Steward – November 2017

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National Protecting Pollinators in Urban Landscapes Conference

May Farm Pasture Walk

It's a flurry of activity here at the Boardman River Nature Center today. Multiple species of bees are loving on the Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)!

Posted by Master Gardener Association of Northwest Michigan on Sunday, September 10, 2017

National Protecting Pollinators in Urban Landscapes Conference

Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener, Vice President MGANM

The second conference on protecting pollinators in urban areas was held in Traverse City October 9-11, 2017.  The conference is a joint project hosted by Michigan State University and North Carolina State University.  In our current social climate, which demeans science and education, the conference was a breath of fresh air with a wealth of presenters explaining the latest research being conducted on pollinators and environmental health in urban areas.

Conference presentations included:

  • The importance of diversity in the pollinator population.  Most of us can recognize the non-native honey bee which works hard commercially for large scale pollination.  Many of also recognize the bumble bee.  However, there are hundreds of bee species, almost 500 in Michigan alone.  Some are specialist bees that are needed to pollinate specific plants; others are generalists.  Keeping every species population at a robust level is crucial for pollinator survival.
  • How humans have changed the landscape with no consideration of the pollinator.  Socially, culturally, and politically we have neglected all of these insects.  Habitat loss is believed to be the number one negative effect on pollinators.  What we think of insects and ‘bugs’ affect how we treat them and has a direct impact on their wellbeing.  Butterflies and moths participate in pollination to a much lesser degree than bees, but remain important to discussions on habitat and ecosystem restoration in the urban landscape.  Bees have been found to create creative and unusual nesting sites when a preferred area is lost.
  • Pesticides and IPM (integrated pest management) and their role in urban landscapes and pollinators.  While this topic seemed strange and out of place in a pollinator conference, researchers and chemical company representatives explained how they see the role of pesticides in the urban landscape.  Some attendees may have disagreed or been uncomfortable with the topic being presented and even the presenters may have recognized that they were speaking to a possibly hostile crowd.  However, the presentations reflected that our culture demands that certain plants look a certain way, bugs be damned.  If the line being walked is fine, the lesson is to read all labels very carefully and follow mixing and application instructions seriously.  In turn, a minimal amount of product can be applied for the desired result.  
  • Using vacant urban land to support pollinator diversity.  As our urban areas grow, decline, and are reborn, there is always vacant land.  Researchers are studying planting methods to support pollinators in all locations.  Given the short distances that most pollinators are able to travel, creating corridors wherever possible may be a solution for robust population support.  Habitat matters and having as much of it that can be imagined in urban areas can help.  Also considered, was the warming of urban areas.  Giving the change in the climate, urban areas warm faster than the countryside.  Studying the effects of this urban warming trend may be able to help us define better methods of pollinator care.
  • The role of citizen scientists in pollinator protection.  It was noted that there may be many things in our lives today: hurricanes, wildfires, political upheaval, and the like, over which we have no control.  Supporting pollinators is not one of those things.  Individually, we can have significant impact on protecting pollinators.  If habitat loss is the number one threat, each and every one of us can improve insect habitat where we live.  First, do no harm.  Second, plant pollen and nectar plants in containers on a balcony or throughout a yard.  Choose plants known to be beneficial, mostly those native to your area.  Include plants that bloom across the season from very early in spring to late in the fall.  Throughout the United States and Europe (a speaker from Paris), researchers are engaging young and old, school children and communities to observe the bees and wasps in their yards and on their plants.  Count them.  Learn to identify general species distinctions.

The conference was heavy on speakers and fast paced.  As an attendee, I came away refreshed and hopeful that so many young scientists were all working to solve a critical problem of our time.  Fully one-to-two thirds of the food we eat requires insect pollination and those pollinators are in serious decline.  Yet, help is easily provided in the way in which each and every one of us gardens.  Sure, the devil is in the details but in the end all we need are flowers.

May Farm of Benzie County, MI. Photo by same

May Farm Pasture Walk

Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener, Vice President MGANM

October 14 dawned gray and breezy with rain threatening.  Yet, by 10am about 60 people had arrived at the May Farm Pasture at the corner of Lobb and Graves Roads in Frankfort to walk the pasture and hear from a half a dozen speakers.  It was the May Farm Pasture Walk required by a USDA/NRCS grant.  

Farmer Paul May practices rotational grazing with cattle, sheep and chickens on rented acreage.  After eight years on the land, the changes in the soil quality, plant quality, insect presence, drought resistance, animal health and growth patterns, and ecosystem support is measurable.  During the Walk, several speakers addressed the farming ecosystem.

Scott Hughey is the NRCS grant administrator.  It is his job to work with farmers to improve farming practices.  He spoke about the crisis in farming and the loss of small farms and farmers.  The May Farm is an example of a ‘start-up’ farm.  Further he talked about the soil and the value being built beneath our feet by May’s rotational grazing practices.  Plants, manure, insects, rain fall, time…. repeat is a formula for building healthy soil.

Plant It Wild presented the design and seeding plan for a 13,000 square foot pollinator and wildlife habitat garden to be installed in 2018, another grant requirement.

MSUE’s Nate Walton talked about the insects, especially dung beetles and their role in cow pie decomposition and soil building.

Saving Bird’s Thru Habitat’s Kay Charter shared the value of rotational grazing and no-mowing practices to bird habitat.  Each of us, especially farmers, can create swaths of habitat for migratory birds.  A plaque of recognition was presented to Farmer May.

The Citizen’s Climate Lobby’s Kelly Lively spoke about the importance of supporting the work of farmers and others who are working to sequester carbon and reduce the harm of ‘traditional’ farming practices.  She encouraged all of us to participate in supporting bi-lateral climate talks in our communities, our State and nationally.

Finally, Doug Carmichael, Farm Manager of the Savory Institute, MSU/Lake City Research Center, talked about farming practices that forgo the use of fertilizers to work with the plants and soil for best environmental practices to support clean water and environmental health.

The May Farm operates as a CSA.  As they say, ‘you buy the animal; we do the chores’.  Both Paul and Sharron May believe in living in ‘community’.  Paul’s pasture walk was a clear demonstration of that.  In addition to the diversity of speakers, chili lunch was served.  That chili was made with locally sourced ingredients by a volunteer chef in the Trinity Lutheran Church kitchen and served by church friends and the Benzie Conservation District.

The rain held off so these interesting group of speakers who share a similar message could have their say.  How we behave matters.  The decisions we make every day can have a positive or negative effect.  Our environment and the food we eat can work in concert for a healthier world.  

Other farms are also required to host such events as a condition of grant funding so if you hear of one, head on over.

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