New pollinator conservation planning services!

bee-habitat-planning

Over the last decade my personal mission in life has slowly evolved into one that is two-fold. One the one hand I’m dedicated to sustainability and all that word encompasses: sustainable energies and industries, sustainable living, sustainable communities─and especially sustainable food systems. On the other hand, and perhaps just a little overzealously─is the part of me which is committed to pollinator conservation.

pollinator-conservation-planningIt’s a commitment to wildlife and nature in general, that drives me. That’s the basis of my principles and the force behind my stubborn pursuit of a sustainable life. I have chosen to devote my life to nature, through stewardship as a farmer and wildlife advocate. By focusing my efforts on a keystone species like pollinators I can do good that benefits the entire ecosystem. And so my life’s other mission is to help bees and other beneficial insects.

That’s right. BUGS.

I like to laugh at myself now, because when I was 14 years old I never would have imagined I’d grow up to be the person I am today.

And yet I’m really excited about this new project. I want to work with home-owners, property managers, and farmers who want to create more bee-friendly habitats wherever they are located.

Enter the Pollinator and Beneficial Insect Conservation Plan.

What is it?

These are site-specific blueprints that identify habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects in your backyard, on your farm, on existing conservation land or other property, and offers recommendations to increase their abundance. I want to come to your property to assess existing habitat and then design a plan tailored to meet your particular goals.

What are the benefits?

bee-habitat-planningBy implementing my recommendations you can increase the available forage and nesting habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects. Creating habitat for bees creates habitat for other wildlife, and by protecting the flora and fauna in your area you can even help combat climate change.

Farmers and gardeners will see improvement in the pollination of their crops, which results in increased yields. Promoting the abundance of beneficial insects also contributes to natural pest suppression and so reduces the need for pesticide applications.

To learn more about the benefits of a Pollinator & Beneficial Insect Conservation Plan check out our new consulting page which lists all the details regarding this service.

Types of Projects

  • Private land owners: home-owners and farms
  • Residential and resort communities
  • Community centers and faith-based organizations
  • Municipalities
  • Historic farms and gardens
  • Schools, camps, and other educational programs
  • Children’s hospitals, senior centers and other health-based institutions
  • Restaurants, culinary centers and spas

I’m ready!

No matter how large or small the plot you have to work with, there’s something we can all do to help bees, pollinators, and other beneficial insects. I’m ready to help you create your bee-friendly space.

Check out the consultations page for all of the details related to this new service from Runamuk, and if you’re interested drop me a line. If you know anyone who might be interested, please share our contact info with them and help me to help bees!

Climate change & Maine bees at MSBA

unloading the tractor at runamuk

Former president of the Maine State Beekeepers’ Association and retired state of Maine acquatic biologist, Matt Scott gave a presentation at this year’s annual conference entitled: “Climate Change and Habitat Fragmentation to Honey Bees in Maine”. Scott acknowledged that climate change is something of a controversial topic, but admits that at his age he is less constrained by society’s rules. Personally, I think it’s good to talk about climate change and the effect it is having or will yet have on the Earth and all who live here; after all, once upon a time the concept that the Earth could be round was also a controversial topic.

What is global warming?

Scott began by defining global warming, which is “the warming of the Earth from carbon dioxide and other air pollution collecting in our atmosphere, trapping the sun’s heat and causing the increasing the temperatures of our planet.”

Increasing temperatures & carbon dioxide levels

climate change in maine at msbaAccording to Scott, global temperatures gradually increased between 1950 and 2010, and carbon dioxide levels increased between 1960 and 1995 from 315 ppm (parts per million) to 365 ppm. Scientists conducting on-going temperature analysis at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies state that since 1880 the average global temperature on Earth has increased by about .8 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit). And two-thirds of that warming has occurred since 1975 at a rate of roughly .15-.20 degrees Celsius per decade.

When scientists first began looking at the warming trend, they could only look back to about 1880 when we first had the tools to analyze and record the data. But since the 1950s teams have been venturing to Greenland and the Antarctic to take ice core samples, which allows for continuous reconstructions of past climate—800,000 years or more.

The high rates of snow accumulation in these regions provide an excellent time resolution and bubbles in the ice core preserve actual samples of the world’s atmosphere. Scientists can then analyze the preserved samples to learn more about glacial-interglacial cycles, changing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, and climate stability over the last 10,000 years. Looking at past concentrations of greenhouse gasses in the layers of the ice cores, scientists can calculate how modern amounts of carbon dioxide and methane correlate to those of the past and compare past concentrations of greenhouse gasses to temperatures.

