Bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, wasps, beetles, flies, and even bats are some of our most important pollinators. As they visit different plant species, collecting nectar and pollen to provide nutrition for their offspring, they provide important services to both plants and humans.
Flowering plants complete their life cycle, producing seeds and fruits with the help of these important visitors. To encourage their feeling at ‘home’, we can create a habitat to support them, offering their preferred food, water, shelter and space.
Some important things to consider include:
Creating season-wide food sources targeted to your pollinators
Provide nutrition throughout the season by planting flowers that bloom from early spring through fall. Consider perennial and annual flowers with different colors, shapes and sizes, including ones with tubular or bell shapes, in addition to flat surfaces to attract the widest variety of pollinators. Local plants (the natives), match the needs of nearby pollinators. Many of the double hybrid flowers have pollen, nectar, and even scent bred out of them and are not as attractive to local pollinators.
Plant in clumps, rather than individual plants to make it easier for pollinators to find their food source. Planting several varieties of milkweed will provide treasured habitat and food source for the endangered Monarch butterfly. Many commercial agriculture operations use genetically engineered crops, virtually eliminating large stands of milkweed that were previously available for these beautiful butterflies. Simple strategies like planting parsley and allowing it to flower will provide habitat for the Black Swallowtail butterfly. Consider utilizing trees, native ornamental grasses, and groundcovers which all offer nesting, resting and shade benefits for a pollinator habitat.
Eliminate the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides
The over usage of chemicals has contributed to the decline of pollinators, with systemic insecticides that are absorbed within plant tissue being most dangerous. The number one threat to pollinators is ‘neonicotinoid’ or ‘neonic’ pesticides. Not only are they most toxic to bees, butterflies, and other insects, but they’re systemic. When applied, these poisons make their way throughout the entire plant, including the pollen and nectar. Provide a safe haven in your habitat by practicing ‘regenerative gardening,’ using the basic principles of organic gardening and sustainability.
Instead of chemical fertilizers that can pollute our water supply, use compost to provide a season-wide supply of major and minor nutrients. Compost-enriched soils promote deeply rooted plants that use water more efficiently, feed soil microorganisms, and ultimately lead to healthy soil, healthy food (and pollinators) and healthy people.
Cover the soil with mulches and cover crops
Use straw, alfalfa, and cover crops such as buckwheat or crimson clover to provide a blanket to cover and protect the soil. As cover crops begin to flower, they are highly attractive to pollinators for nectar and pollen and, additionally, provide areas for shelter. Diverse heights and seasonal plantings of cover crops offer appropriate homes for beneficial insects.
Create nesting sites
A garden that is ‘overly neat’ is not as attractive to pollinators as one that respects the nesting and shelter needs of its visitors.
Pollinators such as ‘ground bees’ need access to the soil surface as they excavate nest tunnels in sunny patches of bare ground. Grassy patches provide nesting for bumblebees and other insects to overwinter. Many native bees use abandoned beetle tunnels in logs, stumps, and branches and even chew out the centers of dead raspberry canes to establish nests.
Provide water sources
Shallow birdbaths filled with small pebbles or rocks help to provide ‘landing spaces’ for small bees to gain a needed source of water.
Be sure to empty and refill these frequently to prevent stagnant water, which attracts mosquitos.
- Trees: Fruit trees such as apple pear, peach, plum
- Shrubs: Serviceberry, Sulphur flower
- Perennial flowers: Penstemons, yarrow, blue flax, wallflower
- Trees: Black locust, linden, honeylocust
- Shrubs: leadplant, chokecherry
- Perennial flowers: Asters, Showy milkweed, blanket flower, salvias, harebells, coneflowers
- Annual flowers & herbs: marigolds, zinnias, bachelor buttons, dill, cilantro
- Shrubs: Rabbitbrush
- Perennial flowers: Rocky mountain bee -plant, Blue giant hyssop, goldenrod, plains coreopsis
- Annual flowers: All sunflowers
Taking small steps to diversify your plantings, decrease or eliminate the usage of pesticides and chemical fertilizers and create a habitat oasis that welcomes our pollinator friends is an earth-friendly strategy that connects us to the broader efforts to step lightly upon the land and recognize our part in the interconnected matrix of pollinators, food, and sustainable landscapes.
