Bees Today, Butterflies and Owls Next Year?

I witnessed a delightful orgy this morning in the pollinator patch next to our pump in the pasture. A bee orgy. Boy, were they having a good time.

Poppies, red ones especially, held half a dozen or more bees each. They rolled around, rubbing their little bodies in the yellow gold, threading themselves between pistils and stamens. They were punch-drunk with happiness, as was I just watching. We’ve been waiting for this day.

So far the red flowers seem to be the bees’ favorites.

Being a good steward involves investment and commitment. You have to be in it for the long haul and we are. Then one day, in exchange for significant time and effort (if the weather or some other disaster doesn’t intervene), there it is. Today was payday in the pollinator patch.

When we moved onto our place in 2011, weeds grew taller than the fence that contained them. Goatheads, those hideous little sharpies, were everywhere. We planted pasture seed, held together the old hand-line irrigation pipe with duct tape and prayer (before finally throwing up our hands in frustration), and kept the horses off when it was wet and the grass in danger of being nibbled to nubs. But we needed to do more.

In 2011, looking east, weeds were taller than the pasture fence.

So we asked the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for help.  Not only did they suggest we plant the pasture in orchard grass, meadow brome, and a smidge of alfalfa, but they helped us put in a new irrigation system and develop a grazing plan. They also suggested we put in a pollinator patch to attract and feed bees and butterflies and an owl box to control the ubiquitous gophers.

I’m embarassed to say that initially we only agreed because we wanted the irrigation system, but today we’re busting-our-buttons proud of the whole shebang.

Long after humans have disappeared from the earth, the owl box will still stand.

The pasture has looked good for several years now although the first year with water the goatheads went wild and scared us to death (and our NRCS conservationist too – that’s how bad they were). We tweak the seed mix proportions every year depending on how the pasture looks at the end of the growing season, but stay with the recommended 3-seed mix which works well here. The irrigation system –  KLine pods that we move with our 4 wheeler – has made all the difference.

The owl box is well-made and will last, probably in perpetuity. Canyon County’s pest control department sells and installs them – installation was well worth it. They (and their consultant) sited the box with cement, a tractor, and a crew. Our box went up on a cold day last winter. Unfortunately, no barn owl couple took us up on our offer of affordable housing this year.

The pollinator patch, year one.

To create good habitat for bees and butterflies we put down lots of pollinator seed the first year but because we only sprayed the patch once before planting, they were out-competed by grasses.

This year we waited to plant pollinator seeds until the seedbed of grasses sprouted and was treated with herbicide three separate times. We probably could have sprayed one more time, but so far we’re really pleased. We planted showy milkweed seeds to attract monarch butterflies, but haven’t seen any yet. Maybe they’re hanging out with the barn owls.

It did my heart good to see those bees this morning – doing what bees do so ecstatically. Good things do come to those who wait.

Who says you have to live on a large farm or ranch to be a good steward? In fact, I hear that NRCS is also focusing on urban conservation now. Call your local NRCS office.

Now, if we could interest a pair of owls and a few monarchs. Next year?



  1. Your blog has been so fun and so informative to read. Kinda makes me want to move to Idaho! (But you’d be hard-pressed to get me that far from the ocean!)


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