Loretta McGrath

 

In the winter the honeybee hives outside my window were draped with six inches of snow. Icicles dangled from the metal roof as the first rays of morning sun sparkled rainbows of light. As warmth entered the small beehive door, the bees were clustered in a tight ball, keeping the colony warm by vibrating their wing muscles. The honey stored in the wax cells, once nectar that was collected from flowers during the summer months, ensured a continual energy source for the cold months. The honeybees slowly moved as a cluster, eating their way from honeycomb to honeycomb until the land warmed again in spring and the first new bloom of flowers signaled the beginning of the pollination season. Spring is the magical time of the year when the fertility of the planet is regenerated, flower-by-flower, by pollinators of all kinds—bees, birds, butterflies, bats, moths, wasps, beetles and hummingbirds.

 

Outside in the vegetable garden, burrowed six to eight inches below the surface of the soil where last year’s squash plants grew, a new generation of native squash bees have been hibernating. In wood debris in the backyard by the compost pile, wood-nesting native bees have been incubating in hollowed-out tunnels of reeds. Up on the peak of Atalaya Mountain, my mind travels to the logs I discovered one spring, which were covered in newly hatched ladybird beetles, more commonly known as ladybugs, that had overwintered there. I picture them in spring as they fly down the mountain to lower elevations where they will feast on aphids all summer, the same aphids that the ants love to “herd” like cattle on the sunflower stems. The ants tickle the aphids with their antennae to release “honeydew,” sugar-rich nectar that the ants will take back to their young. Lurking nearby in undisturbed soil are antlions, insects that create concave funnels in the soil to ensnare unsuspecting ants that slide down the slippery traps into their waiting jaws for consumption. Darting above this tiny world of the insects will be the hummingbirds that will migrate into the area in May, winging invisible arcs of delight in the air as they zoom from flower to tree to flower throughout the entire day–sun-up to sundown.

 

Each nearly invisible interaction between insect and flower, and prey and predator, weaves a delicate balance in the web of life and ensures survival to all through future fertility. To most humans living the speedy life, the co-evolutionary dance between pollinators and flowers goes unnoticed and under-appreciated, but it is a relationship that has developed over millions of years. Flowers have evolved their beauty and their seductive scents to attract pollinators who act as the “legs and wings” of the flowering plant world, spreading pollen from flower to flower, an act that fertilizes new seed for the future. And while many humans fail to notice this mystical interplay, most of the food we enjoy, such as our favorite fruits and vegetables, and decadent indulgences such as chocolate, coffee and wine, would be non-existent without these important creatures. At the most fundamental level, we might consider that our own survival is at stake if these animals are decimated by human interference, and at a more holistic level, we might consider how we can extend our boundary of caring and engage more consciously in this evolutionary dance.

 

Bee-Coming a Pollinator Ally

In my work with the Pollinator Partners Program, I have the joy of meeting people in communities throughout New Mexico who share a delight in pollinators or have a curiosity to learn more about them. As a top-bar beekeeper, I also hang out with other beekeepers, an eclectic group who are fascinated with honeybees and love to spend time tasting local honey and sharing both the magnificent and sorrowful stories about the colonies we steward. These days, and especially since Colony Collapse Disorder surfaced in 2006, decimating over 50 percent of honeybee populations around the globe, it is challenging to be a beekeeper. But it is not just honeybees that are in decline. Other native pollinators, such as bumblebees, butterflies and bats, are in decline, signaling that we humans must change our practices soon before we leave the pollinator world in irreversible peril. Fortunately, these humble creatures are alluring, and the beauty and fecundity that they are responsible for has attracted attention in the human world; many people are becoming smitten with the idea of being a pollinator ally. Despite the drought conditions in the Southwest, pollinator activists want to create pollinator habitat on their farms and in school, community and backyard gardens.

 

The Pollinator Partners Program

The Pollinator Partners Program (PPP) at Farm to Table supports the creation of pollinator-friendly habitat in NM to enhance and regenerate the ecological, agricultural, economic and cultural health, vitality and well-being of people, pollinators and places. We focus on supporting educational outreach through gardening, land stewardship and beekeeping with presentations, film events, age-appropriate dialogue, and web-based resources to support school and community projects.

 

The Pollinator Partners Program Creates a Buzz

Pollinator events for spring 2013 are underway in communities throughout NM. Late last year, as part of Farm to School’s educational activities, Pollinator Partners Director, Loretta McGrath and Farm to Table’s Program Director, Tawnya Laveta facilitated four “train-the-trainer” pollinator workshops in the communities of Truth or Consequences, Anthony/Las Cruces, Silver City and Zuni Pueblo. The theme for the trainings was “Gardening and Farming with Pollinators as Your Allies.”

 

Over 50 participants, including garden educators and practitioners, farm-to-school professionals, small-scale farmers, food activists, aspiring and practicing beekeepers, permaculture gardeners and allied nonprofit professionals, were given an introduction to gardening and farming with honeybees and pollinators. The workshops covered the basics of pollination, chemical-free pollinator habitat creation for honeybees and native pollinators and top-bar beekeeping. The workshops were designed specifically for each participating community, and attendees had the opportunity to network and share resources to develop garden/farm projects for 2013. One participant, George, an accountant-turned-farmer said, “This past year I planted fennel and couldn’t believe all the pollinators it attracted. I can’t wait to try other plants to see what pollinators show up on the farm.”