#22: Meet a few of our amazing volunteers
Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. The B Corp community works toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high-quality jobs with dignity and purpose. By harnessing the power of business, B Corps use profits and growth as a means to a greater end: positive impact for their employees, communities, and the environment.
B-Local Colorado is a team of business leaders that engage and oversee Certified B Corps. This spring, DUG partnered with B-Local for a fun and productive volunteer day at El Oasis Community Garden.
Read our interviews with a few of the volunteers below.
Ellen (Patagonia Denver):
“We have a long-standing partnership with DUG. Last summer, we hosted a virtual gardening workshop together. Our missions really align. Patagonia is passionate about community engagement and how we can partner as much as possible with local organizations. Our store is opening late today so that we could volunteer this morning. Patagonia highly encourages all of its employees to get involved in the local community through volunteering. The fact that Patagonia pays its employees to volunteer makes it feel like community engagement is more important than just doing business. Not only is volunteering good for the well-being of those doing the work, but it feels good to know that what we’re doing is going to help the local community. It’s rewarding and gives you a sense of purpose. It just feels good to be able to take action and be a part of something during these hard times. Volunteering for DUG has a direct impact that can be seen. The work that we’re doing now is going to help feed people. It’s a good reset and reminder to slow down. Spending time in nature is more important now than ever.”
Ari (Patagonia Denver):
“I grew up in this neighborhood and still live here. I went to school at Bryant Webster. With our busy lives, volunteering with DUG has been an awesome opportunity to take a break and slow down. Gardening is great because it gives you something to take care of and it gets you out into the dirt and sun. My favorite part of today’s workday has been being able to spend time with friends and coworkers out in the dirt. I would encourage other groups like us to volunteer for DUG because it’s a great way to spend time with your coworkers outside of work and to meet new people in your community.
David (B Lab):
“DUG’s slogan should be something like, “DUG: bringing people together.” Volunteering for DUG at a workday is a great way to bring people together. We get to interact with people we haven’t normally gotten to see in-person outside of our “COVID bubbles.” There’s nothing like some manual labor to start off the day and rock your senses.
I work for B-Lab. We certify B Corps like Patagonia and organize group volunteer days like today. We chose to volunteer with DUG for many reasons- everyone here today shares a passion for community engagement and helping the environment.”
Ryan (Patagonia Denver):
“I’m part of DUG’s Master Community Gardener Program and my wife is a DUG Master Composter. My favorite thing about DUG is the wide breadth of programming they offer which is open to everyone- from kids, to schools, to adults. DUG’s educational programming teaches life skills you just don’t learn in school. We have a home garden with seven fruit trees. My 3-year-old is already into gardening! She’ll be able to help me pick strawberries and peas this summer.
There’s no better feeling than knowing where your food comes from and that you helped grow it, and that there were no pesticides or herbicides used. I’m Patagonia’s Provision Food Line lead at our store, which was developed from the principles of organic regenerative agriculture. It teaches us how important it is to grow your food in the ground and not to get your soil from a store.
We’ve been amending the soil at our home garden for two years now- adding compost and horse manure and making compost tea. Learning about our Provisions products alone has taught me a lot. Patagonia is one of the first to launch the Regenerative Organic Certification Program (ROC). It’s kind of like the next step up from organic: Patagonia Provisions Line doesn’t use pesticides or herbicides, incorporates compost and animal manure, and then there’s an additional social justice aspect to it. We make sure that all employees are paid fair wages, have the opportunity to do training and education to advance their careers, and make sure they have safe working conditions. It’s not just about growing the food, it’s also about animal and worker welfare.”
