Putting the buzz in Johnny’s catalog


It’s at this time of year─when the growing season for most farmers and gardeners is behind us and the world has become brown and drab, the days are short and the dark of night stretches long as winter descends upon us in full force─that we look forward to receiving all of the vibrant seed catalogs in our mailboxes. Those catalogs generate hope and excitement in every gardener as contained within the pages are new opportunities for the upcoming year.

Photo credit: Joe Parker, Logistics Analyst at Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

At Johnny’s Selected Seeds we’re gearing up for another busy season in the Call Center. If you’re a customer of Johnny’s you may be looking for your 2017 catalog. We get a lot of compliments from growers who are impressed with the amount of information that is included within the pages and we are always happy to hear how much people appreciate that effort. The folks at Johnny’s are very proud of the annual publication; a lot of work goes into the thing and it takes a whole team to bring the catalog full circle from concept to publishing.

And yet there’s always room for improvement, so when the marketing team began gearing up back in June to put together the 2017 catalog they asked employees from all departments if there were any suggestions for changes to the catalog that we wanted to offer up. Being a devout beekeeper and pollinator conservationist naturally I suggested that there should be a symbol included for pollinator-friendly plants.

Note: Johnny’s includes numerous category symbols in their catalogs to help identify various characteristics of their products. There’s a symbol for certified organic seed, one for heirloom varieties, a symbol for cold tolerant crops-etc etc. You can also look up products on the Johnny’s website using those categories. 

I wasn’t alone in that request either. We’re getting more calls every year from home gardeners and farmers alike who want to help bees in small and large ways. They want flowers to attract bees, cover crops for beneficial insects, and they want to know about bee-friendly pesticides and growing methods. The people at Johnny’s listened and feel the same way. Advocates from the Call Center and from the Johnny’s research farm lobbied for some kind of symbol for pollinators or beneficial insects.

And the company agreed! I am so ecstatic! In their 2017 catalog Johnny’s Selected Seeds is adding an “Attracts Beneficial Insects” symbol!

attracts-beneficial-insectsAdding a bee-symbol to a seed-catalog to identify varieties as good for beneficials may seem fairly innocuous─like adding a beekeeper to the staff─but little changes add up over time. There is something we all can do. It doesn’t matter how small the contribution, every act counts. I really do believe that we can be the change. I’ve seen it first-hand. The more we do for ourselves, the more we are able to do. People around us see that and begin to think maybe they can do it too. It’s infectious! And the whole thing will just snowball until suddenly it’s an avalanche of change.

As you look through your Johnny’s catalog this winter look for the bee-symbol next to the seed varieties and try to add a few of these to your order. Including food and habitat for beneficial insects in your gardens and crop-fields will not only help your local pollinators, but also helps increase habitat for your garden allies─the predatory insects that help to keep the pest populations down. Many of these kinds of plants are also edible, or add nutrients to your soil, providing you with multiple functions for your sustainable landscape.

So plant flowers. Plant herbs. Plant cover-crops. Let bolting lettuce go to flower. And when you call Johnny’s to place your order this year, please tell them Runamuk sent you and that you love the new beneficial-insects symbol in the catalog!

Plants for pollinators

By now it’s fairly common knowledge that bees and pollinators are in trouble. The media has spread the word of Colony Collapse Disorder and the vanishing bees far and wide; it’s been in the news, in magazines, all over social media, there are several movies, and there are spokespeople who give talks to educate the population. We know now that CCD is not some mysterious disease that suddenly wipes out hives, but a combination of ailments creating a perfect storm weakening hives to the point of collapse.

Conservation efforts are underway─the USDA has granted several million dollars to Universities for research of the issues, non-profit organizations work tirelessly to educate and promote bee-friendly attitudes, and a number of pollinator programs have been created by the NRCS to improve habitat. In some regards the movement is gaining traction, but a love of insects is a hard sell; people have an innate fear of stinging insects especially, and saving the honeybee and its fellow pollinators still has a long way to go.

