Good Eats, for Insects: Lebanon Gardeners Build a Pollinator Bed

  • Augie Church-Cole, 9, left, waters plants under the guidance of his mother Suzanne Church, of Lebanon, front middle, as Ethan Cole, back middle, and Cherry Angell, right, of Lebanon watch bees collecting pollen in the pollinator bed at the Canillas Community Garden in Lebanon, N.H., Sunday, July 23, 2017. The bed was started in the spring to provide pesticide free forage and habitat for bees and other pollinating insects. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A bumble bee collects pollen from a bee balm flower in the new pollinator garden bed at the Canillas Community Garden in Lebanon, N.H., Sunday, July 23, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Ethan Cole, of Lebanon, offers Canillas Community Garden volunteer manager Pat McGovern, of Lebanon, a tomato from his raised bed after working in the new pollinator garden in Lebanon, N.H., Sunday, July 23, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Suzanne Church, of Lebanon, N.H., weeds in the Canillas Community Garden's new pollinator bed in Lebanon as her husband Ethan Cole, center, taste tests edible weeds lamb's quarters and purslane from Pat McGovern, of Lebanon, on Sunday, July 23, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/25/2017 10:00:06 PM

The world of pollinators, said Pat McGovern, one of the volunteers at Lebanon’s Canillas Community Garden, is “this whole other world most of us don’t know about, yet we’re completely dependent on it.”

On a hot summer morning, McGovern gestured toward Canillas Garden’s first flower bed designed specifically to attract the native bees, wasps, hornets, butterflies and European honeybees that pollinate trees, flowers and crops.

The bed’s herbs, perennials and annuals, which include thyme, lavender and borage, and a mix of such perennials and annuals as marigolds, cone flowers (echinacea), alyssum and sunflowers, draw to them bumblebees and tiny, darting insects that commute from blossom to blossom.

This spring, McGovern and Suzanne Church, along with volunteers Polly Gould, Cherry Angell, and Lihlani Skipper, drew up a plan and dug the first pollinator flower bed in Canillas Community Garden, which is sandwiched between the Carter Community Building and Emerson Place Apartments on land belonging to the CCBA.

The pollinator bed at Canillas is part of an Upper Valley-wide effort to encourage or install pollinator gardens after years of discouraging reports about steep declines in the populations of both honeybees and other native pollinators.

According to the website for the Bee Lab at the University of New Hampshire, there are some 4,000 species of North American bees; in New Hampshire, a 2016 inventory found 118 species. The website calls wild bees “the engine on which the world runs — as pollinators, they keep crops growing and make ecosystems function.”

The UNH Bee Lab website adds, however, that bee populations are suffering. The first bee species to be added to the federal endangered species list once was common in New Hampshire, the rusty patched bumblebee.

Work needs to be done both by scientists and citizens to mitigate the loss of both native bees and European honeybees.

To that end, the Upper Valley Pollinator Partners (UVPP) includes schools, businesses, planning and conservation commissions, garden clubs, museums, science organizations and land trusts, all of which are planting gardens or sponsoring events to educate people on the causes of, and solutions to, dwindling pollinator populations.

To date, supporters in 23 Upper Valley towns have committed some kind of resources to the effort, said Barbara McIlroy, who is a member of both the Hanover Conservation Commission and the Biodiversity Committee, in which capacity she is a spokesperson for the Upper Valley Pollinator Partners.

Extant pollinator gardens can be found at Enfield Shaker Museum, the Fells Historic Estate and Gardens in Newbury, N.H., the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish and Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon.

But the effort, its supporters said, needs to go wider: “What can we as homeowners do?” McIlroy said. The goal of the UVPP is to see 100 pollinator gardens planted this year, she said.

The UVPP also has organized conferences hosted by the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, and taken a series of field trips to locations around the Upper Valley. The final event this summer happens on Saturday, Aug. 19, when Sara Zahendra from the Vermont Center for Ecostudies will lead a pollinator inventory on Hanover’s Balch Hill.

The Canillas Garden pollinator bed also features a bee box intended to attract both leafcutter and mason bees, solitary bee species that make nests in gaps or holes in old walls and dead wood, or in the hollow stems of plants. The boxes feature drilled holes or, in some cases, cylindrical hollow tubes that mimic natural nesting sites: The bees lay their larvae in them. Next spring, said Church, they hope to install a so-called bee “hotel,” a structure larger than a bee box that is meant to attract a variety of bees.

Just as the pollinator garden will provide habitat in the form of boxes and a hotel, it will also, said Church, move away from “planting flowers for sheer visual quality toward more environmentally beneficial plants.”

Canillas Garden’s pollinator bed was made possible by volunteer donations of plants, soil, organic fertilizer and mulch. A local charitable organization also donated the funds for plants, bee boxes and signage.

Apart from providing appropriate plantings in home gardens, it’s important for people concerned about the continued health of pollinators to think about providing “corridors and contiguous areas” to allow them to flourish, Church added.

It is also helpful, both McIlroy and Church said, for gardeners to educate themselves on the use of the class of insecticides known as neonicotinoids. A 2015 New York Times article reported on a Swedish study, published in the scientific journal Nature, which found that wild bees foraging in crops treated with neonicotinoids reproduced less and gained less weight than wild bees feeding in untreated fields.

The neonicotinoids may not be the only factor in diminishing native bee populations, but the evidence suggests that they play a significant role.

“Even if you have your organic sanctuary, bees can go to areas where pesticides are used,” McGovern said.

There’s also the question of buying seeds and plants that have been treated with neonicotinoids. It’s not always easy to source untreated, organic seeds and plants but it’s worth the effort, Church said.

“Pesticides are not a glamorous topic, but people don’t realize how much native bees contribute to pollination,” Church said.

For information on the Canillas Garden pollinator bed go to canillasgarden.wordpress.com. For information on the UVPP go to hanovernh.org/biodiversity-committee. For information on the Balch Hill bee inventory on Saturday, Aug. 19, go to hanovernh.org/sites/hanovernh/files/uploads/eventcalendar-v3.pdf.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com. 




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