Employees from B-Local Colorado, Cause Labs, Scream Agency, & B-Lab:
“We love DUG. We’re hosting multiple Lunch & Learns together. All of us have paid volunteer time. It’s been great to see people in person during the pandemic and have that comradery. It’s so cool to see the impact just three hours of work has had on this space today. Having the time to give back to your community is priceless. Garden workdays with DUG are invigorating. Being outside, exercising in the fresh air is an amazing way to start the day. You feel so accomplished in such a short amount of time. You can get so much done as a team. When you feel like you’re doing one small thing like shoveling a pile of dirt and not getting much done, you look up at everyone else in your group and realize how much you’ve accomplished collectively. We’re absolutely rocking it!”
Hailey (Denver Parks + Rec): “I’ve volunteered with DUG in the past. I grew up in rural Virginia, where gardening and farming were a way of life. I was always put to work by my parents, so volunteering with DUG today and working in the dirt just feels natural to me.”
More Faces of DUG
written by Linda Appel Lipsius, DUG’s Executive Director
On the surface to many, gardening might appear to be a lovely, quaint pastime. After all, with grocery stores on (almost) every corner, who needs to grow their own food anymore?
Even if we have both the financial means and the access (neither of which is true for many Coloradans) to get all of our food, wrapped neatly in non-compostable packaging, grown using derivatives of neurotoxins and explosives, devoid of both flavor and nutrients, at supermarkets–should we?
No. We shouldn’t.
Every human should have the resources and skills to grow their own food. In soil. In a garden, on a rooftop, in a container. This simple, elemental act will reap exponential dividends.
Our current industrial food system has many consequences:
- Dislocation from where our food comes from, resulting in passive, disengaged consumption
- Fruits and vegetables that are both nutrient and flavor devoid
- A food system designed for our food to travel 1,000s of miles from farm to fork, requiring warehouses, coolers, and transport, contributing to greenhouse emissions
- Harvested produce that loses its nutritional value as it sits for days to weeks before getting eaten
- Chemical pesticides and fertilizers that are destroying ecosystems and harming farmworkers.
- Extractive farming that depletes farm the land’s ability to be productive and to heal
When we activate ourselves and our communities to grow their own food– to re-engage with the miracle that is our earth’s bounty– important lessons and truths reveal themselves:
- The wonders of nature: how can one tiny little seed produce 50 tomatoes or hundreds of beans or the spiciest of peppers?
- The critical importance of soil: that if it is healthy, thriving and full of beneficial microorganisms, crops (and the planet) will thrive
- The importance of biodiversity, pollinators and beneficial pests
- The mental and physical health benefits that come from digging in the soil (After a year + of the pandemic, I know I’ve learned that getting dirty on my knees with a fistful of dirt is the ultimate antidote to a day spent staring at a screen)
- The reconnection to our resources: when we grow our own food, we’re less inclined to waste it
Please learn more. Take action. Become an intentional eater and grow something you like to eat. See what an organically grown tomato or cucumber from your backyard can taste like. Today. Plant a seed in a pot, a garden, or a park. And start demanding that our industrial food system delivers food with the same integrity as what you grow in your backyard – or on your roof or in your containers – by supporting producers with integrity.
Through Denver Urban Gardens, gardening communities grow more than 600,000lb of food each year across 188 community gardens, all consumed on a neighborhood level, using organic & regenerate practices. We teach people to garden and provide the space and community support to succeed. Imagine how much hyper-locally produced, highly nutritious food we could be enjoying if we all started growing our own…
Where to start learning?
- Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
- The Organic Manifesto by Maria Rodale Rodale
- The Hidden Half of Nature by David R Montgomery & Anne Bikle
- Watch: Kiss the Ground, The Biggest Little Farm
- The Ron Finley Project
- Princeton Researcher Discovers that Home Gardening is Basically the Answer to Society’s Ills
Resources to help you garden:
Producers supporting regenerative and holistic practices:
by Senior Education Specialist Judy Elliott
May, one of our main planting months, has our temperatures all over the place, ranging from 77 – almost 90 degrees daytime to the mid 50 degrees at night. Thanks to the ample March snowfall & precipitation in mid-April, plants of all types, including copious quantities of weeds are flourishing.
