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Green Acres Spotlight: Farming for Pollinators

“Green Acres: Saving the Planet One Bite at a Time,” Feb. 21-22 on Jekyll Island, Workshop leaders:  Nancy Adamson, Xerces and NRCS and Keren Giovengo, University of Georgia MAREX

Enhancing diversity on farms supports bees and many other beneficial insects, improving crop production and reducing pest outbreaks. Join Nancy and Keren to learn about common bees, predators, and parasitoids, and ways you can support beneficials on your farm and in home gardens. We will tour UGA’s EcoScapes sustainable landscaping demonstration garden to learn about local pollinator-friendly native plants and explore hands-on sustainable restoration efforts to create good habitats. Regionally-specific pollinator resources and tools will be provided.  We will also briefly highlight collecting native plant seed and propagation to enhance local ecotype use.
Please Note: This workshop will be held at UGA Marine Extension’s classroom at 715 Bay Street, Brunswick, GA  31524 (10.4 miles from JICC). Directions will be available on-line and in registration confirmation packets.

Below, Nancy and Keren answer questions about the enormous issues surrounding the need for and decline of a farmer’s best friend: pollinators.

The decline of pollinators has finally gotten so bad that it’s become newsworthy. Have you seen any signs of actual progress in terms of protecting our pollinators?

 Keren – Absolutely!  Folks in Georgia are continuing to grow in their understanding of how much we depend on pollinators – including bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, wasps, ants, hummingbirds and other animals – and they are embracing the challenge! Pollinators are profoundly important to our well-being and the health of our environment.   The connection of how we treat our local lands and waterways having a direct link on the health of pollinators and, ultimately ourselves.  An increasing number of pollinator-friendly habitats are being protected, enhanced, and/or created throughout the state and people are becoming more aware of choices they can make to protect and promote pollinators.   Farmers, large landowners, gardeners, the public, communities, organizations, businesses and institutions are choosing to implement sustainable farming and landscaping practices that support pollinators.

Nancy – Public awareness of the importance of pollinators is really high now, and there are many simple things people can do to help pollinators.  In a recent TED Talk, Marla Spivak, one of the foremost bee researchers in the country, highlights how planting flowers that bloom through the season and reducing pesticide use helps pollinators maintain a healthy diet that supports their natural immune systems (http://on.ted.com/MarlaSpivak). Because insects are so small, even pots of flowers on a patio can make a difference.  So, farmers and other landowners can have major impacts simply by protecting or planting habitat, and reducing pesticide use.  The pollinator decline has also prompted a movement to reduce pesticide use in municipalities, where “cosmetic” or “ornamental” use of pesticides does not support agriculture (www.beecityusa.org) .  Changing how we regulate pesticides will take a lot of public support and can have long term beneficial impacts on our food systems, our ecosystems, and our health.  Xerces Society has many free publications on pesticides and conservation biological control, along with pollinators and other insects at our Pollinator Resource Center and on our Conservation Biological Control pages at www.xerces.org.

How is Georgia different or unique when it comes to pollinators or the decline of pollinators?

Nancy & Keren – Georgia is doing wonderful work to support pollinators.  The University of Georgia Marine Extension Service Ecoscapes Program will be highlighted during the pollinator course.  It has numerous tools to assist Georgians in becoming more pollinator-friendly.  Visit the newly developing EcoScapes website http://marex.uga.edu/ecoscapes/ or our current CoastScapes website http://www.coastscapes.org for information on pollinator plants and numerous pollinator-friendly sustainable landscaping guidance documents.  In addition, check out the native plant search engine http://www.bugwood.org/coastscapes/  (or via the websites above) where you can select the correct pollinator native plants for your site conditions.  The program is currently going through a transition from CoastScapes, (which represents the upper and lower coastal plain of Georgia) to EcoScapes, which will provide a more comprehensive statewide application.  Also, if you are in the Brunswick area, come and visit our EcoScapes Sustainable Native Plant Demonstration Garden that contains 126 plants native to the lower coastal plain.  Check out our pollinator garden as well as other areas that provide pollinator-friendly habitat and attend our annual National Pollinator Week event.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Georgia houses a regional Plant Materials Center that conducts research on plants for restoration and helped compile a longleaf pine habitat restoration guide, one of the most important and diverse ecosystems in the region http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detailfull/national/programs/initiatives/?cid=nrcsdev11_023913. NRCS protects watersheds by reducing soil erosion and improving water infiltration www.ga.nrcs.usda.gov, while at the same time supporting habitat restoration such as longleaf pine.

Because blueberry production is so important in Georgia, a specialist bee, the southeastern blueberry bee, is especially important in Georgia. Though they specialize on blueberry pollen, they’ll collect nectar from other spring blooming trees like redbud.  You can support them and other pollinators by planting blueberries, redbuds, and other plants that bloom in spring through fall (and in winter, too, in the warmer parts of the state).

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One of the PowerPoint slides from the Pollinator Conservation Planning Short Course modules highlighting common native bees, in this case the southeastern blueberry bee, Habropoda laboriosa, a specialist pollinator of blueberries. (Slide: Nancy Lee Adamson)

 

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A native solitary bee that specializes on blueberries, but collects nectar from other plants, the southeastern blueberry bee, Habropoda laboriosa, on eastern redbud, Cercis canadensis. (Photo: Nancy Lee Adamson)

In addition, schools in Georgia are helping children connect with people and wildlife far across state borders with Monarchs Across Georgia (http://www.eealliance.org/mag).

