We have been hearing about the plight (not the flight) of the bumble bee. Between pesticides, climate change, habitat loss and parasites, native American honey bees have declined by 23 percent. Source: The Center for BioDiversity.
As a result, Keith and I started to research Pollinator Pathway, a regional effort to provide the bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators with a corridor of native plants that is pesticide-free and has the nutrition that these animals need to thrive.
The idea is that the pollinating insect would have its own corridor of pesticide-free lawns and gardens for grazing. Pollinator Pathway encourages private homeowners to consider pollinators when they plant their gardens and mow their lawns. They’re also working with local governments encouraging them to use pollination-rich plantings on public spaces and lands. (What a great thing to do with the roundabouts that are proliferating in Connecticut!)
In my neighborhood, Pollinator Pathway participants put up their signs, and then they don’t mow a section of their lawn. That is what we were thinking of doing as well. There is a section of our lawn that we call “The Orchard”. It’s a pain in the neck to mow. Letting it grow wild is very appealing.
Here is the thing about any ecological gardening project. On the surface it looks easy but once you start digging into what it really means … not so much.
To help us along, we recruited Joanie, my friend of almost 40 years. Joanie has used her time well since those days when we were single girls exploring Paris together. Joanie has become a Master Gardener.
In Connecticut, Master Gardeners receive extensive training in gardening, plants, and horticulture. They serve their communities by maintaining community and historic gardens and working with the public.
It happens that Joanie is active in the Pollinator Pathway program in Newtown, Connecticut, and she was curious about what we are doing for the pollinators near the Connecticut shoreline.
So off we went yesterday on a tour of Pollinator Pathway gardens. This event was sponsored by the Pollinator Pathway group in Guilford, CT. Here is what we learned….Not one of the gardens that we looked at (admittedly, it was only 4 of the gardens on the tour) had an un-mowed lawn with a sign in front.
They were gardens, some more mature than others. And their gardeners were trying their best to identify and plant native plants that will attract and nourish pollinators.
Later on their website, I learned that the Pollinator Pathway group is promoting the No Mow May movement. I love that idea. Letting the clover, buttercups, dandelions, and daisies hang out for a month feeding bees and butterflies after a long winter.
Pollinator Pathway says that the classic suburban American manicured lawn with its trademark buzz cut doesn’t provide a habitat for pollinators. Also, homeowners frequently use fertilizers and pesticides to get that all-green look Americans love.
I admit it. I have been teasing Keith for 25 years about how he drives around the buttercups and other flowers on our lawn. Now it makes sense. I hate to say it, but my husband was right.
Another big push by Pollinator Pathway is Native Plants (species that grow naturally in a region). There is evidence that native species may be preferable to pollinators. It takes quite a bit of knowledge and discernment to know which plants are native. Joan (my Pollinator Pathway consultant) says native plants are becoming increasingly popular. She suggests that garden centers collect and identify the native species in one area to make it easy for consumers.
Even my garden, which is 25 years old, and was planted with no rhyme or reason, has value in the pollinator pathway. The fact that I haven’t used chemical fertilizers or herbicides (except for poison ivy spray) gives pollinators places to graze.
That said, we found out we had a really bad idea when we decided not to mow in “The Orchard”. A meadow in the orchard will give insects and animals places to hide and eventually damage the trees. Since it is 100 percent shaded, wildflowers won’t grow no matter how long we wait. Scratch that idea. Sorry, Keith.
And let’s talk about bees. There is a private honey bee hive across the street and two houses down. Honey bees are quite amazing. They send out scouts to find milkweed and other pollen-producing plants. Then the worker bees go back to the hive and actually do a dance called “The Waggle” that explains the exact location of the pollen.
If the food source is a football field away, the bee’s dance is a circle. If it is three to five miles away, it is a figure eight! The bees even have Waggle Dance Offs where they compete to communicate the best food source. (Source: FranktheBeeMan.com)
Check out Waggle Dancing Honey Bee (Video)
Meanwhile, the bees living on our property are burrowing holes in the fascia of our house and are not as welcome as honey bees. They’re called carpenter bees. Am I supposed to give them a pass? Apparently, they are great pollinators.
The problem is that the woodpeckers (of which we have many) use their beaks to make a bigger hole to eat the carpenter bee eggs and other insects. We scare them away with foil ribbons and feed the woodpeckers suet in our bird feeder, but they always seem to come back.
There was a nice opinion piece on the Underappreciated Carpenter Bees by Robert Miller In the Middletown Press. He points out that carpenter bees are considered pests but they are great pollinators. It is a conundrum!
As I said, a lot goes into creating a proper Pollinator Pathway. Sometimes decisions are obvious. Don’t use Miracle Grow chemical fertilizers and Round-Up weed killer. That’s obvious to me. Flowers can run the course of their natural life and there are alternative soil enrichments. For example, we have a 25-year-old compost pile that works beautifully. I just bought vinegar to kill the weeds between our patio stones.
When it comes to poison ivy, I’m not in. We’ve seen a huge increase in the poison ivy along the outer edge of our property. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is boosting the growth and strength of poison ivy plants. (Source: Web MD: Climate Change Brings Super Poison Ivy) The damn plant has even snuck into our garden a few times. I think selective use of herbicide in that situation is appropriate.
And as for the human scourge of ticks, for me, the jury is out. We don’t use pesticides and we check ourselves and Django the dog for ticks all the time. We also use Sentinel Protection Parasites for Dogs on our dog. (If we could, I would use it on us too, but I don’t think it is approved for human use by the FDA.)
I totally get it when our neighbors spray pesticides when their kids are young and romping outside in the yard all summer. If I were in their situation, I would probably spray my yard as well.
What really struck me from our day of learning about Pollinator Pathways is that the group is calling for a significant change in what we value about our outdoor space in the suburbs.
They want to revolutionize gardening and lawn maintenance. They are promoting a more natural, less pruned and perfected garden and lawn. Gardening can be a feast for the senses. But more importantly, it is a habitat for pollinators, birds, and other backyard species. And maybe it just won’t look as cleaned up and pruned as we have gotten used to in recent years. It might mean we can even relax a bit.