Let’s think on the positive side. Their leaves, using the process of photosynthesis, capture atmospheric carbon dioxide (yes that same gas that contributes to climate warming), storing it in the roots which then release nutrients to feed the diverse community of soil microorganisms. So weeds can actually be thought of as providers of ‘free food’. We just need to manage them before they produce seeds or remove their underground creeping stems or long ‘taproots’ (like found in dandelions). As we get ready for another gardening season, let’s look more closely at what the month may have in store for us.
Do remember to focus on ‘prevention’ strategies.
P |Prepare for seasonal weather challenges
- Hail always occurs! To prepare for that, don’t transplant all seedlings at one time, succession plant short maturing crops such as salad greens & peas, give crops time to grow new leaves, remove damaged outer leaves
- Other hail strategies: Erect windbreaks of fallen branches near crops to break the force of pounding wind, hail & rain. Have spun polyester row-covers, such as ‘reemay’ on hand or utilize coverings similar to ‘micromesh’ for protection
- Denver weather often ‘springs into summer’, rapidly heating.
R| Be Realistic about your layout and plantings
- Set – up your plot in sections, planting small quantities of cool-season crops such as peas, salad greens, radish, beets & green onions.
- Set up a system of ‘internal pathways’ (designated areas that welcome feet) to lessen soil compaction.
- Use the information on the backs of seed packets to inform you about how deep or far apart to plant seeds. Crowded seedlings lead to conditions that promote disease & insect infestation
- Don’t plant more than you can eat or share. One tomato plant can yield up to 40 lbs. of fruit
E | Evaluate past successes and challenges
- ‘Harden off’ all transplants for a week to successfully acclimate them to outdoor growing conditions, including strong wind and sunlight.
- Challenge yourself to water all plants at soil level, avoiding overhead watering
- Mulch early-season transplants, such as broccoli, cabbage & cauliflower soon after planting them. Wait for cool-season seeds (salad greens, green onions, beets, carrots) to germinate and then mulch with straw. Mulch warm-season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants several weeks after planting them
V | Visit your garden often to notice changes
- A well – designed garden encourages us to ‘slow down’ and appreciate the interconnected community of soil, plants, and critters
- Harvest produce on a regular basis. Carefully pluck individual outer leaves of leaf lettuce to promote further growth. Check peas daily to extend their period of production. When plants are no longer productive, remove them and replant the space to a warm-season crop such as cucumbers
- Encourage productivity by lightly cultivating the soil around all plants on a weekly or bi-weekly basis prior to watering. This promotes deeply rooted crops that utilize water and nutrients more efficiently.
E | Encourage biodiversity
- Plant flowers (marigolds, zinnias, bachelor buttons, cosmos) and herbs (dill, cilantro, chamomile) to attract a variety of beneficial insects (ladybugs, green lacewings, bees & butterflies) that help keep pest insect populations to a manageable level
- Plant different crops (not just a single one such as tomatoes) to create a balanced plant ‘community’ Rotate plant families (especially the potato, tomato, pepper & eggplant family) to prevent the build-up of soil diseases
N | Notice first emergence of pests
- Identify beneficial and pest insects in all of their life stages. ‘Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs” by Colorado’s esteemed entomologist, Whitney Cranshaw, provides in-depth information
- Learning a bit about insect growth patterns lets you utilize strategies to ’pick them off or keep them out’.
T | Tap into the wealth of knowledge in your fellow gardening community
- Community gardeners often have a lifetime of accrued gardening knowledge and wisdom to share. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Challenge yourself to learn one new tip each season and, along the way, perhaps not repeat the same mistake of the prior year
- Join DUG’s online gardening community to assess gardening tips throughout the season and involve yourself in classes that provide unique earth–based ideas.
Keep them out!
