» 2018 » June

How to Attract Pollinator to Your Yard in 3 Steps

A golden monarch butterfly stopping on a bush, a hummingbird sucking from a flower…a view that everyone would love to see.  The good news is, we can turn a yard into a pollinator friendly garden and enjoy such a view often.   Pollinators play a vital role for the eco-system, and for us humans, yet their populations have experienced dramatic decline in the last 20 years.  We can do something now to help slow or stop the decline.  Here, by looking at the garden as an example, we can show that in 3 steps, a space without any pollinator can become one full of it within just 2 years.

Step 1: shrink down or remove the lawn

After the historic drought in California 2 years ago, this lawn turned completely brown.  The house owner wanted to get rid of the eye sore  and have something beautiful.  They wanted a garden with  lots flowers, a garden that would bloom year round.  When they heard that such a conversion would also allow them to receive the Landscape Conversion Rebate, they decided to take on the project. To replace a lawn makes sense, as it needs a lot of water.  A converted landscape can save water by 30-80%.   in addition, a lawn does not have the different colors and flowers that pollinators need, so it can hardly be a habitat.

Step 2: Put in plants that sport bright blossom

During the design process, plants were carefully selected to have bright blossom, and would bloom for a long time.   Luckily, many of the drought tolerant plants meeting the requirements of the rebate program can fit the bill very well.  There were a lot to choose from.  Plants like Statice, Cherry Sage, Cone Flower, Lion’s Tail were all good candidates. The project started, very quickly a floral garden was installed.

Step 3: Wait for the blossom, and pollinators follow

The plants grew quickly.  After just a couple months, in early spring, some plants already grew to a point where they bloomed. After just a year, the garden was in full bloom.  A dream was fulfilled: pollinator friendly garden

Sure enough, some small visitors came.: bees on flower Sage 2 monarch butterfly This humming bird really craved the flower.  It worked on every single petal: hummingbird hummingbird In just 3 steps ,  a little a space without any pollinator became this magnet that attracted all types and many of them.

Another garden: same transformation

This garden also went from a lawn without pollinator to one with a lot.  The garden was designed to be a California native plants garden, so more native plants were chosen.   One of the plant selected was Matilijia Poppy.  This is a big California native, once a contender for the California state flower.  This is how it looks like in the field: Planted in the garden: M Poppy In the first summer after planting, it grew its first flower: M Poppy After another year,  it grew into this full bush with its big white flowers.   M Poppy Sure enough, bees came to visit: M Poppy Another California native chosen was the California Golden Poppy, also favorite for the bees: G Poppy At the end of summer, even though most of the poppies already faded, the bee still wanted to have what was out there: G Poppy Both gardens showed to us, that by replacing  lawns with landscapes of nectar plants, the pollinators would love them and come.  We could provide a habitat to them from our own yards.

A serious issue – decline of pollinators

Pollinators play a critical role for the eco system in nature, and for us humans. When the bees flying from flowers to flowers collecting their pollens, they rub pollens from a flower onto another, pollinating the flowers, which enables fertilization and turns the flowers into seeds and fruits.   The seeds allow the next generations of the plants to grow, thus ensuring a bio system to continue and thrive. For agriculture, bees pollinate 75% of world’s main crops.  According to USDA, bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion or more of American crops per year. It is hard to imagine a world without the bees pollinating all those crops. Unfortunately, in the last 2 decades, the pollinators of bee, butterfly and hummingbird all experience rather significant decline, some species go as far as to the brink of extinction.  The culprit?  while the scientists are still exploring, the widespread use of pesticide, pollution, climate change, and loss of habitat all count as remarkable reasons. Bee According to a study by Center for Biological Diversity (author Kelsey Kopec, a pollinator researcher):

  • “Among native bee species with sufficient data to assess (1,437), more than half (749) are declining.
  • Nearly 1 in 4 (347 native bee species) is imperiled and at increasing risk of extinction.”

