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Why Build a Pollinator Garden?

Posted by: karosemond | January 27, 2017 | No Comment |

Pollinator gardens are a great way to add interest and diversity to your home and the city landscape. These gardens are designed to attract bees, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, bats, and even hummingbirds. But why would you want these critters in your backyard? These animals perform the crucial ecosystem service of pollination–making it possible for our food and flowers to grow! However, many bees and butterflies are habitat-specific, and the loss of habitat that provides sites for overwintering, foraging for pollen and nectar, or nesting can be detrimental to these species. Creating a pollinator garden for your home can be a relatively simple task, requiring low maintenance and upkeep, and can have a positive impact on these important critters.

Bees and other insect pollinators are beset by the same environmental challenges as most species, including habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation; non-native species and diseases; pollution, including pesticides; and climate change. Much pollinator habitat has been lost to agriculture, resource extraction, and urban and suburban development.

Restoring habitat for pollinators includes choosing to grow the native plants on which local populations of bees and butterflies depend. For example, the Environmental cooperative has collected seeds from the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve and will be using them in pollinator gardens on Vassar’s campus and in the City of Poughkeepsie. Native plants are preferred for a pollinator garden over non-natives because they are often already adapted to the local environment, and have a better chance of being successful for that area. This is why it is so important to be selective in choosing the type of plants for your garden! ‘Naturalized’ areas (like your garden) provide valuable benefits, especially when planted in urban settings. Urban spaces, like your own backyard, can increase the connectivity of habitat for pollinators. This means that they have somewhere to stop and refuel as they travel through urban spaces on their way to larger sites of refuge.

This is what a pollinator garden could look like. How beautiful!

Now you know what a pollinator garden is, and why they are important in urban spaces. What next? After planting your pollinator garden, consider joining fun ‘citizen science’ efforts such as bumblebee watch. Reporting sightings of bumblebees in your garden is a great activity for families. Take a photo of the bees and other pollinators visiting your plants, then log them into a national database! These databases are vital for tracking instances of disease across certain areas and monitoring the success of efforts like pollinator gardens for a regional locality–like Dutchess County.

In Poughkeepsie, restoring habitat for pollinators would require growing native plants on which local populations of bees and butterflies depend. Seeds from pollinator-friendly plants can be saved from a number of places. A general guideline is to make sure your seed harvest does not exceed more than ⅓ of the plant’s total viable seed. At the Environmental Cooperative, we use seed collected from the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve that can be used throughout Poughkeepsie to benefit pollinators. Be sure to get permission from landowners before collecting seed on private property!

A bee visits a New England Aster plant in College Hill Park

under: Local Conservation

In Case You Missed It…

Posted by: karosemond | December 14, 2016 Comments Off on In Case You Missed It… |

It’s been a busy Fall season here at the Environmental Cooperative. While August feels like a distant dream as we prepare for winter and the temperature drops, it is nice to have the opportunity to reflect on the hectic pace of the past few months. If you haven’t been out to visit the barn on the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve, be sure to stop by! The preserve has a number of excellent walking trails, perfect for exploring even in cold weather, and what better way to warm up afterwards than with a short tour of the renovated dairy barn?

Here are some highlights of what we’ve been up to this Fall:

Urban Wilderness Festival
This year’s Urban Wilderness Festival was held in the Vassar Barns and courtyard next to the barns. Guided walks to explore the preserve also left from the courtyard–we had a walk to the Beaver Dam and separate nature walk for children and parents. Inside the barns, over twenty local organizations had tables set up for attendees to learn about their efforts.

Walks on the Preserve
September activities began with a walk to the Beaver Dam We have had several plant identification walks and activities, where attendees followed the phenology trail and were able to learn about plants native to the preserve, and a group of Girl Scouts were even able to receive a ‘Tree Identification’ badge! Janet Gray led workshops on bird identification, focusing on birds commonly spotted at the preserve. We had a few general tours of the preserve and full moon walks, as well as numerous walks to the Beaver Dam.

Local Parks and Pollinator Gardens
Together with the Eco-leader program through the Office of Sustainability at Vassar College, the Environmental Cooperative brought student volunteers to help clear out weeds and dead annuals from a native flower garden at College Hill park. Along with the Cornell Cooperative Dutchess County extension’s No Child Left Inside program, we continued weeding in the pollinator garden at College Hill. There was a cleanup of the Malcolm X Park located on Mansion Street in Poughkeepsie, and we worked to clean a section of the Fall kill near the park. We also participated in several cleanups of the Waryas Skatepark with the group ‘Save the Poughkeepsie Skatepark.’

Workshops, Talks, and Presentations
Russ Cohen, Vassar alumnus and expert forager, hosted a workshop at the Vassar Barns. His talk featured a 90-minute slide show showing two-dozen species of native edible wild plants suitable for adding to the landscape, or nibbling on as you encounter them in other locales. Russ provided samples of foraged foods like chestnuts and wild grape sorbet. Dr. Glenn Proudfoot spoke about his work with Northern Saw-whet Owls, covering topics such as bird banding, blood parasites and the migration patterns of owls. He brought a live owl for everyone to see, and took attendees on a walk on the VFEP to attempt to spot owls!

Eco-leader Projects
There have been several volunteer events with Vassar Sustainability’s Eco-leaders, including a removal of invasive vine species from the back of the Rugby Field at the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve, and seed collecting! Through the vine removal effort, we were able to target invasive vine species such as oriental bittersweet, porcelain berry, and wild grape. The NCLI group came out the Vassar Barns and joined us for seed collection on the Preserve, where we collected seed from native pollinator-friendly species such as Bergamot, Joe-Pye weed, and milkweed. We walked along the farm road to the beaver dam and saw exciting evidence of beaver impact in the area–mostly gnawed trees.

We are looking forward to a full Spring season! Check out our website and facebook page to stay in the loop about our activities and events.

under: Events