Rising seas

Scott went on to site the evidence for rapid climate change, pointing out the rising sea levels—17 centimeters in the last century, warming oceans, and shrinking ice sheets and decreased snow cover among the many indicators for global warming.

“There has been significant melting of ice and snow in Greenland,” Scott stated. And Nasa’s site for Global Climate Change confirms that not only Greenland’s, but also the Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. In fact, Nasa’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment indicate that Greenland lost 36-60 cubic miles of ice per year between 2002 and 2006, while Antacrtica lost approximately 36 cubic miles of ice between 2002 and 2005.

Episodic events

matt scott auatic biologist
Matt Scott is a 40-year beekeeping veteran, an inspiration to beekeepers across the state.

Some folks look at individual events such as a nor’easter that drops 14 inches of snow in December, or the recent arctic vortex that plunged Maine into frigid temperatures and scoff at the notion of global warming and climate change. However Matt Scott says that these extreme weather events—referred to by the scientific community as “episodic climactic events” are proof of the changes that our planet is facing.

Further online research lead me to the National Climatic Data Center for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which lists in detail these episodic weather events from around the world—all the way back to 1991. Events like the ice storms of 1998 that caused so much damage across eastern North America, the historic U.S. heatwave experienced during 2012, increased incidence of wildfires in the western part of the country, and of course—the polar vortex during the 2013-2014 winter, just to name a few.

Incidentally scientists have identified that interactions with the decline of Arctic sea ice, reduced snow cover, evapotraspiration patterns, NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation) anomalies, along with various weather anomalies are all linked to the polar vortex and the configuration of the jet stream.

Stronger storms

climate change lends to episodic events
We experienced an episodic event here in the central Maine area this summer. A giant thunderstorm delivered a torrential downpour that wiped out roads, and as the storm moved east is picked up speed and actually became a minor tornado.

Scott talked about how climate change may not be creating hurricanes, but they are making them stronger—turning a category 3 hurricane into a much stronger category 4 or 5. And according to Nova via pbs.org—hurricanes are essentially giant heat engines transferring latent heat energy from the ocean to the atmosphere and transforming some of it into mechanical energy in the process. The result is those hurricane force winds and giant waves that are associated with these storms.

So if you pump more heat into such a storm system, warming the atmosphere and the ocean—it makes sense that the venting will get stronger as well.

Climate change in Maine

Maine is getting warmer and wetter than it has been in the past. Matt Scott records weather data from his home in Belgrade, and said that he used to see maybe 4-5 days of above 90-degree weather there, but this year they saw more than 11 days of above average temperatures. NASA’s site for Global Climate Change states that since 1950 the number of record high temperature event in the U.S. is increasing, while the number of record low temperature events have been decreasing. These rising temperatures increase the risk of drought, and could result in vegetation die-offs and drier soil conditions can also contribute to more sever heat waves.

climate change in maine
This is the same major storm that swept through the area in July.

At the same time we’ve witnessed an increasing number of intense rainfall events—such as the massive storm that swept through central Maine this summer, even producing a tornado over in Saint Albans. Associated with the risk of drought and drying is the projected increase in intense precipitation—which leads to flooding, like those witnessed out west. It seems counter-intuitive, but because the precipitation is concentrated into more intense events with longer dry periods between, the parched Earth cannot as readily absorb the rainfall, which leads to the flooding.

All of these factors will inevitably have some kind of impact on Maine’s future climate. Warming temperatures will likely alter the composition of tree species that make up Maine’s forests, because we are in a transition zone between the eastern temperate forest to the south and the boreal forests to the north. Any climate induced changes to our forests are likely to occur quicker and be more pronounced here in Maine than they would be in other places.

How climate change affects Maine bees

how climate change affects maine's native bees
The blossoms on blueberry bushes have a shape that honeybees cannot effectively pollinate–so a healthy population of native species will ensure adequate pollination of your farm’s blueberry bushes.

We may also see the migration of animal species moving farther north—animals such as the moose and black-capped chickadee who prefer cooler climates. At the same time warming temperatures promote the spread of invasive exotic plants that choke out our native species. The availability of native plants is directly linked to the population of insects—including our native pollinators—that we see here in Maine. Currently we have some 270 documented species of native bees, but that population will likely change as our climate and ecological processes are altered by warming temperatures.

