August 17 – 23, 2018 Vol. 20, No. 11


Summertime in the Belgrades

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Importance of Native Pollinators

by Paula Salazar*

Recently the Knox — Lincoln Soil & Water Conservation District hosted a workshop presented by Eric Venturini (Xerces Society Member and Pollinator expert). A group of farmers, gardeners, and pollinator lovers walked around farm land in Damariscotta, catching and IDing different pollinators on the farm, explaining their habitat and important role they play on the farming industry. Now, you are wondering, what are the different type of pollinators in Maine? Pollinators can be insects, like bees, moths, butterflies, beetles, flies, ants, wasps, and the list goes on. Hummingbirds are also pollinators.

The workshop started with participants collecting bees in a plastic tube to be identified later. There are more than 270 species of native bees in Maine. They all are important for the food production and agricultural industry, like Maine's low bush blueberry, fruit trees, and vegetables crops. Many agricultural producers bring honeybees to do the work, but it is costly for the farmers and stressed the honeybees due to transportation.

Why bring bees when you have native bees and other pollinators available? Native bees have several advantages over honeybees as pollinators. Many are active early in the spring, before honeybee colonies reach large size. They pollinate more plants by flying rapidly and pollinating more efficiently and the native bees would thus free up the increasingly scarce, in-demand honey bees for work elsewhere.

The first and most abundant bee found on the farm was the orange-belted bumblebee (Bombus ternarius). They are one of the first bees out of hibernation in early spring, playing a big role on the various early blooming fruit trees. Another important pollinator found in a squash flower was the squash bee, which specialized in gathering nectar and pollen from flowers on the Cucurbit family: squash, zucchinis, cucumber, pumpkins, and melons, among others. The squash bees are more efficient when it comes to pollinating because they make more contact with reproductive structures in the flower, start earlier in the morning and move rapidly from flower to flower without distracting with other plant species.

Workshop participants collect different types of pollinators in the field.

Now, what different management pollinator-friendly practices can you do in order to increase pollinators and their habitat? Hold off mowing the spring's dandelion and extend the fall mowing until the goldenrods and asters are done blooming; late fall blooming is the main wintering food source for bees and migrating monarch butterflies. Farmers can reduce the amount of ground disturbance by doing minimum tillage/strip tillage to preserve the habitat of the ground-nester bees. Additionally, reduce the pesticides applications to increase pollinator's population. Hedgerows, thickets, set-asides, trees and snags are habitat components that provide cover and nest sites for many wildlife species. Lastly, plant a variety of diverse plants throughout the growing season for food source, this includes trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and grasses.

Can you imagine a world without flowers? Pollinators are essential in the plant habitat community and play a big role for the food industry. Everyone can do one small thing in order to conserve them.

*NOTE: This week's guest columnist is a soil conservationist at the Augusta field office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service — Maine, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Conservation Too columns are written by staff at by the Kennebec County Soil and Water Conservation District in Augusta. For more information about the district and its projects, call Dale Finseth at 622-7847, X 3 or visit www.kcswd.org.