations are accepted. Since 2009, many millions of pounds of produce have been donated using the system.

Plenty of local programs have similar goals, so you can also look into what food donation programs exist in your community. In Portland, Ore., the city’s Parks and Recreation Department began a program in 1995 called Produce for People that partners with hunger relief agencies to donate fruits and vegetables to food pantries. Dozens of the city’s community gardens participate, and many even plant a special section whose harvest is grown specifically for the organization.

While food waste in gardens may seem small compared to the much greater amounts of waste in the larger food system, every little bit we save from the landfill — and provide to someone in need — adds up.

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