Pollinator Forage Development
Our project was to turn our four-acre farm into a pollinator forage species demonstration site and to disseminate information about growing a wide variety of annuals and perennials to support pollinator habitat. Over the four-year period of the grant funding, we planted a large number of trees, shrubs, cover crops and annuals and studied their use and effects on pollinators, with an emphasis on honeybees. We hosted farm tours, classes and also published a book and dvd on Top-Bar Beekeeping with Chelsea Green Publishing. In the book and on the dvd, there are sections that detail planting for bees. Our farm has become a haven for not just honeybees but pollinators of all kinds as a result of our efforts and the support we received from Western SARE.
Our goal was to plant a wide diversity of blooming species to provide both nectar and pollen throughout the growing season in order to support as many different pollinators as possible. We also wanted to see how many honeybee hives we could support on site and demonstrate to other beekeepers that it is possible to support their honey flows via farm planting. We planted a lot of experimental varieties, keeping in mind that our altitude and unique climate might not host a lot of the species that are usually considered beneficials. Fortunately, we had a lot of success due to our research of each species and its cold hardiness and adaptability to our conditions. The first two years involved a lot of intensive work with planting, irrigating and mulching. In the third year, we were able to enjoy a lot of blooms, as did the many visitors to the farm. We also completed a book and dvd by the end of the second year and saw a lot of success with the information reaching a wide public. Many conferences were attended, and listeners were very attentive to the idea of planting for bees, especially with the knowledge of the disappearing habitat and the effects of colony collapse disorder on honeybee populations. Our final goal was to create a page on our website about pollinator plants, which we have done. Our ongoing efforts will be to continue to plant cover crops and have educational events, with the hopes that more and more people will support pollinators and honeybees with natural habitat plantings.
In 2011, the first year that we received grant funding, we purchased over 40 trees, a diverse selection of blooming shrubs and cover crop seed in order to begin developing our farm for pollinator forage species. We chose a wide array of species, some of which we knew would be effective forage plants, and others that were experimental. 2011 was a year of much manual labor; establishing the plantings, making sure everything had water and hoping for the best. The spring of 2012 came after a fairly dry and cold winter, and we were very happy to see that almost all of the plantings had survived. We have held classes and farm tours on our site in both 2011, 2012 and 2013 with great success. Students and visitors routinely carry notebooks and jot down the many species of plants they see blooming on the land. We have also dispersed flyers listing plants for pollinators in all of our classes (see enclosed copy). Furthermore, we published a book and instructional DVD in August 2012, both of which include sections on planting for pollinators. We submitted a copy of both the book and DVD with our 2013 report. Since then, we have sold thousands of copies of our book and DVD and Les has become an international teacher, spreading the word about organic methods for sustaining honeybees.
Remaining Work: We continue to plant more annual forage species each year in the form of cover crops. We have recently updated our website with a page detailing plant species for pollinators, with pictures of each of the recommended species. Our site is visited often, so many people are receiving the information. We will continue to disseminate information on the plants that show the greatest success as forage in our ongoing classes and farm tours.
Farm Tours and Classes in 2013: We had many visitors to our farm as a part of our ongoing educational effort in the past year. Herbs Etc…, a national distributor of herbal products that we grow medicinal herbs for, brought their staff and some of their retailers to the farm. We walked them throughout the property, highlighting important plants and speaking about honeybees and their needs and preferences. We also talked about the importance of diversity for supporting pollinator species and for creating a healthier ecosystem. A lot of discussion was had about biodynamic planting methods and growing herbs with strong medicinal traits.
The photos above are from left to right – Motherwort, Monarda and Mallow.
Established Plantings: By the summer of 2013, it was clear which of our initial plantings were successful and which ones were not.The wide selection of willows have been very strong, as our site has a lot of water. Willows provide an early pollen source for honeybees and so they are an important contributor to our farm plan. The Alsike and Sweet Clovers that we planted were very successful and were a hum of activity throughout the summer. The perennial herbs, such as Motherwort, Peppermint, St. John’s Wort, Monarda and Comfrey, were all an ongoing source of support for the pollinators that frequent the farm. We had a late freeze, so many of the fruit trees lost their blossoms, but we are hoping to see blooms this season and an early flush of nectar from the fruit trees. We planted a large number of blooming maple trees, and they seem to be doing quite well. They provide an early nectar source, as well as beautiful fall color on the farm.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
There is a great deal of interest from the farmer/grower community, as well as in the general public, in knowing how to contribute to the health and success of pollinator species. The media describing the threats to pollinators has been strong in the last few years, mobilizing a large force of people who want to help. The information we are developing with our project has already affected thousands of people (through our book, DVD and website), and we are confidant that we are having a positive impact on awareness and education about how to improve pollinator habitats through our work. We will continue to plant annual cover crops on our farm and hope to see more and more farms in the area adopt our practices. Les and I continue to lecture at organic conferences, honeybee conferences and at other venues about the importance of supporting our pollinator populations. I (Heather Harrell) am currently working on another book about building soil, in which I plan to include a detailed chapter on cover crops and how they not only build soil but also contribute to pollinator health. We have been incredibly grateful for the support that Western SARE has given us in making our dreams a reality. Our farm has become a wonderful example of what is possible when there is a focused intention to create a blossoming landscape for honeybees and other pollinators. Undoubtedly it will serve as an inspiration for many people in the years to come.
County Project Manager/ Agricultural Agent
Bernallillo County Extension Service
1510 Menaul NW
Albuquerque, NM 87107
Office Phone: 5052431386