The rusty patched bumble bee has declined by almost 90% since 1990s that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed it as an endangered species in early 2017.  It became first wild bee in the continental United States to be listed as endangered species. In this article “Why are bees declining“, the big reasons for the decline are described as: “Habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation – Homelessness; General declines in wildflowers within the landscape – Hunger, Pests and disease – Sickness, Agrochemicals – Poisoning, Climate change – Changing environment” Humming Bird According to Ellen Paul, “the annual breeding bird survey shows that between 1966 and 2013, the rufous population on the Pacific Coast dropped an average of 2.67 per cent per year. ”  Pesticide was thought to be one possible factor for the decline, with a research going on right now to find out;  Climate change, and loss of habitat that comes with it, can be another big one.  According to Climate Central: “the warming temperatures make it harder for these birds to eat, rest, and even reproduce… Rather than search for food in the increasingly hotter summers, some hummingbirds simply seek shade to remain cool. They are also less social during the hotter weather, suggesting they are not as likely to mate. Suitable habitats for hummingbirds are also starting to shrink as the climate changes. Spring blooms are occurring earlier in the year, affecting the timing between blooming plants and hummingbirds’ return from their tropical winter retreat. This can leave the flowering blooms without their necessary pollinators, and at the same time birds have less food, which puts both plants and animals at risk.” Monarch Butterfly The most alarming decline comes from monarch butterfly.  According to David Mizejewski on EcoWatch, “populations of this once-common iconic black and orange butterfly have plummeted by approximately 90 percent in just the last two decades. The threats to the species are the loss of habitat in the United States–both the lack of availability of milkweed, the only host food plant for monarch caterpillars, as well as nectar plants needed by adults- through land conversion of habitat for agriculture, removal of native plants and the use of pesticides and loss of habitat in Mexico from illegal logging around the monarchs’ overwintering habitat. The new population numbers underscore the need to continue conservation measures to reverse this trend.” One of the most effective conversion measures, that we can do,  is to build more habitats for the pollinators.  It can be in our front and back yards, or on the campus of a company or school.

Big tech putting native plants on their campuses

In the last several years, big high tech companies in the Silicon Valley  planted native plants around their campuses and transformed them into spaces friendly for pollinators. Apple At Apple’s iconic spaceship campus, the 3 acres space is filled by 9000 trees, California native and other drought tolerant plants. Spaceship   native plants The native plants that were planted just a year ago on the campus, are already serving the hungry bees the food they love. native plants bee Google At Google’s Mountain View headquarter, most of the planting areas are also filled with California native and drought tolerant plants.  Here the California native buckwheat is blooming in the heat of summer. native plants The bee is busy feeding on nectar bee Here is a parking lot on the campus.  A butterfly is working on the California native Cleveland Sage planted in the garden next to the parking lot.   butterfly More plants, more pollinators native plants   native plants While we don’t have a huge yard like these, when we all put a couple native plants and other nectar plants in our garden, together they can make up this habitat that the pollinators badly need for their survival and thrive.  Let’s act today and build a garden friendly for pollinator.          

Make Our Garden Pollinator Friendly

There are so many benefits for converting a lawn to water efficient gardens.  The most significant one, of course, is water saving.  Compared with a lawn, a landscape with drought tolerant plants can save 30-80% of water.  In a dry place like California, such water saving is extremely important.  Another equally important benefit is providing food and shelter to pollinators, which a lawn provides hardly any.  Pollinators play a vital role for an eco-system to survive and thrive,  yet their populations have experienced dramatic decline in the last 20 years.  We all need to do something now to slow or stop the decline.  Grow a water efficient garden that is friendly for pollinators is one of the great ways.

Garden 1: more flowers, more pollinators

After the historic drought in California 2 years ago, this lawn turned completely brown.  The house owner wanted to get rid of the eye sore and have something beautiful.  They wanted a garden with  many flowers, a garden that would bloom year round. The project was done quickly, and the lawn was transformed to a garden. yard transformation The plants grew fast after they were planted; in just a couple months most of them already grew to a point that would bloom. water efficient garden After just a year: pollinator friendly garden A dream was fulfilled – the space now was filled with colors and flowers. Well, it turned out, not just the owners were happy with garden, some small creatures also did! When this seedling grew to be a bush and bloomed: flower the bees could not have enough of them: bees on flower This bush also attracted bees, but of a different kind: bush bee Well, this bush was so lovely, not just bees, but monarch butterfly also liked it: monarch butterfly What did the Lion’s Tail attract? hummingbird This humming bird really craved it.  It worked on every single petal of the flower, then another, then another: hummingbird   hummingbird In this garden, after the lawn was lost and plants were put in, in less than a year, it went from no pollinators to all kinds of them: bees (2 types); monarch butterfly, and humming bird.  While they all fed on the flowers, it was clear that the pollinators have different favorites and like to feed from different plants.  To grow plants that bloom is nice; even better, if we can have more diversity with the plants and flowers of more colors, the garden will attract more pollinators, which in turn will feed  A garden with lots of colors and flowers will not only provide a great view year round, but also turn a space into paradise for the pollinators.