In addition to climate change, native bee species are facing the increasing threat that habitat fragmentation poses. Scott sites that since 1960 Maine has seen it’s population grow from .7 million to 1.4 million in 1990. That kind of growth means the expansion of suburban and urban suburbs. We’ve also seen an increase in lakeshore development and year-round living in areas that were historically wilderness territories. He went on to say that the development and loss of farmlands further reduces the available forage for native bees and honeybees alike, all the while creating a greater footprint that mankind is leaving upon the Earth.

The undeniable truth

habitat fragmentation of maine beesThe Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in the face of the ice cores that can trek warming trends back some 800,000 years, along with the myriad of data gathered regarding the rising sea levels, rising global and oceanic temperatures, shrinking ice sheets and more–state that the current warming trend is particularly significant because it most likely is induced by human activity and has increased at an unprecedented rate over the past 1300 years.

According to the IPCC, “Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.”

Scott credited much of his findings to the research and documentation provided by one Dr. George Jacobsen, Professor Emeritus of Biology, Ecology, and Climate Change and who is associated with the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute.

“The enemy is us,” Scott quoted the 70’s-era Pogo comic strip, and went on to say: “We need to include ourselves in this process—we’re part of the problem, and we need to be part of the solution.”

UMaine studies how to enhance native pollinator habitat

dr hanes & eric venturini

dr hanes & eric venturiniAt the August meeting of the Somerset Beekeepers, we hosted two of UMaine’s academics who have been actively researching native bees in Maine and in the agricultural system.  Dr. Sam Hanes’ is an anthropologist studying the perceptions growers have relating to the benefits of incorporating native pollinators into their farming efforts, and the methods they are using to do so (read more about Dr. Hanes’ presentation in this earlier post).  While Eric Venturini is a masters degree student studying methods for enhancing native pollinator habitat. Read more

Maine promotes native pollinators

somerset beekeepers

somerset beekeepersTuesday night the Somerset Beekeepers met for their monthly meeting, and were joined by a number of the county’s master gardeners in welcoming Dr. Sam Hanes and Eric Venturini, a masters degree student, both of whom came over from the University of Maine at Orono to speak with us.

I’ve mentioned before the good work Maine’s academics are doing in the field of apiculture and agriculture (check out pollinator conservation at MOFGA, post from last year), with scientists like Frank Drummond, Alison Dibble, and many more, all working to better understand Maine’s native pollinators and the role they play in our ecosystems.  In fact, Maine is a leading player in a USDA funded research project entitled “Pollination security for fruit and vegetables in the northeast”.  The project was funded by a 6.6 million dollar grant, and includes 5 different institutions across the northeast.

Read more about the project here and here.

As president of the Somerset Beekeepers, I’m always looking for interesting speakers to visit us at our monthly meetings, and I was elated when Eric agreed to come, with Dr. Hanes in tow.

dr hanes & eric venturini
Dr. Sam Hanes on the left, and Eric Venturini stands to the right.

Dr. Hanes’ presentation was titled “Maine Blueberry Growers’ Pollination Strategies and Perceptions of Native Pollinators”.  It’s a thought-provoking concept to include an anthropologist in these studies, since anthropology is the study of man-kind, and covers a broad range of study areas from social and biological sciences.

In his studies, Dr. Hanes is exploring the reasons why growers do or don’t adopt early innovations related to native pollinators.  He’s been looking closely at growers of blueberries and cranberries in Maine and Massachusetts, since these are two large industries in this region which both import honeybees for pollination.

With the decline of commercial honeybee populations across the United States, concern over pollination of these large-scale agricultural industries is increasing, and growers and farmers are looking at alternative means of pollination–either to reduce expenses as the cost of hive rentals increase, or to provide supplemental pollination when hive rentals are unable to meet the demands.

Currently, 75% of Maine’s blueberry growers rent honeybees for pollination, compared to the 94% of growers who are renting hives for cranberry production.  The average number of hives per acre for blueberry pollination is 3-4, versus 1-2 hives per acre for cranberries.  It was interesting to note that more hives per acre did not necessarily transfer into higher yields, basically once the area has been saturated with honeybee pollinators, there’s not much more a grower can do to increase their crop’s production.

According to his research so far, Dr. Hanes has been able to discern that approximately 15-20% of the grower population are “early innovators” who are adopting new or experimental practices for promoting pollination by native pollinators.

Dr. Hanes is looking at growers’ perceptions of native pollinators and their strategies for incorporating them into their operations.  Thanks to Frank Drummond’s work over the last decade promoting native pollinators through extension outreach, it’s more common in Maine for growers to go out of their way to help native bees than it is in the cranberry fields of Massachusetts.  Through polls taken at grower conventions, Dr. Hanes has been able to discern how farmers are helping native bees.

growers helping native bees statistics
BB stands for “blueberry”, while CB represents “cranberry”.

