Developing Our Pollinator Forage Habitat

Thanks to the funding support provided by a Bayer Feed a Bee grant in 2017, The Mountain has successfully expanded its pollinator habitat over the past year. In addition to myriad special plantings that have expanded the forage habitat, we have increased our environmental educational programs, as well our networks with others engaged in similar pursuits. We made the most of the $5,000, to be sure!

Our work over the past year has resulted in steady progress, and this is gratifying to observe. As a result, we intend to develop our pollinator habitats and educational efforts even further, by designing model landscapes which accomplish both objectives for greater benefits and impact. For example, one plan for our Food Forest is to build native bee homes from bamboo, sticks, and other natural materials that will be labeled and placed throughout the forest and in the tree canopy.

Our Many Hands Peace Farm co-Managers, Joey Kyle and Ben Galindo, purchased and planted over 200 trees, shrubs, and vines over the course of the year. Now that these plantings are established, many are propagating for future plantings.

The newly planted Food Forest is a work in progress, with several trees planted in the spring and more to be planted in late Fall. Future planting areas are covered now with Buckwheat and Cowpea, with a plan for planting Peas, Vetch, Radish, and Oats. By the end of the year, a diverse perennial pollinator forage will be established and provide blooms throughout the year. The Forest guilds will include both perennial and annual species, each with staggered, overlapping blooming periods, such as the guild featuring American Persimmon, Black Locust, Red Mulberry, Honey Berry, Gooseberry, Strawberry, Muscadines, Sochan, Borage, Comfrey, Day Lily and Catnip.

As for our high-altitude meadow, our land use consultant, Canty Worley, has completed a variety of tasks to fulfill our objectives of developing and maintaining this as a bird sanctuary and pollinator forage habitat. Here are Canty Worley’s accomplishments with the Meadow since this spring:

In May, Canty managed existing vegetation within the meadow to favor pollinator-friendly perennials such as Monarda, Helianthus, and Switch Grasses. He selectively cut meadow to remove woody species and non-native invasive plants and cut walking paths to maintain access to the meadow. Canty sowed wildflower and pollinator seed mixes from Ernst Seed in selected areas.

In June, he continued selective meadow cuts to favor pollinator-friendly perennials, cutting the sides of walking paths to maintain height.

In July, Canty planted cultivars of Joe Pye Weed such as ‘Little Joe’ and ‘Baby Joe,’ and selectively cut existing meadow plants along path to control ultimate heights. He added plantings of Switch Grass, ‘Shenandoah’ and ‘Prairie Sky.’

August tasks involved the planting Helianthus sp. ‘Lemon Queen’ and preparing new seed beds for plantings of Wildflower and Pollinator mixes from Ernst Seed, then sowing the seed mixes.

Last fall, we conducted our first baseline inventory of pollinators and other insects populating the Meadow, Farm fields, and Food Forest areas of our land. We plan to conduct similar insect inventories every year or two, and we are in conversation with science educators in area schools and community organization to include local students in the process.

The insects observed and identified in August 2018, including: Hover fly, Skipper Red, Golden Rod Aphid, Honey bee, Japanese Beetle, Grasshopper, Tiger Swallowtail, Eastern Bumblebee, Hispid Wasp Slippers on Joe Pye, Honey bees on Rudbeckia, and White Faced Hornet.

With this Feed a Bee funding and other donations to our Farm and Meadow projects, we have been able to purchase the supplies for another round of fall planting, which will be accomplished with the help of Farm Apprentices and a cadre of local and guest volunteers. Three educational kiosks have been purchased to be installed near the Meadow, Food Forest and Greenhouse areas. The kiosks will feature displays illustrating the unique characteristics of our environment as well as the various land use projects, notably the pollinator habitat development project funded by this grant.

The Mountain Meadow is close to full bloom at this point in the summer, with lots of Goldenrod, Queen Anne’s Lace, and Sochan (Rudbekia Lanciniata). The Goldenrod Gall Fly has created numerous galls evident on the living stalks.

The Many Hands Peace Farm fields produced more flowering crops in 2018 than ever before: Calendula, Bachelor Button, Borage, Cosmos, Echinacea, Jerusalem Artichokes, Sochan, Catnip, Cucumber, Squash, Chamomile, Pumpkin, Tomatoes, Peppers, Bee Balm, Mustard, Lettuce, Turnip, Radish, Fennel, Dill, Zinnia, Sunflower, Basil, Tulsi, Pole Beans, Comfrey, Coreopsis, Sweet William, and Celosia are among the varieties.

The margins of our fields, Food Forest, and Meadow have been kept wild, with selective removal of weedy or invasive species as needed. These areas contain additional pollinator forage habitat, and some native “edge-loving” pollinator plants will be transplanted to other development areas where they can flourish. Flowering weeds such as Clover, Queen Anne’s Lace, Daisy Fleabane, Wild Amaranth, Goldenrod, Yarrow, Wood Sorrel, Black Nightshade and Dandelion are allowed to bloom in parts of our fields, providing the pollinators with the extra forage that keeps them coming back for more.

More perennial flowers are being planted in our full sun fields, including St. John’s Wort and Bee Balm. Surrounding these areas are some spaces left fallow, allowing native wildflowers such as Yarrow, Queen Anne’s Lace, and Red Clover to grow tall. In addition to providing flowers for pollinators, these flowers possess medicinal properties. They have been intermittently harvested and dried to be used to make salve or other products sold at local markets.

Some of our field crops of lettuce and brassicas (such as Bok Choy) have been allowed to flower and go to seed that will be saved for the fall and next year. These flowering crops provide more browsing for pollinators as well. Our Farm staff are moving several Raspberry plants to start new patch in the field, which will increase the number of perennial flowering fruits.

There is a dream of someday establishing a small-scale apiary with horizontal viewing hives for an educational beekeeping program. Our Farm Managers have formed relationships with several area beekeepers who have offered to donate time, expertise, and older equipment to help us realize this dream.

We are most grateful to Bayer North America Bee Health for this Feed a Bee grant and the opportunity to develop our forage habitat for pollinators in Highlands and Western North Carolina. We are equally appreciative of this funding to strengthen our outreach and educational programs for The Mountain’s guests and local community.