Pollinator Conference – August 13, 2016

Pollinator Conference in Grand Rapids – Saturday, August 13th from 8am-4pm

775 Ball Avenue NE, Grand Rapids, 49503

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Some of the most important research and data collection in the country about pollinators and the importance of beneficial insects is taking place in the Entomology Department at Michigan State University. Interested in learning about the cutting edge research that is happening with pollinators and the plants being studied as their favorites? Join the Smart Gardening series by MSU Extension on Saturday, August 13th from 8am-4pm. This is an extraordinary opportunity to hear directly from the esteemed scientists and professors on an important topic. They will provide a wide range of learning, including hands-on activities utilizing the beautiful and rich plantings known as the Great Ideas Garden, as well as up-to-date facts and data from their research.

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The class is limited, but there is still space available. The cost is $65 and includes lunch and important handouts. For more information, please contact Ginny Wanty for more information at: wanty@anr.msu.edu or call: (616) 632-7873. Or, register:

http://events.anr.msu.edu/2016SGPollinators/ to secure a spot for this amazing opportunity!

Paradise Shift – Herb Garden

Paradise Shift: Creating a Pollinator Sanctuary in Your Own Yard with Herbs

By: Rebecca Marquardt

The most recognizable line in the song, Big Yellow Taxi, by Joni Mitchell is that, “they paved paradise to put up a parking lot.” Her poignant message is that we don’t usually notice the natural world vanishing until it’s actually gone. I love her sweet voice and that song, but have often wondered, wouldn’t it be more accurate to say, “we”? We, the species known as Homo sapiens, paved paradise.

To understand the incompatibility yet necessary confluence of paradise and parking lots Mitchell was referring to, we need to go back to 1948 and acknowledge the brilliance of Aldo Leopold. He spelled out how to problem solve the human versus ecology mystery we call land use. He emphasized observing the natural world and paying careful attention to the complexity and diversity in which it has evolved. We came in with our tools (machinery, oil refineries, coal mines, agricultural fields, cattle ranches, quarries, highways, neighborhoods, shopping districts and sky rises) and significantly disrupted nature without fully understanding that this complex and diverse world is also fragile and unique. Leopold said, “Science has given us many doubts, but it has given us at least one certainty: the trend of evolution is to elaborate and diversify the biota {flora + fauna of a region}.”

Our impact and destruction, going against the grain of evolution or paving of paradise, was not done with ill intention or to boldly oppose the laws of nature. It was done to proudly and ambitiously make progress. Leopold came to understand that, after working for the National Forest Service, an agency which largely managed land because it provided natural resources, such as timber. He understood that our progress was about economics and the need to use land for these and other resources, but with age Leopold realized that the rate of progress was not sustainable. He also questioned conservation models of his time and believed they did not hold enough understanding of land, or of economic land use.

With careful study and a gifted and original voice, Leopold put forth a concept that holds the solution to both preserving paradise and providing the requisite parking lots, highways, housing developments, commercial districts, factories, farmland, etc; a land ethic—which is to have an “ecological conscience” and to take responsibility for the health of the land. For example, if a developer interested in creating a subdivision would think about ecologically restoring the wetlands on the site in addition to the number of lots the land could support, that would demonstrate this land ethic and responsibility.

A slight rift on the land ethic concept is another academic term, reconciliation ecology, coined many years later in Michael Rosensweig’s book, Win-Win Ecology. We can change the way we live to allow native species to return and join us in the places we currently inhabit. Professor Dave Warners of Calvin College expresses this concept as, “the science of restoring, creating and maintaining habitats and conserving biodiversity in the places where people live, work or play and re-inventing the human presence to better accommodate, affirm, and fit into the landscape of biodiversity which surrounds us.” Warners seconds Leopold’s claim that nature wants to be diverse, so a lawn with a dependency on chemicals to fertilize and protect it from weeds and pests, gas powered mowers to keep it short, is a constant battle.