What’s your favorite pollinator?

Nancy – That is a tough question!  I love the brilliantly colored metallic green bees for their luminescence, but I always feel lucky if I can capture a photo of one of the orchard bees that are amazingly fast as they move through flowers, and some of the bumble bees that I only see rarely, like Bombus pensylvanicus  in the photo visiting wild bergamot.  But I also love the mining bees that are only active for a few weeks in spring and pollinate peaches, as in the photo below.  And I never tire of watching the specialist squash bees that pollinate squash and other cucurbits like cantaloupe, pumpkin, cucumbers, and watermelon. (photo).  Watch video clips of some of my favorite pollinators on crops http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_etyEdu9fQ  or on native plants http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nisyGsfoyVk.

Keren – I love the incredible diversity of all pollinators!  However, native bees are my favorite.  They are affectionately referred to as the “800 pound gorillas” of the pollinator world and are incredibly important to our natural ecosystems and agriculture, making the need to protect and promote these vital pollinators even more compelling.   I also love the scarab beetles, which evolved before the bees, and are responsible for pollinating our lovely, yet primitive native magnolias.  On a global scale, I love to share the story of the tiny midge (Forcipomyia ssp.) that is responsible for pollinating the cacao flower.  This tiny fly, which is a cousin to our local midge fly (sand gnat or no-see-um), is no bigger than the head of a pin but is responsible for the world’s supply of chocolate!  I love sharing this pollinator story with folks because it helps them understand the importance of a diverse array of insects (yes, a midge fly!) and how much we depend on them.

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 One of our native bumble bees, Bombus pensylvanicus, collecting nectar with its long tongue from the long narrow tubular flowers of wild bergamot, Monarda fistulosa. Notice how the flower parts extend over her back as she sips, depositing and collecting pollen gently and effectively. (Photo: Nancy Lee Adamson)

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Mining or digger bees in the genus Andrena are vital for spring blooming crops. Her dark coloration helps her warm up in the cool mornings of spring. Not all spring days are quite as beautiful as this one filled with peach blossoms. (Photo: Nancy Lee Adamson)

 

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Squash bees, Peponapis pruinosa, are specialist pollinators of cucurbits like this squash. About the size of honey bees, you will recognize them by their behavior if you take the time to look for them.  The males have white patches on their noses and are usually either darting quickly about between plants or hanging out on the flowers, waiting for females, while the females will be collecting nectar and pollen to provision their nests, which they do as single moms. Both males and females are hairy and effective pollinators, but the males have no nest, so you might find them sleeping in the squash flowers, which close up by early afternoon. (Photo: Nancy Lee Adamson)

What can the average consumer do to help pollinators?

Keren –  Some of these pollinator-friendly practices include:  (a) identify and protect bee forage already in place, (b) plant regionally-appropriate diverse native plants (including shrubs and trees) that produce abundant flowers throughout the long growing seasons in Georgia (c) eliminate chemical use to ensure pollinator survival; (d) make slight adjustments in landscaping maintenance in order to provide  pollinator-friendly nesting habitat ; (e)  where possible, choose to contact the local mosquito control department and request that spraying does not occur on their farm, residence, or business; (f) Go organic!  Grow and/or buy organic food and eliminate chemical use from your home, lawn, farm and business.

Nancy- Planting native plants, cover crops that flower (like buckwheat), reducing pesticide use, and spreading the word by putting up signs showing you have “Pollinator Habitat” can make a huge difference.  Even one small pot of flowers on a patio can support a great number of bees and other wildlife.  Before buying plants, ask your nursery if the plants are free of systemic pesticides that could harm bees. Allow “messy” areas in your yard or farm, such as brush piles of old wood or unmown bunch grasses—these make great nesting areas. Signage saying it is “Pollinator Habitat” helps others know that what may appear as untended areas are intentional and the signs provide a focal point for talking about supporting pollinators and other beneficial insects. If you are a farmer, let your customers know you care about pollinators and other beneficial insects. If you are a consumer, buy vegetables and other produce from farmers using sustainable practices or reducing pesticide use.

Pollinator

Support pollinator conservation by posting signs. You can make your own sign, too, and laminate it!

How does the NRCS help when it comes to pollinators?

Nancy – The NRCS provides technical assistance and financial assistance to farmers implementing conservation practices on their farms. There are a huge number of conservation practices that support pollinators such as field borders, conservation cover, invasive weed control, listed in Using Farm Bill Programs for Pollinator Conservation http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/using-farmbill-programs-for-pollinator-conservation.pdf.  A webinar highlights many of these at http://www.conservationwebinars.net/webinars/conserving-pollinators-while-addressing-other-resource-concerns/ .  NRCS also supports farmers transitioning to organic and pollinator habitat is a great way to diversify organic farms, which are required to increase biodiversity as part of organic certification.  NRCS’ work in Georgia is vital in restoration of longleaf pine, highlighted above in question 2. For more information about NRCS programs in Georgia, visit www.ga.nrcs.usda.gov.

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