SHORT #1: The Pollinator's Breakfast

Eating with the bees, and why it matters

He was directing the traffic of pollinators on the morning that we first met.

They fly in, one by one each morning, through the garden, into the doors of the sunroom. He greets each of them, not with a fly swatter, but with a calm nod and smile.

“There are five different species this morning. Not a bad group on the verge of winter. But this one, the little wasp, he gets stuck every time, thinks the roof is the sky. You see?”

The tiny wasp, no bigger than the tip of my fingernail, hits his head on the white ceiling, while the others currently in residence — a big bumblebee, a honeybee, and two other solitary wasp species — browse around the room. They move variously from the mint, to the sage, to the lavender.

They mostly ignore us. Except for the bumblebee. This one does circles around the coffee. He likes to land on the rim of the dripper it seems, basking in the fragrant coffee steam.

“This guy is just getting his caffeine fix. Don’t worry about him.”

To be in a house where pollinators roam around not just in the garden, but inside the breakfast room is a wonderfully fascinating experience. The only way to describe it is like a family atmosphere, everyone having breakfast at the same time, everyone getting ready for their day. People with coffee and the toast, and the bees, mostly, with the flowers.

“Before, it wasn’t like this. Just a few social wasps. We had a garden at the time, but it wasn’t diverse enough. No weeds. Too much bare soil. The others didn’t start coming here until we let the weeds and wildflowers grow more freely.”

The caffeine-sniffing bumblebee does a few more circles and jets off out the doorway and into the garden.

“That bumblebee is the most comfortable with humans. But he only sticks around a few minutes. Too many other things to do with his day, I guess.”

Just outside the doorway, the exterior garden is awash with color. Remarkable for this time of year. There are several herbs in flower, and at least three different wild weeds also blooming. Spots of bare soil are few and far in between, most being covered by clover, wood sorrel, rose geranium, or various ground covering vines.

“The vines we have to keep in check. They can be overzealous about gaining territory, you know. But the others are pretty considerate of each other.”

Allowing this kind of diversity in a home garden — especially allowing the wild plants and weeds to grow, flower, and seed — is critical for pollinators. It is also a kind of act of resistance against the monopolization of nature, and an act in support of the diversity and increased resilience of the environment. All in a tiny little side yard.

“You know, these pollinators help with everything from climate change to putting the food on our table. I guess that’s why I don’t mind them coming in for breakfast.”

Allowing the bees into your house is, perhaps, optional. But giving these bees, the butterflies, the houseflies, and all the other pollinators, a diverse breakfast menu to sample from seems like the least we could do.

This morning at least, it feels like a quiet, beautiful act of support, one that makes the start of the day a little more joyful.

“Without pollinators, the human race and all of earth’s terrestrial ecosystems would not survive.”

USDA Forest Service

“Present [pollinator] extinction rates are 100 to 1,000 times higher than normal due to human impacts … changes in land use and landscape structure, intensive agricultural practices, monocultures and use of pesticides have led to large-scale losses …”

United Nations FAO

“…higher diversity of plants, higher diversity of insects. A more diverse garden is more resilient to disturbances like diseases, and contributes more to the broader food web of a region…”

Smithsonian Magazine

Each week at The Possible City, I write and illustrate a short urban ecological adventure. Based on real people and places, these are stories of imaginative ideas and ways of thinking for equitable, resilient, regenerative cities. If you enjoyed this one, please subscribe and share it with others!

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