Archive for the ‘Repopulating Our Bees and Bats’ Category

Using Clover as an Eco-Sustainable Alternative Lawn

Clover lawns are a sustainable alternative over grass lawns. This post goes on to explain the reasons by incorporating two editorials and two brochures. This content was provided by Steven Daniels and Kelsey Noll, both School of Environmental and Biological Sciences students over at Rutgers University. They have proposed the use of clover lawns at their university to save resources, promote bee populations, and raise public awareness of the benefits of clover. For your convenience, there is a table of contents below to organize the information.

Order of Content:
1. Editorial by Kelsey Noll
2. Editorial by Steven Daniels
3. Brochure for Clover at Home
4. Poster Presented to the Rutgers Energy Institute

1. Consider overseeding your Lawn with Clover
by Kelsey Noll

A picturesque green grass lawn is associated with the suburban dream; it is a symbol of status and good citizenship. However, the maintenance of such a lawn is incredibly timely and costly, not to mention completely unnatural and harmful to the environment. The required input of resources to maintain a green lawn, especially throughout the entire year, is quite large. Watering, pesticide and fertilizer application, and mowing all place a significant time and financial burden on the homeowner while polluting the environment through run-off and toxic emissions.
Foregoing the traditional grass lawn in favor of a more sustainable alternative can alleviate these burdens. Clover is an excellent alternative choice for a lawn; though traditionally considered a weed, clover has many properties that make it ideal for lawn coverage. Its ability to outcompete other species means that herbicides need not be applied. It is also nitrogen-fixing, and therefore does not require additional fertilizer application. Clover is drought resistant, meaning it requires minimal watering to stay green. The deep root system of clover helps alleviate soil compaction, a problem that causes run-off and erosion.

The species recommended for a homeowner looking to grow his or her own clover lawn is White Dutch Clover. This species is a perennial plant that grows to four to eight inches in height, with long roots that grow in moist, fertile soil. One of the interesting benefits of growing this breed of clover is that its pollen attracts honey-producing bees. While bees may be considered a nuisance to some, they are an incredibly important species that is currently in danger due to colony collapse disorder. Once can support this at-risk species by maintaining a clover lawn. However, for the homeowner that would prefer to not attract bees, more regular summer mowing will keep them at bay.

Any homeowner should consider planting a clover lawn over their traditional grass lawn. The planting process is easy, as clover can be seeded over an existing lawn to create a durable grass-clover blend that has many advantages over a traditional lawn. The new clover lawn will require significantly less input of time and resources, making life easier for one’s schedule and budget while also serving the environment.

2. Clover lawns beneficial
by Steven Daniels

A well-maintained lawn is part of the American dream. It’s a symbol of the suburban lifestyle, and it shows off the property owner’s control over nature. A green lawn is a constant battle with the environment, but it doesn’t have to be. Clover is a low-maintenance alternative lawn that retains the green lawn aesthetic, without infringing on your wallet or your weekend while benefiting the environment.

Unlike commercial grasses, clover doesn’t require excessive resources. It produces its own fertilizer. Normal grass fertilizers wash away during the first rain shower. Materials purchased for that lawn are essentially being flushed down the drain. Much of that sewer water then ends up in the local water supply, encouraging bacteria to grow and suffocate fish populations. By using clover, you can save money on your lawn while also befriending the local wildlife.

Clover needs very little water to survive. Often referred to as a weed, clover is extremely resilient to seasonal changes. It can survive both flood and drought and stays green while doing it. Clover is like the camel of lawns — effectively holding moisture, but without the whole spitting-on-tourists thing. The plant’s toughness means that it doesn’t have to be watered by property owners to look great. Without a sprinkler, you can save money on water and save our most essential natural resource.

Clover lawns require less frequent mowing than a traditional grass lawn. While grass grows vertically, clover grows laterally. This means you can expect fewer cuts per year and less spotty coverage with clover. Fewer cuts not only reduce budgets spent on gas, bags and repairs, but something even more valuable: time. With that extra time, a homeowner might actually be able to appreciate the lawn they’ve sculpted by playing catch or relaxing in the shade.

Compared to grass, clover is an easy, cost-reducing way to enjoy your lawn. It leaves more money in your pocket, is less of hassle to maintain, and as a nice side benefit, is a more sustainable practice. When we think of sustainability, we tend to think in terms of large complex objects and technology. Businesses and homeowners are offered incentives to install expensive solar panels on their properties, and automobile manufactures offer more hybrid and electric alternatives, for a price. These are steps in the right direction, but truly effective environmental changes will occur more subtly. Much like re-engineered water bottles and cloth grocery bags, alternative lawns represent a small change that can provide substantial gains.

