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A monarch butterfly on an ironweed plant. (Photo courtesy of Kimberly Stoner )
A Bombus perplexus, a species of the bumblebee, on an agastache plant, a native perennial. (Photo courtesy of Kimberly Stoner )
Currants and cherry bushes on the side of Kimberly Stoner’s home in New Haven, where she has eliminated her traditional lawn in favor of plants and trees that benefit pollinators. (Photo courtesy of Kimberly Stoner )
A tour of a pollinator habitat last summer. (Photo courtesy of Kimberly Stoner )
Kimberly Stoner’s home in New Haven, where over the course of several years, she eliminated her traditional lawn in favor of a plants and trees that would benefit pollinators. (Photo courtesy of Kimberly Stoner )
Kimberly Stoner’s home in New Haven, where she has eliminated her traditional lawn in favor of plants and trees that benefit pollinators. She says part of the key to making the transition is providing some structure to the area, in the form of raised beds, and trees and plants. (Photo courtesy of Kimberly Stoner )
A pollinator tour from last summer. (Photo courtesy of Kimberly Stoner )
Bees cavorting on narrow-leaved mountain mint. (Photo courtesy of Kimberly Stoner )
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When it comes to bugs and bees, most of us want to slap ‘em, spray ‘em, squish ‘em, stomp ‘em, or shoo ‘em away.
But not Jean Waters.
She wants happy bugs and bees to meet other happy bugs and bees so they can, you know, “get together and boogie.”
To help make that happen, she’s one of an increasing number of people along the Connecticut shoreline signing up for and participating in what’s called the pollinator pathway, creating a long line of connected habitats and food sources for the itty bitty creatures that do the hard work of transferring pollen from plant to plant.
Pollination, of course, is a pretty big deal. The global ecosystems, and the human race itself, depends on this essential ecological function. The vast majority of the food we eat requires pollination, or the transfer of pollen grains from the male part of the flower to the female part of the flower. The problem is that pollinator populations are in decline due to pesticide use and loss of habitat. One study in Germany showed a 75 percent decline in insect abundance over the last 27 years, a study that some experts say has global implications.
The goal of people like Waters, who lives in Guilford and who, with her husband, runs Leap Frog Farm, is to create a corridor of public and private land rich with native plants and nutrition. They are addressing the fact that many bees and insects have a range of slightly less than a half mile. They want to connect properties that are no more than that distance apart.
So far, the project has met with some success. Pollinator pathway projects have been created in more than 27 communities in New York and Connecticut, mostly in the Fairfield county area of the Housatonic watershed—a large wildlife corridor bounded by the Hudson River on the west and the Connecticut River on the east and Long Island Sound to the south—since the project began on the Connecticut shoreline in Wilton in 2017.
Kimberly Stoner, a scientist with the Department of Entomology at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, says a recent workshop in New Haven on creating and improving pollinator habitats drew 90 people wanting to know more.
“Since then, I have had inquiries all over the state about this,” she says. “There are just lots of people who want to do this.”
Waters is one of those people, and she is encouraging others along the shoreline to join her. Just last weekend, she held an informational session at the Guilford library, and plans a follow up session later this month. Additional events are being planned during National Pollinator Week from Monday, June 17 to Sunday, June 23 (pollinator.org/pollinator-week).
Waters says anyone on or around the Connecticut shoreline or in the Connecticut River valley interested in finding out more or participating should connect with Waters by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. While she is starting a group in Guilford, she says the program welcomes any one from any town who might be interested.
“And I hope many people are. Many bees can only travel a half mile, so to help maintain a healthy population, it is important for them to be able to get together,” she says. “Many people now are interested in planting a pollinator garden, but few know of this pathway idea. The original study was done in Norway, where it was discovered that even simple patio pots and municipal plantings served to connect a corridor.”
How to Get on the Map
Waters says that for people to get on the map, they need to do six things:
• Reduce pesticides, and banish all systemic insecticides (insecticides that are, for example, taken up through the root system of the plant and therefore distributed throughout the plant)
• Protect some undisturbed ground for bee and bird nesting sites
• Grow early blooming plants and trees for pollen, including maples, pussywillow, hazelnut, and golden Alexander
• Maintain pollinator-friendly summer flowers for nectar
• Provide a source of water
• Late-season foragers need pollen and nectar—flowers like fall asters and goldenrod are excellent sources.
