Pollinators are responsible for much of the food on our tables as well as in our grocery stores, especially specialty organic markets. Without pollinators, our world, and our food, would be very different.
Several threats to these insects have put some pollinator species at risk. With that said, it is more important than ever for native plantings to find their way back to our landscapes.
Last month, for the third year in a row, the Oneida County Land and Water Conservation Department held a seed sowing party, headed up by Baerbel Ehrig, the Oneida County pollinator coordinator. Each year the event becomes more popular. This year attendees came from all across northern and central Wisconsin to participate and learn more about pollinator projects and how they can help the plight of pollinators in their own yards.
Some volunteers have been attending since the first year but for others it was a new experience. Volunteers took part in a variety of activities, all aimed at getting native seeds ready to grow for next year's pollinator garden projects.
First, small plastic pots were filled about three-quarters full of potting soil. From there, seeds were planted in them, with up to 20 seeds per pot. The soil was covered with a gravel or grit, which would keep the delicate seeds from being pelted by heavy rains in the spring. The grit will allow water to seep down into the soil without disrupting the seeds.
Once the seeds were covered, each pot was labeled by writing on a piece of an old vertical blind, and putting the makeshift stakes into the soil on the edge of the pot. The pots were put in boxes for transport to seed frames at the Teaching Drum Outdoor School as well as the home of Stephanie Boismenue, the county AIS coordinator.
Boisemenue explained to the group that these native seeds actually need the cold to germinate. For that reason, rather than put the seeds in a greenhouse, outdoor seed frames were constructed at a height just taller than the seed pots, and covered with chicken coop wire to keep away rabbits and other "hungry critters" over the course of the winter.
In the spring, when the seeds have sprouted and seedlings start to take off, the small plants will be separated into pots of their own. Ehrig told the group the smaller seedlings actually like to be a bit crowded at first, making them more hearty and competitive. Once they get a bit bigger, the pollinator group will meet again, likely at a location such as Hodag Park, as they have in years past, and have another planting party. This time the activities will consist of gently separating the seedlings, allowing them to grow bigger and stronger. Those same seedlings will be used in various pollinator gardens and projects across the county in coming years.
Pollinator gardens, even those small in size, can make a big difference, Ehrig said.
She has been involved in the creation of several pollinator gardens, including the first, which was in downtown Three Lakes.
It did not take long, most will remember, for Monarchs to inhabit the garden and for caterpillars to be found among the milkweed plants there.
Other projects make great use of native plantings as well. Many native plants will find their way to shoreline restoration projects where invasives are removed and replaced with plants such as those that were started by the group last month.
Plants such as hoary vervain, cup plants, various types of native milkweed, asters, golden Alexanders and Joe Pie weed are just some of the native plants used in the Northwoods for all types of restoration projects, as well as new pollinator gardens such as the one in Three Lakes and the one located at the Oneida County Courthouse.
While native plantings can tend to look at bit more "wild," in nature, there is no doubt about their positive contributions to pollinators as well as other native wildlife.
Those interested in learning more about pollinators, native plantings, or shoreline restoration projects can contact their county land and water conservation department for more information.
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