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You Can Grow It: How you can help honeybees and butterflies in your garden

Honeybees and monarch butterflies are in trouble. Here are some things you can do in your garden to help save them.

BOISE, Idaho — Growing a garden gives us some nice rewards…. pretty flowers, fresh fruits and vegetables, and it attracts wildlife to your yard -- songbirds and hummingbirds, colorful butterflies, and even honeybees. But some of these creatures are in trouble, and they need our help.

We can help endangered honeybees and monarch butterflies to recover by doing just a few simple things in our gardens at home.

A successful garden depends a good deal on the little pollinators that flutter and buzz around our plants, and so does a lot of our nation’s food supply. So as you get started with your garden this spring, you might want to consider how you can incorporate some things into your landscape that will help some of our endangered pollinator friends, like the honeybees and the monarch butterflies.

For years we've been seeing a drastic decline in the global honeybee population. Honeybees are essential pollinators, responsible for a very large part of our food supply. The widespread use of pesticides, combined with natural effects of local severe winter weather, disease, and invasive predators like the varroa bee mites, have reduced bee colonies by as much as 50 percent in the last decade.

You can help the bees recover locally by doing a few simple things when you start gardening this spring.

First, grow plants that attract and feed the bees. They love herbs like lavender and sage, as well as flowering bushes and trees. They rely on the nectar that they collect for their food. And along the way, they pick up pollen from the blossoms and flowers and spread them from plant to plant, which leads to the production of fruits and vegetables.

Also, back off on the use of pesticides and weed killers. Instead, try some organic and natural means for pest control.

Consider having your own set of beehives on your property. Beekeeping is a popular hobby, and you get the added benefits of increased pollination as well as delicious home-grown honey. Be sure to check for any local ordinances and restrictions on beekeeping where you live.

A great resource for beekeeping information and support locally is the Treasure Valley Beekeepers Club. And if you happen to run across a beehive, or if bees are swarming near your yard, don't hurt the bees. Call the treasure valley beekeepers club and they'll be glad to come and collect the bees and give them a new safe home.

Another beautiful pollinator is the monarch butterfly. It happens to be Idaho's state insect, and their numbers have also been plummeting in recent years.

Droughts, the widespread use of pesticides and weed killers, and the loss of habitat are the main reasons for the monarch's decline here in the western U.S.

One of the biggest problems is the lack of a necessary food source, the milkweed. Monarchs need milkweed. In fact, it's the only thing that young monarch caterpillars, which transform into monarch butterflies, will eat. But these plants have been disappearing rapidly, eradicated from farm fields and public lands by weed killers and land development.

So how can you help the monarch? Plant some milkweed in your garden. It's not invasive, and it produces tall stalks with pretty pink flowers. The monarchs will lay their eggs on the milkweed, and when they hatch, the monarch caterpillars will eat the milkweed leaves. But don't worry -- they won't eat anything else in your garden.

The Save our Monarchs Foundation is a nonprofit group that can provide you with all the information you need, as well as milkweed seeds for you to grow in your garden.

There's also a local monarch conservation project associated with the College of Western Idaho that can provide guidance and suggestions on how you can help monarchs recover here in Idaho.

So as long as you're gardening, why not do these few simple things to help our friends, the honeybees and the monarch butterflies. We need them as much as they need us. And these are great projects for the whole family. 

There are some organizations that can provide information and support on how you can help save honeybees and monarch butterflies by incorporating essential habitat into your garden at home.

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