Ideally, she says, the best pollinator habitats will have a diverse array of trees, shrubs, vines, and other perennials. The key is to focus on plants that are native to this area, because insects and birds native to this area rely upon them. She gives this example: “the kousa dogwood, a species from China...supports no insect herbivores, while our native dogwood supports 117 species of moths and butterflies, and oaks host 532 species.”
She is concerned about the decline in insects worldwide.
“If these critters fail, human populations will not be far behind,” she says.
She adds there are more than 300 species of bees native to Connecticut, and more than 600 species of insects.
“Birds, bats, and butterflies are also pollinators. The troubles of honey bees and monarch butterflies are well known, but all species are facing declining habitat due to pesticides, urbanization, and what is called the culture of lawns,” she says. “Those wide green spaces are sprayed and mowed to provide the popular bug-free vista around our homes. Wait. We need bugs!”
Easy to Get Started
She says many of the right kind of plants might already be growing in people’s yards and could emerge if a corner of the lawn is left unmowed and unsprayed.
“Many nectar plants are in full bloom in the summer, but it is best to plant for a succession of blooms from early spring to late summer and fall. Choose a variety of colors and shapes to suit different pollinator’s tastes. And plant in clumps so that pollinators can spot your flowers from the sky,” she says.
Waters says the pollinator pathway project is aligned with her work as a farmer, with her husband, at Leap Frog Farm in North Guilford, and as an organic farmer who is a member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut, which has a mission of encouraging organic agriculture, organic food, and organic land care in Connecticut.
“As for Leap Frog Farm, it was really named and established this year,” she says. “He farms, my husband does, and he farms in four different locations. And as we’d work on the farm, we used to pass each other, like leapfrogging each other.”
The farms are located in North Guilford and Madison.
She and her husband used to work a family farm on the Boston Post Road in Madison and, when they moved the farm to North Guilford, they suddenly had more bugs.
“So I spent two years studying bugs. Our rule was, you can’t kill it if you don’t know what it is,” she says. “So I spent all my time with petri dishes with bugs in them. Good bugs. Bad bugs. And our goal was to enhance the life of the good bugs. I just really got interested in it.”
She says Superstorm Sandy in 2012 contributed to the decimation of the monarch butterfly population, making the work of nurturing monarchs important.
“There used to be whole flocks of monarchs, but all of the sudden, they’ve got no where to breed,” she says.
So she started growing milkweed for the monarchs and raising monarchs, and then started looking for more ways to help with the pollinators. She loves the idea of helping to create a pathway.
“This is a great idea,” she says. “Even patio pots and municipal plantings can help.”
She says it’s easy to get started.
“It’s super easy. As for native plants, if you don’t mow one corner of your lawn, all of the sudden you’ll get these flowers growing,” she says. “It can be a simple thing.”
Others might want to take it a bit further.
Going All the Way
Take Stoner, the scientist from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven. She let her garden take over most of her front lawn about four years ago, and then about two years ago, she eliminated the rest of her front lawn and her back lawn at her home in New Haven. “I do have a tiny strip of lawn between the sidewalk and the street, but, other than that, I put in raised beds to grow food, vegetables, and fruits. And then I got native plants from different plant sales and a few native plant nurseries. Audubon Connecticut distributes them as well,” she says. “So I’ve planted all kinds of bushes and perennials.”
It has cut down on the need for lawn mowing.
“I have a tiny electric lawn mower I use on the strip,” she says. “And once or twice a year I mow to keep the tree saplings down. I have a lot of Norway maples.”
For people who want to go that route, Stoner recommends they have a chat with their neighbors, so the neighbors won’t be alarmed by the disappearance of the traditional front lawn, and so they understand the change is being done by design.
“It is important for it to be done in such a way so that it has a structure, and so that people looking at it know it is a garden, and not an abandoned property,” she says. “There are some little tricks. One was to put the raised beds in first, and that signals to people that it’s a garden and you’re doing this on purpose.
“My neighbors have been very complimentary about my yard,” she says.
Whether it’s a patio pot or the entire lawn, providing spaces where pollinators can eat, drink, and get merry with each other is essential.
“More and more people are getting interested in how we maintain pollinator habitats in private and public spaces, including yards, and even rights of way and utility lines,” she says. “These are all important areas.”
More information is available at www.pollinator-pathway.org.
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