6 solutions for transforming your balcony into a biodiversity sanctuary
Posted on March, 31st 2015.
What about transforming your balcony into a refuge for insects and birds?
In winter, a bird can lose 10% of its weight in one night!
Some plant and animal species are under threat in our towns. We can all help encourage urban biodiversity and many townspeople do encourage birds and insects to settle on their balconies. It’s easy to create a natural haven amongst the concrete - even a tiny one! A green space that recreates the right conditions for wildlife - offering bed and board for birds and insects, in fact. And the good news is that everyone benefits.
I. A 5 star insect hotel
Insects also sometimes need shelter, in particular in winter and when there’s a lot of rain. Lodgings for solitary bees, butterfly asylum, ladybug tower - or simply an insect hotel... You'll be spoiled for choice! In summer, other species - mason bees for example - will be delighted to lay their eggs there. And all these insects earn their keep because they offer a natural and very effective method of controlling pests that that ravage your beautiful plants (a system known as biological control). Surprisingly, ladybugs have great appetites and just one can eat up to 150 aphids a day!
II. You can’t catch bees with vinegar
To attract hordes of friendly insects that will busily pollinate your flowers and rid you of pests, you will need to grow certain, preferably local and wild, varieties of plants - these will act as a pantry (leaves, seeds, fruit, pollen, nectar) for your balcony’s future tenants. Honey-producing plants are ideal for foraging insects! Among them are the nectar-rich flowers that delight bees, bumblebees and butterflies, and aromatic herbs such as thyme, dill and sage. Long flowering perennials (such as geraniums and begonias) produce pollen, while fruit bushes (strawberries, grapes, mulberries...) will fill the insects, birds and you with glee. A smorgasbord-style balcony is the secret to rich biodiversity.
You could even go a step further and set up a beehive on your balcony. Urban beekeeping is flourishing and the escalation in the number of hives and flowers in the city may well help save our bees. Swarms now take up residence in parks, on the top of hotels, corporate buildings, institutions, and on private terraces... Learn all about becoming an amateur beekeeper.
IV. Offer bird lodgings...
Birds sometimes have trouble finding somewhere in town suitable for building a nest or somewhere for their winter quarters: old trees have been cut down, hedges are disappearing and new buildings with smooth exteriors are much less welcoming than the old ones were. So some folk offer them hospitality on their balconies in nest boxes along with a place to drink. It doesn’t seem much and it's ultra simple, but it makes a huge difference to them.
V. ...And board
Winter is a particularly difficult time for birds. Their energy needs are greater but there are fewer sources of food. A bird can lose up to 10% of its weight in one night! To help birds through the winter, one or two feeders on the terrace will make all the difference. But only feed from mid-November to the end of March otherwise they could become dependent. A few pieces of fruit and fat balls can be placed here and there on the balcony. They are really simple to make: sunflower seeds, unsalted peanuts, oats, vegetable fat... The chickadees and robins love them!
VI. Cultivate an outdoor garden
Finally, there’s nothing better than having a small vegetable garden to encourage nature and local biodiversity into our cities. Even a window ledge will do as long as it’s sunny - a grow bag, pergola, window box... There are solutions galore (and fruit and vegetable species too!) for small areas. If you keep the vegetation varied, insects and birds will do you a great service by getting rid of pests – and insect pollinators will improve your yields. A harmonious ecosystem!
Main picture: © Nicolas Gallon / Contextes