Private Landowners say YES to Pollinators!
One in three bites of food that we consume are made possible by pollinators—a group that includes the well-known honeybee, but also an incredible array of wild bee species, butterflies, moths, wasps, flies, beetles, as well as birds, bats, and other animals. Most flowering plants depend on pollinators to reproduce. The natural world, and with it, human civilization, depend fundamentally on these typically diminutive creatures.
Yet, collectively as a society, we have often ignored or misunderstood the importance of pollinators and how our actions impact them. Consequentially, many pollinator species are declining in population with some becoming endangered or extinct. This is due to a number of reasons, including habitat loss, pesticide use, and invasive diseases.
While there is much cause for concern, we have tools at our fingertips to protect and support the buzzing, humming, darting diversity of life that brings each year’s new blooms. One step that we can take is to preserve and create more pollinator habitat within our yards, gardens, farms, and communities.
In Cheshire County, a variety of private landowners are stepping up and saying “yes” to pollinator habitat. One example is Hillside Village, a senior living community located in Keene. Last year, the village’s Resident Trails Committee submitted a proposal to CCCD’s Conservation Opportunity Fund to establish a pollinator garden in a field near the Village’s residential buildings.
Marty Post, retired electronics engineer and member of the trails committee, shared that the idea for a pollinator garden germinated when the Keene Sentinel ran a story about the Conservation Opportunity Fund, which offers private landowners support on a variety of conservation projects, including establishment of pollinator habitat. He and other committee members approached management and residents about the idea, which was quick to gain support.
Marty describes himself as “not particularly a plant person.” He might be selling himself short, though, since he and his wife have a long history of organic gardening that stretches back decades to when they lived in New Jersey and tended a sizeable organic garden and orchard trees. Organic methods were such a novelty back then, Marty noted, that state extension agents were referring farmers to the Post family for guidance. Marty gives most of the gardening credit to his wife. His role was primarily “turning things over in the fall.”
So, while certainly familiar with role pollinators play in the garden, Marty wouldn’t claim to be an expert on pollinator habitat. Luckily, he and others at Hillside Village didn’t need to be experts in order to decide what seeds to buy, how to best prepare the soil, and to how to manage the pollinator garden once it was established.
That’s because Conservation District staff were there to provide technical support throughout the project planning process—the Conservation Opportunity Fund brings not only financial assistance, but also professional consultation services.
As the project was first conceived, pollinator garden establishment would take place through planting plugs, shrubs, and trees. After walking the site with Conservation District staff, however, it became clear that a direct seed approach would be more suitable. Directly sowing seeds would allow the garden’s area to reach a ¼ acre while still remaining within budget. It would also avoid the need to water transplants by pumping water from a nearby brook.
The group is planning to prepare the site this year. They’ve settled on using a low tech and chemical-free approach that will rely on black plastic to smother the existing vegetation. The ground will be covered late winter 2020 through very early spring 2021 so that the site will be ready for sowing later this spring. The plastic will be reclaimed and stored for reuse in the event of a garden expansion.
The seeding mix will include a range of species, including some annuals, which will provide a burst of color the same year the garden is planted. The considerable size of the garden and its location within walking distance of the residential buildings means that it will be visible from most of the homes at Hillside Village—a selling point to many community members. Pollinator habitat not only benefits the pollinators themselves, but also enriches human experience of the surrounding landscape. A win-win.
The pollinator garden will be accessible via walking path, adding interest to the daily stroll of residents. Marty notes how the garden could also one day function as a teaching site for students, serving as a point of connection between the village and the wider community.
With some initiative, teamwork, and assistance from the Conservation Opportunity Fund, the Trails Committee at Hillside Village is well on its way to creating a local pollinator haven and a beautiful accent to the surrounding fields and forest.
Interested in welcoming pollinators onto your property?
Check out the Conservation Opportunity Fund webpage or contact District Manager Amanda Littleton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-756-2988 x4. Proposals for the 2021 funding round are due by March 1st.
Written by: Todd Horner
CCCD Associate Board Member
Planner at Southwest Region Planning Commission