Prevent damage from many pests that damage your crops by physically excluding them. Products such as:
‘Reemay’, or its equivalent, are lightweight row -covers, composted of spun polyester & can be placed directly over transplants or seeded rows to prevent insects such as aphid & cabbage butterflies from feasting on your crops.
If the crop requires pollination, such as peas, simply remove the covering. You can water directly through the fabric & it not only provides adequate sunlight transmission but also provides several degrees of frost protection.
Last year, DUG distributed 1,000 To-Grow Boxes across Metro Denver in response to the pandemic and the need for people to have access to fresh local healthy food.
Read more about our 2020 impact here.
This year, To-Grow Boxes are back, but in a limited quantity–so order yours early!
Each To-Grow box comes with 28 seedlings + 10 seed packets of nutrient-dense plants, including vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Whether you decide to grow directly in the ground, in a raised bed, or in containers, you’ll have enough seeds and seedlings to fill a 10′ x 10′ area.
Our To-Grow Box also come with our Plant Care Guide and DUG-designed plot planting layouts so you can easily plant in both May and again in July for harvest throughout the summer into the fall. Participants also get specialized access within the DUG Network, including growing tips + reminders specific to To-Grow Boxes, and a community circle of people also growing alongside you.
To-Grow Boxes will only be available for contact-less pick up at the DUG office (located within the Posner Center) on Saturday, May 15th from 10am to 1pm. We will not be able to arrange another distribution time, so please only order a box if you or someone you trust is able to pick up your box on May 15th.
Cost per box: $125
Join DUG each day at lunchtime (from 12pm-1pm MT) between April 19th and April 23rd to hear from local experts, partners, and policy-makers who will be weighing in on topics including food waste, soil building, healthy kids, climate action, and wellness–as well as sharing how you can take action towards a more sustainable future.
This is a free event, but pre-registration is required.
#21: Meet Christian, Grow a Garden participant + backyard gardener
“2020 was our first year with DUG. We got approved for a no-cost To-Grow Box. The pandemic was in full swing at this point, and we were spending more time at home. My husband is a musician and that industry was hit hard by COVID. We needed to find ways to become a little bit more financially savvy to make it all work. We thought it would be a great learning experience to grow our own food at home – that it would allow us to teach our children the value of growing food and that it could help us be more responsible about the Earth we live on. We did everything in our backyard. We built garden boxes and also did in-ground planting. We’re looking forward to doing it again this year as Grow a Garden program participants. We didn’t scare ourselves away from it!
I grew up with my mother and grandmother both gardening. I can remember hoeing rows in the garden for my grandmother. She would ask me or one of my cousins to go out and pick something so she could use it while she was cooking. I can remember sitting and playing in the garden rows and eating the fruits right off the trees. It was cool to realize that I could do the same things I saw growing up.
We wouldn’t have started a garden if it weren’t for DUG’s help. I reached out to DUG on a whim. We didn’t have access to seeds or plans to do it on our own, and receiving them at no cost was what inspired us to build our home garden.
We grew a lot of things that we used regularly like herbs, tomatoes, and lettuces – things we would have previously needed to buy in bulk at the grocery store. So it absolutely did have an impact on how much we were spending – we could just go grab it right out of the garden!
Our home garden was a relaxing, meditative space for me. Every morning, I’d get up, go water, and check on our plants. Being in the garden allowed me to have a free mental space, away from all the craziness that was going on in the world.
Seeing how enthusiastic my children were about watching the plants grow, learning about the different types and names of plants, and learning what each one needed to thrive was super valuable for us as a family. The kids tried so many new vegetables that they probably wouldn’t have tried otherwise because they came out of our own garden. They would go outside and talk to the plants. My son would tell the broccoli that he loved it every morning. My daughter would eat the tomatoes off the vine and I’d wonder why they were always missing!
My husband loves collard greens, so it was amazing to be able to just go get them from the backyard. He didn’t have any gardening experience before this, but now he’s a total gardener. He’s like, “Do you think we should build greenhouses next year?”