I’ve written quite a lot about pollinators; to read more about the issues plaguing them and what you can do to help check out my articles and posts by clicking here.

plants for pollinatorsOne thing in particular we can do to promote healthy populations of local pollinators is to grow plants for pollinators. Bees and other pollinating insects collect the nectar and pollen of flowers to feed themselves; for some this is their only food source. Some insects like butterflies, moths and wasps drink the nectar, while others like honeybees turn the nectar into honey and eat the sticky sweet substance in addition to the protein-rich pollen.

If you’re thinking about adding more plants for pollinators to your yard or garden, I recommend first taking stock of what’s already available in and around your yard. Consider first all of the native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers growing around you throughout the season. Pollinators need both nectar and pollen, and they need it all season long, but especially so in the early spring. Check out this list of native plants that offer good food sources for pollinators; it’s not all inclusive, and you may have differing species if you’re not from the northeast like me, but this will give you an idea of some of the types of plants to look for.

Native trees & shrubs:

  • Maple
  • Willow
  • Alders
  • Basswood
  • Dogwood
  • Amalanchier
  • Apples/crabapples
  • Locust

Native wildflowers:

  • Dandelions
  • Clover
  • Wild raspberries/blackberries
  • Yarrow
  • Lupines
  • Goldenrod
  • Asters
  • Japanese knotweed

Once you know what you have you can look at the availability of existing pollinator forage to determine if there are any gaps or low-availability of nectar and pollen throughout the season. I recommend beginning by filling in those gaps first, and then moving on to adding to that existing base. See the list below for some favorite flowers and herbs of pollinators.

Great perennials:

  • Coreopsis
  • Echinacea
  • Bergamot
  • Yarrow
  • Lupine
  • Yarrow
  • Salvia
  • Mint-family herbs: lemonbalm, spearmint, hyssop, catnip, etc.
  • Butterfly weed
  • Great blue lobeila

Favorite annuals:

  • Sunflowers
  • Borage
  • Cosmos
  • Tithonia
  • Zinnias
  • Herbs
  • Asters
  • Calendula
  • Cornflower
  • Ageratum
  • Heliotropium

By no means is this an all-inclusive list. Plant recommendations will vary depending upon your region and I urge anyone considering adding pollinator plants to their garden or yard to first do their homework and research which perennials are native to their location, which offer the best sources of nectar and/or pollen for pollinators, and which ones will be best suited to their specific growing conditions. See the list of recommended resources at the bottom of this article for further reading.

When choosing plants for pollinators be sure you’re selecting varieties that have not been bred to be horticultural flowers that contain no pollen. Many flower-growers want pollenless varieties, and in a pollinator garden this defeats the purpose. Also avoid hybrid flowers with “double blossoms”; these are flowers that have been bred with extra petals for visual appeal, which typically block access to the flowers’ nectaries, and so is of little use to pollinators.

With some careful selection you can establish a beneficial and beautiful resource to encourage the pollinator populations around your home. You’ll know you’re doing your part to save these keystone species, and you’ll inspire others to follow suit. #beesrock!

Recommended Resources

Pollinator-Friendly Plant Lists – detaled resources divided into regions, provided by the Xerces Society.
Pollinator Friendly Planting Guides – free pdf downloads of planting guides according to region; offered by the Pollinator Partnership.
Pollinator Friendly Plants to Choose – a free resource put out by the Center for Food Safety.
Pollinators; What you can do to help – Extensive list of resources and information here from the US Fish & Wildlife Service.
Nectar & Pollen Plants for Native Wild Pollinators – A downloadable pdf-ebook from beefriend.org.
Pollinator Conservation – Resources and lists from Wildflower.org.
Gardening for Beginners; Your First Garden and More – A massive, 5,000+ word guide on gardening and landscaping from Groom & Style magazine. Based on the advice of 100 professional gardeners, and including information on everything from starting your first greenhouse to growing plants and herbs in pots, and everything in between!