While there is little doubt that the melancholic tone Joni Mitchell used in her folksie song echoed the message Rachel Carson had in her legendary book, A Silent Spring, a contemporary and positive attitude has emerged and many people credit another author for that message. In his well-written book, Bringing Nature Home, Doug Tallamy shares, from his perspective as an entomologist, that the health of the planet can be determined by the diversity of our native insects, which depend on a diverse population of native plants. That simply directs our problem solving kit of tools to hone in on our very own backyards. For example, if we want birds to visit our yards, we need to do more than give them seeds and nuts, as Tallamy explains birds and other wildlife depend on insects. We can be the ecological change we want to see in the world by taking action – protect and provide for the native insects and the birds and other wildlife will come.

What would reconciliation ecology, from a pollinator standpoint, look like in your yard? That may seem like a loaded question but the most succinct and accurate answer would simply be: plant native trees, shrubs, wildflowers and grasses. Pollinators are considered keystone species because they are necessary for the reproduction of over 85% of the world’s flowering plants; they are critical in maintaining ecological biodiversity. Michigan plants evolved with our native pollinators to form a mutually beneficial relationship – the flowers rely on pollinators so they can produce seed and the pollinators depend on the nectar and pollen the plants provide from early spring until the middle of fall. These plants also provide important nesting sites for the pollinators – bees, butterflies, flies, beetles, ants, moths, hummingbirds, and bats.

The majority of pollinators are invertebrates that transfer pollen from one plant to another, quite unintentionally, as they seek nectar or pollen as a food source. The deliciously sweet nectar is often located in the heart of a flower, so when a visiting insect, bird, or bat comes for the nectar, pollen usually gets dusted on their legs, back, or abdomen. They visit another flower of the same kind of plant and that pollen gets transferred and usually fertilizes the flower, which then becomes a fruit containing seeds. The plant has a mission and that is to produce and propagate more plants, and for many plants the seed is the only way to do that.

Some plants provide more pollen and nectar than others. Flowers have adapted to attract bees and other pollinators with carbohydrate rich nectar and protein and vitamin rich pollen. While native plants have natural occurring sources of both throughout spring, summer and fall, some of the most visited plants during the summer months and beyond are the herbs we grow in our culinary gardens. Herbs can be like magnets to bees, especially, with their aromatic and colorful flowers. Maybe your yard of paradise favors bees, because you have learned that these keystone species are immeasurably valuable, or you read that most of our native bees do not even have stingers. Maybe you also have learned that the reason bees, such as honeybees or possibly bumble bees sting is because they are social bees and on a serious mission to collect nectar and pollen to bring back to the hive. If you get in their way, by falling into the plant they are working on, they will irritatingly probably sting you. But, if instead, you watch them, it becomes quite evident that they have work to do and are busy doing it. You, the giant watching them like TV, do not bother them in the slightest. In fact, I like to think they are honored by how many beautiful and delicious food sources we provide for them in our gardens and can feel the great deal of respect many of us have for them.

If paradise for you includes attracting the social and the solitary pollinators and looks like an herb garden, be sure to include some of these plants:

Angelica, Anise Hyssop, Basil, Bee Balm, Betony, Black Cohosh, Borage, Calamint, Calendula, Caraway, Carrot, Catmint, Catnip, Chamomile, Chives, Clary Sage, Clover, Comfrey, Coriander, Dandelion, Dill, Echinacea, Fennel, Germander, Globe Thistle, Hyssop, Lamb’s Ears, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Mallow, Marjoram, Mint, Oregano, Parsley, Pineapple Poppy, Sage, Red Clover, Rose, Rosemary, Sacred (Holy) Basil, Sage, Salvia, Savory, Strawberry, Thyme, Willow, Valerian, Verbena, Violet, Yarrow.

The shift of what was considered paradise, a prairie that was “paved” to become a corn field may be a sad reminder of our species mark on this land, but the promise and potential of our yards holds the true paradise for insects, birds and other wildlife. By substituting a few words in the Joni Mitchell song, Big Yellow Taxi, we can give this lovely song a small makeover: “Don’t it always seem to go, you plant the right flowers and they will return. We brought paradise into our own backyards!”

