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Helping You Help Pollinators

For those following the news about the environment and agriculture, you most likely have heard by now that we as a society are concerned about the decline of bee and pollinator populations. You know the stats: honey bees are responsible for pollinating more than 100 crops and one out of every three bites of food Americans eat. They provide the means necessary for the reproduction of nearly 70 percent of the world’s flowering plants, including more than two-thirds of the world’s crop species.

If those headlines didn’t grab your attention, then maybe you have heard the quote often credited to Albert Einstein: “If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.”

The point here is not to strike fear, but to offer solutions to landowners that want to take action to help bees and pollinators. The bottom line is that pollinating insects are facing a multitude of threats: habitat loss from development and land clearing, lack of forage, lack of forage diversity, parasites, diseases, and pesticide exposure. If you have always wanted to help pollinators, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has technical and financial resources available to assist you.

NRCS recognizes the importance of pollinators and their habitat. Landowners can take action to implement conservation systems that support bees and pollinators. NRCS is committed to protecting the health of managed and native pollinating species vital to North American ecosystems and agriculture.  Rows of flowering trees and shrubs on farm in Sussex County, Delaware.

Landowners can receive technical and financial assistance to install practices such as conservation cover, field borders, and hedgerows. These practices address the resource concerns of habitat loss, lack of forage, and lack of forage diversity.

As an NRCS soil conservationist who also farms part-time, I have installed these pollinator plantings on my small farm.  I can say first hand that following the technical guidance available from NRCS and installing pollinator plantings are a simple and effective way to get results on your land. It is possible to go from rarely seeing bees to hearing a steady, daily buzz in the same year you begin planting.

My goal was to take unused areas of the farm and create permanent plantings that would provide a diversity of native plants that would provide pollen and nectar throughout the growing season to support native bees.  I accomplished this by planting linear rows of native flowering trees, shrubs, and perennials.

In 2016, I planted four 875-foot rows of flowering trees and shrubs. The planting contained 31 different native species. The flowering time for each species overlaps so that plants are producing pollen or nectar from spring through summer. In 2017, I planted four more rows to increase the area of flower production, flowering periods, and species diversity. All of the perennial flowers bloomed that same year, and the arrival of bees and butterflies was Butterfly rests on pollinator plant on Sussex County farm.tremendous.

This year, I added plants to both sides of my high tunnel to draw pollinators in to pollinate my crops. Like in 2017, I am planting a mix of flowering shrubs and perennial flowers, totaling 10 new species.

By the end of this season, I will have taken a total of just under an acre of unused grassy areas (that I normally have to mow) and installed over 2,000 native plants from over 50 different native species. In the past, bee and butterfly activity was rare on my farm. I now see pollinators ranging from Bumble Bees to Honey Bees to butterflies on a daily basis and in large numbers. NRCS has been the key to getting this accomplished. Without the financial and technical assistance from NRCS, I would have been stuck wanting to do something to help, but wondering how to get it done.

If you are interested in obtaining pollinator assistance, first contact your local NRCS field office. In Delaware’s Sussex County, call 302-856-3990, ext. 3; in Kent County, call 302-741-2600, ext. 3; and in New Castle County, call 302-832-3100, ext. 3. If you are outside of Delaware, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/contact/ to find the office nearest you. Additional information on all NRCS programs and services is available online at www.nrcs.usda.gov.    

- Written June 2018 by Chris Bohinski, NRCS soil conservationist and farmer.

(Photos provided by Delaware Department of Agriculture.)

Update: Video feature of pollinator project available on YouTube here!

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