Runamuk Acres is now officially certified as pollinator friendly!
A passion for bugs
I couldn’t say why exactly I became so passionate about bees and pollinators–when I was younger I was like many other folks with an aversion to bugs-but I married an insect-lover who made me see that insects are beautiful in their own way. That’s right, Keith is an amateur entomologist, with a passion for bugs that has inspired my own enthusiasm for pollinators.
Over the last decade, as I got deeper and deeper into gardening and sustainable living, I came to realize that insects were beneficial for my gardens, and that eventually spurred an inclination toward having a hive of bees to aid in the pollination of my crops. I happened to mention this inclination in passing to a friend of the family, artist and veteran beekeeper, Lynne Harwood, and she responded by promptly gifting me a hive set up. The following spring I installed my first colony into that hive, and was quickly consumed with bee-fever.
I’m sure Keith never saw it coming, and he longs fervently for the day when my obsession (as he puts it–personally, I prefer to call it “passion“) wanes, but as I embark upon my third year keeping bees, my fever has yet to break.
My passion for bees spurred me to action more than a year ago, to establish the Somerset Beekeepers, a local chapter of the Maine State Beekeepers Association, and somehow found myself elected President of the group. In the year I have served this post, I have set about to increase awareness in the communities of Somerset County of the need for pollinators. I have been at the Skowhegan Farmer’s Market hosting a booth in the name of the Somerset Beekeepers; I have spoken to various groups, and taught with local 4-H, published articles for the county’s Master Gardener Newsletter, and this year I am teaching the area’s first Bee-School at the Cooperative Extension.
Managing pollinator habitat
We have managed this one-acre corner parcel in rural Anson, Maine, where we live, keeping pollinators and wildlife in mind. These management practices not only benefit our gardens and family food-supply, but also promote the health of our entire neighborhood. Pollinators are considered a keystone organism, which not only pollinate local flowering plants–providing us with the continuing diversity of fauna and food–but also support a crucial link in the food-web, feeding a wide assortment of animals, from birds to skunks and raccoons, to bears. Supporting pollinators ensures the health of our local ecology, which supports the health of our neighbors.
We use the management practices laid out by the Xerces Society in their book “Attracting Native Pollinators”, but on a small scale.
1. Reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides & herbicides.
Harsh chemicals work against pollinators in two ways. Pesticides kill them directly: when they go to feed on the nectar of a plant and either ingest the poison or walk on leaves dusted with poison. The insects may die in a relatively short time frame, or–in the case of social insects like bees, they may return to their hive with contaminated nectar and spread the contamination throughout the hive. Herbicides indirectly kill pollinators through the destruction and reduction of valuable food sources and nesting habitat.
Even the use of pesticides deemed “organic” can harm pollinators. Some organic-approved products are just as lethal as conventional insecticides. Many common insecticides in organic farming are broad-spectrum killers, destroying pest-insects along with the beneficial species.
At Runamuk, we utilize a number of biological controls to avoid the use of pesticides altogether, including keeping strong, healthy plants, companion planting, crop-rotation, and the incorporation of beneficial predatory insects. Only when a pre-established pest abundance threshold is breached do we consider using any sort of organic pesticide, and then we do so in ways that minimize the harm to pollinators.
2. Encourage natural landscapes.
One of the best ways to provide habitat for native species of pollinators is simply to leave it alone. On our acre of land we intentionally leave a portion of the property untended, un-mown, and generally ignored. There wildflowers grow in abundance, everything from violets and buttercups, to Queen Anne’s Lace, Goldenrod, and Purple Asters. This is a marvelous habitat where insects drone throughout the summer, birds congregate, and the squirrels chatter.
We also tolerate a number of weeds in and about the gardens, as a number of “weeds” are wildflowers that provide a valuable nectar source to native pollinators, or home for predatory insects that will dine on those unwanted dinner guests among the crops.
3. Provide nectar sources.
By planting a diversity of crops and flowers we offer an abundance of nectar sources for pollinators who visit our yard. Ensuring that there will be a succession of blooms is important as well, since pollinators need to eat throughout the entire foraging season.
Sometimes, just waiting to mow until after a big bloom can be an important benefit to local pollinators–for example the dandelion bloom in the spring is the first big pollen source for insects, which is why we try to wait until after this bloom to mow our lawns.
4. Provide nesting sites.
By leaving a section of our yard untouched we are supporting habitat for native species like bumble bees, which make their nests in the abandoned mole burrows, or the dense undergrowth of grasses and wildflowers. Leaving dead branches, so long as they pose no danger to humans passing beneath them, can provide habitat for any number of insects who burrow into the dead wood to make nests for laying eggs and rearing young.
Putting up man-made bee-nests also promotes pollinator nesting habitat.
Recently we were granted certification as a bee-friendly farm by the Partners for Sustainable Pollination, a non-profit organization based in California. We’re one of only two certified farms in the state of Maine, and I am thrilled. My hope is that this certification lends credence to my work in the community promoting the benefits of pollinators, and hopefully continues to increase awareness as well.
This spring Keith and I will be taking the Pollinator Conservation Short Course offered by the Xerces Society, which is taking place in Unity at the MOFGA facilities. We both are looking forward to learning more about what we can do in our little corner of the world to help these keystone organisms.