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  Saturday January 31st, 2015    

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Going native (07/14/2013)
By Vicki Englich
“Hey Vicki, how’s retirement?” “Great! I’m working my heinie off!” I celebrated Pollinator Week (June 17 -June 23) by transplanting most of the perennials from my front yard cottage garden into my boulevard and borders along my picket fence. This great migration has taken several weeks. Over the years I had planted a wider variety of plants--some native to this region like coneflower, prairie smoke, bee balm, goldenrod, meadow sage, spiderwort, hardy geranium (cranesbill), asters, and Black Eyed Susan--along with ornamentals such as amsonia (Blue Star), anenome, daylilies, lysmachia, phlox and hostas. After the move, I amended the soil, planted zucchinis (as promised), pickling cucumbers, and cabbage in the space, then mulched. I have also planted a sour cherry tree, North Star, which is self-fertile.

All the while I toiled, so did the bees. I’d take a break on my porch from where I could watch the bees tumble around in the William Baffin climbing rose which was in bold bloom this year. Honey bees, bumble bees, mason bees, wasps and tiny little bugs that I couldn’t identify gorged on the pollen from the roses. They also fed on the comfrey that towers along my back fence, the hardy roses, feverfew, and hardy geraniums throughout the beds.

My edible landscape is a deliberate mix of ornamentals, vegetables, and fruits that I can use not only for my table but also to attract pollinators. One of the best ways to attract pollinators is to plant natives. I know some people who have turned their yards into small prairies, using only native prairie plants in the landscape. This is such a stark contrast to what we are used to that some people think it looks unkempt or disorderly. I offer a different approach: tuck some natives in along with the traditional annuals and perennials. Coneflower and Black-Eyed Susans are easy to find and are attractive. Butterfly bush is also readily available and is a great plant for a dry, sunny site. Fall bloomers such as mums, anenomes and asters give our little friends sustenance after the summer heat. In the herb bed, I plant borage with its blue, star-shaped blossoms, dill, thyme and chives to attract pollinators. I still love to see wave petunias cascading over window boxes and planters, and I don’t believe that we need to be “purely” prairie here in southeast Minnesota in order to support our pollinators that we depend upon for our food supply, but let’s offer some.

I think you’d have to be living under a rock these days to not understand that the pollinator population is threatened. Scientists are still not certain about the cause of colony collapse in honey bees, and climate change certainly throws habitats off kilter. I remember when our early spring in 2012 worried some that hibernating bees and bats would arouse early to find nothing to eat. Monocultures of corn and soybeans planted with seeds treated with the herbicide glyphosphate also threaten the pollinatator population overall while the pests that it was developed to control grow resistant to the toxin. Plants grown with seeds containing neonicotinoids--systemic pesticides--are also suspected of killing off pollinators. The European Commission has banned neonicotinoids for the next three years in order to determine the effect upon honey bee populations. Wise move!

My revery: more people setting up beehives in their landscapes, more people planting indigenous species, and more people--including farmers--choosing organic plants and pest control methods. Dreams can come true...



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