Garden 2: bees love their native plants

Native plants are great choices for a water efficient garden.  They need very little to no water once established, and, since they are part of the local environment, the pollinators have been feeding on them for thousands of years. Here is a bush of such a native plant, Matilijia Poppy out in the field.  A bee can be seen working on its large flower. M Poppy   M Poppy This garden was planned to be a California native plant garden from the beginning.  At first, the native plants did not grow much.  But from second year on, they went into this explosive growth.  Look at the Matilijia Poppy, a native plant originally from Baja California that could be seen across the whole state: M Poppy the first flower: M Poppy In just a year, the bloom and green burst out: M Poppy So many flowers, it’s a feast for this bee: M Poppy Another California native, the state flower, California Golden Poppy, is also a favorite for bees: G Poppy At the end of summer, even though most of the poppies already faded, the bee still wanted what was out there: G Poppy Beautiful, hardy, water saving, and great for pollinator – what is not to love?  Plant some native plants in our gardens.

A serious issue – decline of pollinators

Pollinators play a critical role for the eco system in nature, and for us humans. When the bees flying from flowers to flowers collecting their pollens, they rub pollens from a flower onto another, pollinating the flowers, which enables fertilization and turns the flowers into seeds and fruits.   The seeds allow the next generations of the plants to grow, thus ensuring a bio system to continue and thrive. For agriculture, bees pollinate 75% of world’s main crops.  According to USDA, bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion or more of American crops per year. It is hard to imagine a world without the bees pollinating all those crops. Unfortunately, in the last 2 decades, the pollinators of bee, butterfly and hummingbird all experience rather significant decline, some species go as far as to the brink of extinction.  The culprit?  while the scientists are still exploring, the widespread use of pesticide, pollution, climate change, and loss of habitat all count as remarkable reasons. Bee According to a study by Center for Biological Diversity (author Kelsey Kopec, a pollinator researcher):

  • “Among native bee species with sufficient data to assess (1,437), more than half (749) are declining.
  • Nearly 1 in 4 (347 native bee species) is imperiled and at increasing risk of extinction.”

The rusty patched bumble bee has declined by almost 90% since 1990s that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed it as an endangered species in early 2017.  It became first wild bee in the continental United States to be listed as endangered species. In this article “Why are bees declining“, the big reasons for the decline are described as: “Habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation – Homelessness; General declines in wildflowers within the landscape – Hunger, Pests and disease – Sickness, Agrochemicals – Poisoning, Climate change – Changing environment” Humming Bird According to Ellen Paul, “the annual breeding bird survey shows that between 1966 and 2013, the rufous population on the Pacific Coast dropped an average of 2.67 per cent per year. ”  Pesticide was thought to be one possible factor for the decline, with a research going on right now to find out;  Climate change, and loss of habitat that comes with it, can be another big one.  According to Climate Central: “the warming temperatures make it harder for these birds to eat, rest, and even reproduce… Rather than search for food in the increasingly hotter summers, some hummingbirds simply seek shade to remain cool. They are also less social during the hotter weather, suggesting they are not as likely to mate. Suitable habitats for hummingbirds are also starting to shrink as the climate changes. Spring blooms are occurring earlier in the year, affecting the timing between blooming plants and hummingbirds’ return from their tropical winter retreat. This can leave the flowering blooms without their necessary pollinators, and at the same time birds have less food, which puts both plants and animals at risk.” Monarch Butterfly The most alarming decline comes from monarch butterfly.  According to David Mizejewski on EcoWatch, “populations of this once-common iconic black and orange butterfly have plummeted by approximately 90 percent in just the last two decades. The threats to the species are the loss of habitat in the United States–both the lack of availability of milkweed, the only host food plant for monarch caterpillars, as well as nectar plants needed by adults- through land conversion of habitat for agriculture, removal of native plants and the use of pesticides and loss of habitat in Mexico from illegal logging around the monarchs’ overwintering habitat. The new population numbers underscore the need to continue conservation measures to reverse this trend.” One of the most effective conversion measures, that we can do,  is to build more habitats for the pollinators.  It can be in our front and back yards, or on the campus of a company or school.