Before signing up for the Grow a Garden program this year, we sat down and had a family discussion about what we wanted to try growing in our garden. We chose things together on the application. I still have seeds from last year that we’ll use this season, as well.”
More Faces of DUG
by Senior Education Specialist Judy Elliott
April, like March, is a month of ‘wild weather’, alternating from moisture-laden snow, drying winds, and even rain/snow mixes (yes, Denver does experience rain at times) to a range of temperatures between 65 degrees in the daytime to 35 degrees nighttime.
If you think that sounds confusing for us, imagine the delicate dance that our trees, perennials and early-season veggies must navigate to survive. Perennials and trees (including fruit trees) have a ‘built-in’ time clock that responds to increasing daylight hours, sunlight intensity, and (for fruit trees), a number of hours below freezing for fruit buds to appear. Once those swelling buds open and leaves unfurl, it almost is a signal for more unsettled weather to descend.
One of the challenges in April appears to be our warming climate, and, concurrent increasing drought situation. It’s all too easy to be lulled into a false sense of complacency regarding our changing climate, especially if tree limbs are bowed down with spring snows. For the entire year, Denver receives between 9 – 11” of water but in the past few years, strong winds & rapidly warming temperatures in spring have made less of that available. With greenery emerging daily our thoughts turn to the process of ‘growing’.
April is the month to ‘GROW.’
G |Grow to fit the season
Understand the variety of needs of cool-season seeds + transplants.
- Note: Cool-season crops include peas, lettuce, spinach, radish, cilantro, parsley, chard, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, turnips) while warm-season seeds & transplants include squash, corn, beans, pumpkins, tomatoes, basil, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers.
Denver’s last spring frost can be as late as May 15. Don’t plant warm-season crops until nighttime temperatures are between 55 & 60 degrees.
- For fast-growing cool-season seeds, such as salad greens, utilize ‘succession planting’, in which small quantities of seeds are planted every few weeks until mid-May, to extend the planting/harvesting window.
Join the DUG network at community.dug.org to connect with other gardeners on their growing journeys! This platform is meant as a ‘give and take’ with our community offering their advice and posting challenges.
- While you’re there, check out our upcoming classes!
R| Respect the soil
Set up a system of ‘internal pathways’, with 3 ‘ wide planting areas separated by designated walkways (about 2’ wide) to prevent soil compaction within the growing areas.
- Prior to planting, dig 1.5 – 2” of plant-based compost (not manure) into planting areas. Walkways don’t need to be amended.
Plan for the inevitable ‘spring into summer’ of warm weather by having straw mulch available to place around cool-season crops.
O | Own and understand the ongoing commitment of gardening
A successful garden requires constant nurturing, not just watering.
- Plant only what you can care for or use.
Consider the benefits of sharing garden care with another gardener.
W | Welcome the wonder + joy of growth
Plant flowers and herbs such as zinnias, marigolds, chamomile, fennel + cilantro which produce a sense of riotous color, and also flowers that entice beneficial insects to visit.
- Flowers have a calming effect on our senses and cause us to ‘pause’, bend down and ‘stay awhile’, noticing changes in veggie growth that may signal the need to handpick that ‘caterpillar’ before it munches the entire leaf.
Appreciate not only the harvest but also the learning steps along the way.
Know when it’s time to ‘dig your soil’.
Don’t rely upon daytime temperatures as a sign of when to begin your gardening work. For a more reliable measure that deals with soil moisture:
- Use a hand trowel or regular shovel to dig down several inches and obtain a small quantity of soil
- Make a tennis ball-sized mound with the soil
- Drop the ‘soil ball’ from about a foot in height
- If it stays together as a ‘ball’, it’s not time to dig your soil. Wait several days and try the test again
- If it breaks apart (shatters), go ahead and ‘dig in’
- Our soils are usually high in clay, warm slowly, and have very tiny soil particles. If you dig your garden soil too early (i.e., the soil still stays together as a ‘ball’) it may dry like an adobe brick and make it difficult for smaller seeds to germinate
Remember, patience really does pay off!