 

 

 

 

paradise shift

Paradise Shift : Our Yards Have Potential as Pollinator Sanctuaries

By: Rebecca Marquardt

Do you think Joni Mitchell could update her song about “paving paradise to put up a parking lot” (Big Yellow Taxi) to be more positive and inspirational? As much as I love her voice and that song, the fact that we have inherited land that is predominately human influenced is just that – maybe a little too factual to be entertaining, and besides when she says, “they paved paradise”, wouldn’t it be more accurate to say, “we”? Her strength in articulating the melancholy may have been beneficial in many ways, but to those of us who call ourselves land conservationalists, isn’t our tone more like: we are less interested in dwelling and would rather use our precious time on this earth to problem solve and take actions to positively influence our mark on this place?! How about instead of focusing on the shame of what we’ve done, we emphasize how we can grow paradise back.

By substituting a few words, let’s try giving this lovely song a small makeover: “Don’t it always seem to go, you plant the right flowers and they will return. We brought paradise into our own backyards!”

But before we do that, we have to acknowledge the brilliance of Aldo Leopold. He came before all of us, and spelled out how to problem solve this human vs. ecology mystery we call land use. He emphasized observing the natural world, paying careful attention to the complexity and diversity in which it operates. We came in with our tools (machinery, oil refineries, coal mines, agricultural fields, cattle ranches, quarries, highways, neighborhoods, shopping districts, skyrises) and massively disrupted the natural systems throughout this planet, without first pausing to observe it. He told us, “Science has given us many doubts, but it has given us at least one certainty: the trend of evolution is to elaborate and diversify the biota {flora + fauna of a region}.” Our impact and destruction, going against the grain of evolution, or paving of paradise was not done with ill intention, to boldly oppose the laws of nature, it was done proudly and ambitiously to make progress, to make America great! And, Leopold knew that. He understood that our progress was about economics, that people need to use the land for resources, afterall he worked for the National Forest Service early in his career. With age however he realized that the rate of “progress” was not sustainable, but he also questioned the conservation model of his time, that it did not have enough understanding of land, in general or of economic land-use.

With his careful study and intelligence, Leopold put forth a concept that holds our solution: a land ethic. To have an “ecological conscience” which in turn “reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land.” Meaning, each of us has the capability to influence in a positive way, the world in which we live.

An academic term for this is reconciliation ecology, coined many years later, by Michael Rosensweig in his book, Win-Win Ecology. The essence is that we can provide some species enough support to allow them to adapt to us. Intentionally furnishing the wild, or native, species the tools so that they can adapt and support themselves in our cities and countrysides. “Nature is resilient”, haven’t you heard?

A regional example of reconciliation ecology in west Michigan is the incorporation of a pollinator strip or conservation planting of native wildflowers around the periphery of a blueberry field. Native pollinator species, namely bees, are attracted to the native wildflowers for pollen and nectar but also visit the nearby blueberry plants and thereby increase crop yields.

Michigan State University has an impressive research team studying the relationship of native bees and the fruit crops for which this area is well known. For farmers the goal is to have high yields of whatever they are growing, and thanks to research the evidence points to attracting a diverse population of pollinators. Having a variety of bees, both native and the European honeybee ensures that with our seasonal and weather variations crops are visited. For example, the rented honeybees that are moved all across the country and are prone to disease and parasites might have specific conditions in which they fly and visit the fruit crops. Native bees are more accustomed to the local weather conditions and have adapted to our sometimes wet and cold spring. Together though, they successfully pollinate the agricultural crop which often has a short bloom time.   Having food sources (flowers) of varying bloom times nearby, keeps the pollinators around.

Honeybees have been the workhorses, but science is proving that the native bees are sometimes more efficient. The honeybees visit many different plants seeking nectar and pollen passing pollen from one plant to another, which is pollination – the essential first step in fruit (or vegetable) production. Bumblebees, a native species is larger, can collect pollen on its front and backside, can fly farther distances and the buzzing motion it has is very effective in collecting from certain flowers.

What would reconciliation ecology, from a pollinator standpoint, look like in your yard? Let’s look at culinary gardens, in particular an herb garden….to be continued. -rlm