Big tech putting native plants on their campuses

In the last several years, big high tech companies in the Silicon Valley  planted native plants around their campuses and transformed them into spaces friendly for pollinators. Apple At Apple’s iconic spaceship campus, the 3 acres space is filled by 9000 trees, California native and other drought tolerant plants. Spaceship   native plants The native plants that were planted just a year ago on the campus, are already serving the hungry bees the food they love. native plants bee Google At Google’s Mountain View headquarter, most of the planting areas are also filled with California native and drought tolerant plants.  Here the California native buckwheat is blooming in the heat of summer. native plants The bee is busy feeding on nectar bee Here is a parking lot on the campus.  A butterfly is working on the California native Cleveland Sage planted in the garden next to the parking lot.   butterfly More plants, more pollinators native plants   native plants While we don’t have a huge yard like these, when we all put a couple native plants in our garden, together they can make up this habitat that the pollinators need.  Pollinators are vital for our environment, and for us – let’s give them food and others when their survival depend on us.          

A Race for Saving Water

On Apr 14, 2018,   I participated the Great Race for Saving Water in Palo Alto.  This is the fifth Earth Day celebration hosted by city of Palo Alto.  It is a 5K run/walk and kids 1K fun run to “raise awareness about water resources, conservation and environmental health”. Great Race for Saving Water Great Race for Saving Water 2 The race would start at 9am.  From the early morning,  people started streaming into the start venue, Palo Alto Baylands Athletic Center.  Once there, a lot of exciting things were already waiting.

A water truck – H2O On the Go

You have seen food trucks, but have you seen a water truck?  One of the first thing that would catch anyone’s eyes  was a water truck, Santa Clara Water District’s “H2O to Go”. As Santa Clara Water District describes on the truck’s website, “Standing 11 feet tall, the water dispenser-on-wheels holds approximately 500 gallons of chilled tap water; about enough to fill 8,000 servings in 8-ounce cups. Under a roll-out canopy on each side, residents can fill up at any of the vehicle’s 14 dispensers, seven on each side. The cold, refreshing water is from the district’s water treatment plants, which supply Santa Clara County with clean, safe and high-quality water. Water from our treatment plants consistently meets or exceeds all state and federal regulations, which continually grow more stringent. Drinking tap water also helps to protect the environment. With enough water to replace almost 4,000 water bottles, the water truck can save the earth from 105 pounds of plastic waste”. water truck There are so many benefits drinking from tap like these in the truck versus bottle.  A big portion of bottled water actually is just tap water;  while the tap water costs consumer almost nothing ($0.004/gallon), bottled water costs 300 times more, at $1.22/gallon.   Despite all these, the bottled water consumption has increased tremendously in the last several decades.  Per capita consumption increased 3 fold from 9.8 gallons per person annually in 1991 to 30.8 in 2012. One huge issue stemming from this massive consumption is pollution.  Globally, humans buy 1 million plastic bottles per minute; however, 91% of the plastic is not recycled.  A huge number of plastic bottles end up in landfill, and a big part of them go into ocean.   According to Ocean Conservancy, plastics are believed to threaten at least 600 different wildlife species90% of seabirds are now eating plastics on a regular basis; by 2050, that figure is expected to rise to 100%; At that time, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans.   To manage the issue, Europe is planning to ban 10 single use plastic items that make up for 70% of all litter in EU waters and on beaches.  While we all need to drink water, we definitely do not need more plastic bottles. Everyone would enjoy some cold, refreshing water, especially after running at a race.  Before the water truck,  water supplied to thirsty runners at a race like this would be just boxes after boxes of bottles.  As there are over 30,000 organized races and close to 17 million race finishers in the US a year, suppose one runner at least consumes 1 bottle, the races in US alone will generate 17 million bottles, with a big portion of that ending in landfill and oceans!  The Great Race was estimated to be attended by 1000 people.  By providing a water truck, the race organizer and Santa Clara Water District removed at least 1K bottles from this event.  Kudos to them for quenching the thirst for the runners, and doing a great thing for the environment! Here, no bottle was found at the bins:

A leaky toilet

At 9am, the race started.  In the race, one could not help but notice something that was rather unusual  – a running “leaky toilet”; to be more concise, someone who was wearing a costume of a toilet.  Why a toilet?  Well, it carried a rather big message about water. According to Peninsula Press, “Leaky toilets are just one source of common water wastage in home, since one out of five homes may have a toilet in any given year, according to Ora Chaiken from WaterSmart Software. She reprised her role as the “running toilet”, which participants tried to catch during the 5k and 1k fun runs.” Leaks are a big source of water waste.  Up to 50% of households will experience some kind of water leak in a given year;  according to EPA,  household leaks can waste more than 1 trillion gallons annually nationwide. enough for more than 11 million homes’ annual water use!  As water leaks can waste so much water, we should do everything we can to prevent and fix it immediately when it happens. We all understand the importance of using high water efficiency products, like the high efficiency toilet shown here, to save water. However,  if leaks happen, any  savings can be wiped out, and more.  It is good that we use these products, like the toilet, or water efficient irrigation such as drip ; equally important though, is that we can prevent, detect and fix any leaks quickly when they happen.

leaky toilet
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
Plant a garden with native plants

There were quite a few partner booths and activities at the festival.  Here, a landscape designer was giving a presentation about landscaping with California native plants.  Compared with a lawn, a garden with drought tolerant and native plants can save water significantly.  In addition, these plants can provide habitat for pollinators like bees, birds and butterflies, providing rich biodiversity and supporting a healthy eco system, which a lawn can not.  A garden can also add so much color and textures to the space, making it attractive and adding the curb appeal for the house. Outdoor landscaping accounts for half of the urban water use in California, which is a lot.  To save water, replacing a lawn with a water efficient gardens is one of the most effective ways.  Plant some wild flowers, save water and help out the bees and birds.  They will surely be grateful!

wild flower presentation
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
Kids Played a Big Part

When one came to the festival, they would find this sure was an event not just for adults, but also for kids.  There were kids everywhere, from little babies to teenagers; There was an 1K fun run just for kids.  For a kid,  there were so many fun things to look and do.  The smokey bear!  The eagle!

Smokey bear
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
Eagle
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water

With global warming, pollution and other environmental issues, our globe is facing some serious challenges, which will just become more serious if not managed well.  This makes it really important for kids to be involved early, to become educated in the topics about earth, environment and sustainability. When today’s kids grow up, they will inherit the earth with all the issues and challenges; what they learn now can prepare them for the challenges then; furthermore, if they understand the importance today, they can join join adults and do something to prevent, reduce or slow down the impact of these issues.  For example, our water supply from snowpack might decline by 60% in just 20 years.  Facing such a future, kids should learn today how precious our wate is, and what they can do now to conserve water.  By chasing the “leaky toilet”, they will understand the significance of preventing water losses like leaks.  When they grow up, in a world that will have less stable water supply than today, they will fully appreciate the value of water and try to come up with ways to use it well. Out of the many things they will do,  they might design a better toilet that have less leaks, and save more water.

Kids chasing leaky toilet
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
#1 kid
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
Win at the race

Well, beyond all the fun activities, this still was a race.  I was just planning to have a good time and did not prepare anything special for the race.  After the race started, I dashed through the 5K.  When they announced the winner for each age group, to my happy surprise, I won 1st place in my age group. Luckily, in our long race towards a clean and sustainable earth, not just one person, or a group, a country, or one generation  can be the winner.  All of us can.  If we come together and work together, if we bring our kids along, we will all win in the end.   The sky will still be blue, water still be clean in the next generation, and the next. The Great Race for Saving Water has been a very fun and educational event, blending in sports, games, plants, animals and many more to give everyone an abundant dose of fun and information.  It is truly a Great Race for Saving Water.

race finish
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
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