 

With so much enthusiasm following these events, the Pollinator Partners Program is continuing the pollinator workshops in the spring and summer of 2013.

 

If you are interested in promoting pollinators through your organization, business, school, neighborhood or community, or would like to co-host a pollinator event in your area, contact me at loremcgrath@gmail.com or 505.690.9912 for more information and resources. Tell us about the pollinator habitat you have created. If you have planted a pollinator garden or habitat in your yard, farm, community garden or other public space, please let us know what you are doing by sending us your stories and photos. Stay tuned for our new website in early spring, 2013. Donations to the Pollinator Partners Program can be made to Farm to Table: www.farmtotablenm.org

 

 

Loretta McGrath is the director of Pollinator Partners, a program of Farm to Table.

 

[SIDEBAR]

 

What You Can Do to Support Pollinators

 

Plant a Pollinator Garden: Visit local nurseries that carry a diverse selection of native and adapted plants that attract honeybees and native pollinators such as Plants of the Southwest. For a list of native plants that are beneficial to native pollinators, go to the NMSU Los Lunas Plant Center and download the pollinator plant recommendations that entomologist Dr. Tess Grasswitz and plant specialist Dr. Dave Dreesen have recently published. You can link to it at http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/nmpmc/publications.html. You can also download two pocket guides: Pocket Guide to theNative Bees of New Mexico and Pocket Guide to theBeneficial Insects in New Mexico.

 

Avoid the Use of Chemicals; especially Neonicotinoid Pesticides – Avoid products with the active ingredients of imidacloprid and clothianidin; both are especially harmful to bees and pollinators. Also avoid glyphosate, an herbicide. These chemicals are prevalent in household garden products, agricultural products, lawn/turf treatments and flea and tick powders for animals.

 

Provide Water Habitat for Bees and Pollinators – Place a shallow basin of water filled with stones in several places in your yard or garden for the bees. Fill the basin with stones or floating sticks to gives the bees a place to land and drink without drowning. The birds and lizards will enjoy the water source too.

 

Provide Nesting Sites for Native Bees – Some native bees that dig into the ground prefer undisturbed soil, so leave some patches for their habitat. Other native bees prefer wood to build cavities to lay their eggs. Or you can get artsy and build your own wood or bamboo native bee boxes, and you’ll find it will attract native bees who will work alongside honeybees to pollinate the plants you have around you.

 

Become a Backyard Beekeeper or Support Local Beekeepers – If we can support honeybees and pollinators with ample habitat, NM will flourish and our agricultural lands will be more bountiful. You can find resources about beekeeping at the NM State Beekeepers Association website, the Sangre de Cristo Beekeepers Group in Santa Fe and the Albuquerque Beekeepers Group. Les Crowder provides top-bar beekeeping classes in NM through his business, For the Love of Bees. Purchase local honey and bee products at farmers’ markets throughout the state and on the shelves at La Montañita Co-op.

 

Support organic farmers and gardeners and learn to grow food without chemicals -Know your local farmers by supporting them at local farmers’ markets and by buying their products at the co-op. Also, take a class to learn how to grow your own food without chemicals.

 

Host a Bee Party or Potluck – Celebrate the bounty of the bees by hosting gatherings of friends and family that focus on foods bees pollinate. Bring information to share so others can learn how to support bees and other pollinators.

 

Host a Bee Film Event – Invite friends, family and colleagues over for a home viewing of one of several bee films that highlight bee issues. Some films to consider: Vanishing of the Bees,Queen of the Sun, Nicotine Bees and The Strange Disappearance of the Honeybees. Look for the upcoming beautiful and inspiring film, Wings of Life: A Love Story that Feeds the Earth by Louie Schwartzberg. See a preview titled: The Hidden Beauty of Pollination on TedTalks at www.ted.com

 

Encourage your Local Library to carry bee films – make suggestions to your local library to purchase the above-mentioned films so more people have access.

 

Celebrate Honey Harvest with a Bee Dessert Party Invite friends, and ask each one to bring a jar of local honey for a tasting. Make sumptuous desserts with fruits pollinated by bees. Eat to your bee heart’s content!

 

Create Art that Celebrates Bees, Butterflies, Birds and Bats – Explore these creatures with your community, get children involved and create art in public and private spaces.

 

Do Bug Counts in your Garden – When we provide habitat for pollinators, we never know what beneficial bugs will show up! Hone your observation skills and do bug counts, take photos, keep a bug journal with sketches, and document who has come to the pollinator party!

 

Visit your Local Public Library – Learn more about pollinators through your library’s resources and invite children to explore new books and projects with pollinators.

 

Use your Power to Impact Policy Momentum is gathering to pressure the EPA and Congress to take action to protect pollinators. Pesticide Action Network (PAN), the Pollinator Partnership, Beyond Pesticides and The Xerces Society are all working on pollinator protection. Check out their websites and get involved to support policy that eliminates the systemic chemicals that are harming pollinators. Spread the word on Facebook, Twitter etc.

 

Contribute to the Pollinator Partners Program – Stay tuned for our new website in early spring, 2013! Planning for school and community gardens is underway. Donations to the Pollinator Partners Program can be made to Farm to Table at www.farmtotablenm.org

 

 

 

 

 

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