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BEE-HAPPY GARDENS

Pollinator-friendly land helps honeybees survive

June 16, 2009
BY MICHELE RODGERS Special to The Sentinel
UNIVERSITY PARK — Every third bite the average American eats is dependent on honeybee pollination, according to experts in the Penn State Honeybee and Pollinator Research Program, who are working alongside the Penn State Master Gardeners to promote healthy habitats for bees. The Master Gardeners program received a portion of a $150,000 grant given to the University’s Honeybee and Pollinator Research Program in 2008 from ice cream manufacturer, Haagen Dazs to develop an educational pollinator program for communities. The gift will fund research and efforts to battle the phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder, which is decimating honeybee hives around the world. In addition to the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder, honeybees struggle against environmental stresses that can weaken hives, now the Master Gardeners are offering a three-phase program to teach homeowners how to create safe havens for the insects. The Pollinator FriendlyGardening program focuses on creating landscapes that can strengthen and increase native pollinator populations, explains Ginger Pryor, extension associate in horticulture and state Master Gardener coordinator. “Because landscapes have been extremely fragmented due to urbanization, suburbanization and development, we would like to have homeowners and gardeners rethinking their space,” she says. When land is developed and altered from its natural state, the new landscapes usually consist mostly of turf and a few shrubs and trees, which are typically not pollinator friendly, Pryor says. “Without blooming plants to serve as food sources, bees have to fly miles for food and pollen,” she continues. “Hives under that strain probably won’t survive through the year.” She suggests that homeowners consider pollinators when selecting plants for a landscape. “Start thinking about blooming,” Pryor urges. “Instead of going out and picking an evergreen shrub, pick one that blooms.” She also encourages people to choose native trees and shrubs. “Our insects evolved with our native plants, and they rely on each other to survive,” she explains. These principles are not just for flowerbeds. “Maple and oak trees are some of our region’s first bloomers and many of our native shrubs are great nectar feeders,” Pryor says. The three-phrase Pollinator Friendly program began last year with the development of 40 demonstration gardens across the state. Each garden is required to implement eight specific pollinator-friendly plants and must pursue practices such as being pesticide-free, preserving potential pollinator nesting sites and providing an available water source, Pryor says. “Our concern is making sure we have safe environments for our pollinators where they can gather pollen to make honey and enable plants to reproduce.” The first phase for each of the 40 demonstration gardens is the development of educational programming about pollinators for the garden’s community, offering workshops on topics such as how to create habitats, planting herbs with flowers, backyard composting and using pollinator plants in cooking, crafts and gifts. The second phase is a pollinator friendly certification program that will take effect this year. “Homeowners who are implementing pollinator-friendly practices will have the option to have their property certified as pollinator friendly,” Pryor explains. “Similar to wildlife habitat certification program available through the National Wildlife Federation.” The program’s final goal will be to work with garden centers and retailers to establish informative material in stores where shoppers can easily identify pollinator-friendly plant material. Involving the commercial sector can help to engage the community and make it easier for homeowners to implement simple pollinator-friendly practices. There are a lot of small things that homeowners can do to help provide for native pollinators that won’t change their landscape dramatically, Pryor assures. The Pollinator Friendly Gardening program is designed to help communities do their part to help save our bees. For more information about the Pollinator Friendly Gardening program contact Ginger Pryor at gmp4@psu.edu or your local extension office. Also visit Haagen Dazs’ interactive Web site, Helpthehoneybees.com, to learn more about the honeybee, its plight and the company’s stake in the bees.
 
 

 

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