Another poll helps Dr. Hanes understand growers’ perceptions of how effective native pollinators are.

pollination from native bees
Again, BB represents “blueberry” and CB is short for “cranberry”.

Dr. Hanes has discovered that overall, growers seem to feel that native bees fill a critical gap in their agricultural systems.  Since native bees are more active in cool or inclement weather than the imported honeybees, they are especially important here in Maine where the seasons can be unpredictable.

To me these numbers indicate a growing awareness of the importance and benefits of native pollinators, which are a crucial aspect of a healthy ecosystem.  It’s inspirational to me, a 4-year beekeeper, and aspiring pollinator conservationist, to see my beloved home-state trending in this field, but it looks as though there’s still plenty of room for improvement.  I know that there are many more growers and farmers who can utilize these beneficial insects, and I will continue to work to do my own part for the cause.

Stay tuned for the up-coming post about Eric Venturini’s presentation, which was entitled: “Enhancing Native Pollinators in Maine; What to plant and how to plant it”!

Do NOT buy ladybugs; attract native species to your garden instead

ladybugs as predators

attract native ladybugs to your gardenLadybugs are often touted as a safe solution to aphid problems in the garden because their use doesn’t involve harmful pesticides.  The little spotted beetles are popular all over the world, and in ancient times they were thought to be indicators of good fortune and a bountiful harvest. However commercially available ladybugs are not native to the US, and pose a threat to the natural ecosystem that many folks are unaware of. Read more

Monday’s Musings: On appreciating nature

wasp

Monday’s Musings is a new weekly theme I’m working to establish here on the blog (along with Sustainable Saturday–so be looking for that). I have a hard time posting regularly, mainly due to the fact that my life is generally hectic and sometimes unpredictable, what with garden, apiary, household up-keep, child-rearing and homeschooling to tend to–along with my responsibilities as president to the Somerset Beekeepers and to the cooperative extension as a master gardener.  But I try to take it all in stride–it’s well known that farmers wear many hats, it comes with the job.

I’m a big advocate for practicing peaceful coexistence with the animals and plants around us.  I hear it all the time–so-and-so doesn’t like bees because they sting, or Joe-Shmoe hates wasps because they’re mean, Silly-Sally loathes snakes and would rather kill the creature than to go to the trouble of removing said snake from her presence.

However, it’s important to remember that every creature serves a purpose in it’s ecosystem and is a necessary ingredient for a healthy habitat.  Every animal, no matter how large or small, no matter how impressive or disgusting, is unique and fascinating in it’s own way.  Each creature on this planet deserves our respect at the very least. Read more

Home gardeners beware of pesticides in potting soils & nursery plants

somerset beekeepersThis past Tuesday at the monthly meeting of the Somerset Beekeepers, we hosted Gary Fish from the Maine Board of Pesticide Control to talk with us about “Pesticides and Pollinators”.  We are a small group, so I’m always grateful that any knowledgeable speaker should come to Skowhegan to share their knowledge with us, and I know that our beekeepers are eager to learn what these people have to offer us. Read more

Saving the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee

rusty-patched bumble beeBumblebees are the gentle giants of the pollinator world, so big and fuzzy and mellow that you just want to pick one up and give it a big hug!

Like other pollinators, bumble bees are in trouble.  According to recent surveys, populations of bumbles have sharply declined since 1997, and none are so rare as the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee.

The Xerces Society has recently filed a petition with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Rusty-Patched Bumble as an endangered species.  Read more

“Wings of Life” mesmerizes and inspires

wings of lifeWe received the “Wings of Life” documentary on Saturday, I ordered it from Amazon and had it shipped here by mail, but I couldn’t even begin to think about writing a review of the film until just the other day–so mesmerized by the vivid depiction of the one thing that I prize above all others on this planet. The relationship between plants and pollinators. Read more

Take action this Earth Day

the earth from space
Photo credit: fotopedia.com

At Runamuk Earth Day is a big event.  Any significant event celebrating nature is a big event here because we make it so, the Winter Solstice, Mid-Summer’s Eve, the Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes, Arbor Day, Pollinator Week, Compost Awareness Week, just to name a few.  Keith and I are both nature lovers, passionate about embracing nature, preserving and protecting life, and our goal is to foster that love in our children in hopes that they will grow up to value this Earth, and be good stewards of the land. Read more