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Romancing the Pollinators

July 27, 2010

By Maggie Lee

Originally published in the Summer 2010 issue of the Biodynamics magazine.

Echinacea with Bee and Butterfly

Last year in early November, with warm weather still with us, I sat in the forest along the Big Tesuque listening to its warbling stream, its edges softened with tussocks of autumned grasses. A wiry spider slid across a nearby granite boulder etched with patches of sparkling mica. Above, spires of Douglas fir pierced through honey sheened, gray-green trunks of swaying aspens. Long arches of these fallen and weathered trees framed the bare-branched understory of tea-leaved willow, currant, and rock spirea. Dangling seed heads of amber-mauve hued grasses, ruby berried kinnikinnick, and icy blue pussytoes, wove together this forest enclave. With pen and paper in hand, I noticed shadows from the low branches of the evergreen fir moving gently across the white page. A refreshing comfort seeped through me as I reflected on this constellation of visual cohesiveness and how it reveals the deep ecology apparent in this biologically rich environment, one rich in relationships as well as in species. The beauty in the looking and the beauty in the seen connect.

The more we experience a variety of wild places—from alpine tundra, forest, stream, steppe, chaparral, coastal plains—their lagoons and estuaries, and swim in ocean reefs, the more familiar we become in recognizing this deep ecology all around us in Nature. Inspired, we may begin to emulate and practice the spontaneous sense of materials in nature throughout our own environments.

A garden or habitat rich in mutually beneficial species cultivates a diversity that is the connective tissue linking nectar and pollen-producing plants with nectar and pollen-collecting animals. This supports a vital ecological process, for through the transfer of pollen a flowering plant is fertilized, allowing reproduction and development of fruit and seed. Co-evolution has allowed for floral adaptation, producing shapes, colors, fragrances, and nectars designed to attract just the right pollinator. The North American Pollinator Protection Campaign’s (NAPPC) “Primer on Pollination and Pollinators” tells us:

Over 200,000 species of animals act as pollinators, many distributing pollen in different ways. Vertebrates, birds or bats carry pollen in their feathers or hair. Invertebrates, bees, wasps, butterflies and moths lack hair, rather have bristles on their legs, head or other body parts. Honeybees have tiny baskets (corbicular) on their hind legs for carrying pollen back to the hive. When butterflies use their long proboscis or hummingbirds use their long beaks and brush-like tongues to sip nectar from tubular flowers, they get peppered with pollen on their heads or nectar gathering appendages.

Four thousand species of bees are native to North America and pollinate the greatest diversity of plants. Honeybees were introduced around 1600 by European settlers in Jamestown, Virginia. Most rural households and many in towns kept bees as a source of sweetener. With as many as 50,000 leaving the hive at once, they search for nectar stored in the blossoms, its sugar their primary source of energy and gather pollen which provides proteins and fats. It is the nectar enriched with enzymes and ferments that is actively concentrated in the hive; that becomes the honey.

Butterflies on Sedum

Late last summer, Kate Whealen, facilitator for the Sangre de Cristos Beekeepers, visited my garden in South Capitol in Santa Fe. Standing by a small meadow listening to the soft humming, we were surprised by the sheer numbers of honey and native bees enjoying the billowy blossoms. Amazed, Kate proclaimed they were “the likes of which I’ve never before seen in Santa Fe.”

After a few autumn frosts, pull away mulch from the plants and turn in compost. The autumn is the optimum time for this practice, supporting the root growth activity of fall with the soil-forming process of winter, so we apply biodynamic compost and amendments then. Collect colorful leaves from fruit trees, ash, linden, and maple and use for mulch (they can be used above or below pecan shells, or whatever other material is used), allowing the garden to go to sleep beautifully. In spring, the remaining leaves can either be crumbled and left or removed. I use the biodynamic sprays #500 and #501 that have been rhythmically stirred and, into the summer, I stir a mixture of milk, honey, and water to bring the beneficial insects. These practices offer energies and matter essential to invigorating, nourishing, and supporting balanced life force for the soil, plants, and thus pollinators.

As grasslands, fields, and forests disappear, so do their pollinators. Let’s help balance this loss of habitat by practicing restorative ecology establishing pollinator-friendly gardens, a protective refuge where pollinators may live by their intrinsic nature. We can also celebrate during the third week in June each year, with the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign. They sponsor events to raise awareness of the importance of pollinators in our daily lives.

The bees pollinate the clover and alfalfa, which the dairy cows eat, producing the milk and cheese we enjoy. In the realm of Nature, no process is closer to the heart of Life than the pollinator partnership.


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Maggie Lee is proprietor of Terra Flora, a garden design-build landscape firm in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Whatever the style in romancing the regional, our essential aim is creating a visual cohesiveness—a setting at ease with its surroundings. By thoughtful design, thorough cultivation, and a resilient plant palette, we marry inspiration with sustainability. For more information and additional published articles, visit the Terra Flora website at gardengaia.com.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Siouxsie permalink
    July 27, 2010 6:42 pm

    I am going to try the milk, honey and water mixture.

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