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Protecting Our Native Pollinators

Contributed by Ray Ellsworth, Master Gardener

 
 

Every morning my first chore on our organic fruit and berry farm is to put on my boots, pickup my bucket of soapy water and inspect the more than 1,000 cultivated blueberry bushes, 300 wild blueberry bushes, five rows of fall raspberries and our half acre of apple trees.  I do this each day from early May through August.  As I go I clean the bushes of un-pollinated blossoms, leaves that have turned brown, yellow, red and any other color than green, damaged berries, broken branches, caterpillars and other damaging insects.

 

 

I have learned to recognize cane borers, aphids, cherry fruit moths, tent caterpillars, stink bugs, rose chafers and many other harmful insects.  I have also learned to recognize and leave alone the beneficial insects such as lady bugs, spiders, and all of the pollinators.

 

During the month of May and early June I have to be very careful not to bother the pollinators that are helping me.   This year I had bumble bees, carpenter bees, butterflies, wild honey bees and sweat bees working the blueberry bushes.  I even had two hummingbirds pitch in during a cold and rainy week in May when the bees were not in evidence.  On warm sunny days in May when the blueberry bushes are in blossom they swarm with all sorts of small and large pollinators.

 

These little creatures are so important to our well being that we need to make a special effort to ensure we do them no harm.

 

How can we help them help us?

 

Farms tend to be monocultures because economies of scale make it more profitable to plant large areas of the same crop.  Our pollinators need nesting habitat, water and food all through the growing season.  If all I had on my farm were blueberries the blooms would come and go and my pollinators would have nothing for the rest of the year.  I suppose I could use domesticated honey bees to pollinate the crop, most farms do, but I fear being so dependent on only one type of pollinator.  I understand now why farmers who have become so dependent on the domesticated honey bee worry so much about colony collapse.

 

I have planted Fall Raspberries to help feed my farm’s native pollinators.  They begin to bloom in July and continue blooming right up to the first frost, usually in October.  The raspberries kept my farm’s bees very busy.  It wasn’t unusual for me to find a bumble bee sleeping on a raspberry leaf.

 

I am lucky to have a perennial stream running through the farm ensuring the bees have a constant source of water.  I have made an effort to let the edges of my fields remain wild.  These wild native plants have served our native pollinators as food and nesting sites for millennia.  As I continue to build my farm I will need to be ever mindful of the effect that my activities are having on my helpers. I hope that all of you will make an effort to keep our native pollinators and other beneficials in mind as you garden, farm or just enjoy the outdoors.  Go easy with the pesticides, plant something just for them and most of all learn to recognize them and learn as much as you can about them.

 

I found a great source to go to to learn more about our native pollinators.  It is a short PDF file entitled “Selecting Plants for Pollinators”.  It can be found at http://pollinator.org/PDFs/Guides/Adirondackrx3FINAL.pdf

 

Happy Gardening

 

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