Building a pollinator-friendly garden, week four, planting seeds and confronting some unwanted visitors. By Lauren Zaren

Planting seeds and confronting some unwanted visitors. This is part four of a series where I (Lauren Zaren) am working with my grandpa to revitalize our garden using pollinator-friendly plants. You can find my first blog here, my second post here and my third post here.

On the one-year anniversary of my grandmother’s passing, we spent hours in the garden planting vegetable and herb seeds. It was a nice way to spend time with my mom and grandpa and take their mind off of the loss. While waiting for the seeds and sprouts we ordered to arrive, we took steps to deal with the ants which have taken over our garden. We also found evidence of other unwanted creatures.

We started by digging two rows about four inches deep across the length of one of the garden beds, and planting chard seeds– some my grandpa had saved from last year, and some that we bought recently. It will be interesting to see if there are any differences in their growth. We chose chard because we eat it often and we have had success growing it before.

After checking the spacing requirements for each plant, we planted a few romaine lettuce seeds, along with some snow peas, in the remaining space in that bed. Each plant has unique seeds, which range from smaller than a grain of rice to pea-sized. In addition, we followed specific instructions on the packaging for how many seeds to plant together and how far apart to space the seeds.


We noticed a few small sprouts at the end of the bed, which my grandpa identified as purslane. There are many different types of purslane, including this type — which is edible — and the one we ordered which is not edible, but is often used as ground cover. 

Although it is considered a weed, it can be beneficial to gardens. In between growing seasons, it stabilizes soil moisture and its deep root systems help loosen up hard soil and enrich the top layer of soil where sprouts grow. Finally, some varieties are edible and nutritious. What’s not to like?

My grandpa sorting through seeds he has saved from previous years.

Starting on the opposite end of the bed, we planted small amounts of several herbs starting with some basil, then cilantro and parsley. In the middle portion, we planted beets. Finally, my grandpa chose to plant broccoli in a small section because it was his favorite home-grown vegetable from previous years. 


Once the two beds were planted, we looked around our property for ideal places to plant the flowers and vegetables which require larger plots. We had to be careful not to disturb existing plants, with the exception of weeds, and to choose an area which gets an appropriate amount of sunlight.


Due to space constraints, we decided we’d probably plant two or three mammoth sunflowers, along with bunches of the other flowers including Zinnias and native wildflowers. It was harder than I anticipated to find the specific plants I wanted to order, so I’m grateful that we were able to get started on the vegetables using the seeds my grandpa already had.


When planting a garden, it is important to maintain the space year round. This is important for  the health of the soil and helps make flowers continuously available to pollinators.


One of the seed packets we found was a mixture of California wildflowers, which are supposed to be a combination of different types which bloom from early spring to late summer. These will be helpful in achieving our goal to support pollinators beyond the current growing season.

A snail explores some sprouting plants. Source: Cristian Bortes_Flickr_CC BY 2.0

(A snail explores some sprouting plants. Source: Cristian Bortes_Flickr_CC BY 2.0) 

Since we started working in the garden, I have become much more familiar with all of the insects who live in and around this space — both helpful, like worms and ladybugs which contribute to the soil’s health and ward off pests; and harmful, like biting ants.


In the past, we have used cornstarch to mitigate ant problems, both in the garden and in our house during the summer. When they return each year, we leave a trail of cornstarch in an attempt to disturb their scent trail, and eliminate them without using chemicals which have damaging effects on us, our plants and surrounding wildlife.


A few days after we planted the seeds, we started seeing evidence of rats or other small creatures digging in both beds. This was disappointing, especially after all of our extra work to install wire mesh barriers. We will have to wait and see if the creatures disturbed the growing process, and we will have to figure out how to prevent them from continuing to invade the garden.


I hope everyone is staying healthy and spending time outdoors, whether gardening or taking a walk around your neighborhood. There are many mental health benefits to leaving the house (while obeying regulations like wearing a mask and maintaining social distance). 

Come back next week to see if any of the vegetables have sprouted and what seedlings I decide to buy from our local store! I will also prepare and start planting in the planting bed which has been sitting on our porch.


  1. PURSLANE: Good For Your Garden Plants and Your Health — Steemit 
  2. Soil Health Management | NRCS Soils
  3. The Best Plants for Pollinators 
  4. EarthBox® | Insect Identifier 
  5. DIY: Non Toxic Method to Kill Ants
  6. The great outdoors? Exploring the mental health benefits of natural environments 



Dan Jacobson

Senior Advisor, Environment California

Dan provides campaign strategy and policy guidance for Environment California's program and organizational plans. Prior to his current role, he worked as the state director of Environment California and the organizing director of Florida PIRG, among other roles. The Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies (CEERT) named Dan a Clean Power Champion in 2019, and Capitol Weekly named him one of the “Top 100 Lobbyists” in California in 2008. Dan's areas of expertise include renewable energy, electric vehicles and ocean pollution, and he has successfully advocated for the passage of dozens of bills into law, including measures to ban toxic chemicals, bring 1 million solar roofs to California, and ban single-use plastic grocery bags. He ran the campaign for SB 100, California’s law setting a goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2045.