3. Clover at Home Informational Brochure
PDF Attachment: Clover Brochure
Clover at Home pg 1 Clover at Home pg 2

4. Rutgers Energy Institute Poster
PDF Attachment: Rutgers Energy Institute Poster
Rutgers Energy Institute Poster

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Wild Bees and Insects Essential to Food Security – New Research

http://news.rutgers.edu/medrel/research/rh-2013-1/when-it-comes-to-pol-20130312

Studies Find Wild Bees and Insects Essential to Food Security
Half of pollination is the work of wild pollinators, which are often more efficient than domestic honey bees

Wild pollinators – primarily wild bees, flies, and other insects – are at least as important, and often more efficient, at pollinating agricultural crops than domestic honey bee colonies, according to two new studies published in Science and the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

“This will be a surprise to the agricultural establishment,” said Rachael Winfree, professor of ecology, evolution and natural resources in Rutgers’ School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (rwinfree@rci.rutgers.edu or 848-932-8315), who was involved in both studies. “There’s a widespread assumption that domestic honeybees are doing the job. This work shows that’s not true.”

The first study, published in Science, involved 51 researchers from 20 countries on every continent but Antarctica, who visited 600 fields, in which grew 41 varieties of crop. It was led by Lucas Garibaldi of the National University of Rio Negro in Argentina.

Most of our crops are pollinated, and half the pollination is the work of wild pollinators like this blueberry bee.
About 75% percent of food crops require pollination, making pollinators an essential part of food security. The researchers found that almost half that pollination is the work of wild pollinators.

The good news is that farmers can keep wild pollinators abundant by leaving a bit of natural habitat around their fields – patches of wildflowers, some hedge rows or anything that gives wild bees a place to live, Winfree said. “Farms with a little bit of natural habitat are more sustainable in terms of their pollination,” she said. She added that farms using pesticides and insecticides tend to have fewer pollinators than those that don’t.

The second study, published in PNAS, examined historical changes in the population of wild bees in the northeastern United States and southern Canada. Winfree and Ignasi Bartomeus, then a postdoctoral scholar in her lab; John Ascher, a scientist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York; and others employed web-based software to compile 30,000 museum specimen records representing 438 bee species.

The researchers looked at “species richness” – the number of species of bee in a specific region — and how it changed over time. They used museum records, going back to 1872. They found that wild bees as a whole had suffered some species losses but that these declines were moderate – about 15 percent of the more than 400 species over the 140 years.

Bumble bee colonies, on the other hand, are disappearing. Since 1872, according to the PNAS study, the number of bumble bee species in the northeastern United States and southern Canada has declined about 30 percent.

Since, as Winfree and her many co-authors found in their Science paper, wild pollinators are key to successful pollination of agricultural crops, a 30 percent loss in species richness is bad news. This is especially true of bumble bees. “They’re very important,” Winfree said. “They’re big and hairy and carry a lot of pollen.”

While the PNAS paper doesn’t offer reasons for the loss in species richness for bumble bees or other bees, the authors point out that non-native species of wild bees seem to be doing better than those native to North America. There is some indication that climate change may play a role, since bees long associated with the south seem to be moving north.

“Environmental change affects species differentially,” said Bartomeus, now a postdoctoral scholar at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Stockholm. “It creates ‘losers’ that decline with increased human activity, but also ‘winners’ that thrive in human-altered environments.”

Pesticides and Decline in Pollinators Video

See this short video on some of the threats to the bee population and what you can do to help them:

Pledge to Promote Bee Populations

Creating Suitable Habitats for Bees and Promoting Native Plant Species

Honey bees have received a lot of attention in the media lately, and their decline is a great cause of concern for agriculturists, beekeepers, and the pollinator dependent environment at large. However, native pollinators such as butterflies, birds, bats, native bee species, and other insects are at risk from pesticide usage and a decline in suitable habitat as well. There are more than 4,000 species of bees native to North America, with over 300 found in Pennsylvania. Unlike honey bees, which are found predominantly in managed bee houses, most bee species live in the ground, or in dead wood, and crevices between rocks.

Guidelines for providing natural, native bee nesting sites. Different native bee species will utilize different habitat types, and a variety of possibilities should be offered to attract a variety of bees.

  • Small areas of bare ground surrounded by weedy vegetation
  • Well drained soil on flat or sloping surfaces
  • Dry, dead wood with holes from beetles or other burrowing species
  • mounds of sandy soil
  • well drained soil protected by loose networks of sticks and brush
  • all nesting areas should be within range of foraging habitat (native flowering plants)


Active Sweat Bee Burrow (Just Missed Him) – Ryan Fantasia

 


Potential Nesting Site: Area frequented by bumblebees – Ryan Fantasia

Wood pile by compost and Exposed Weedy Area: Frequented By a
number of bee species (they seem to enjoy the aluminum ladder too) –
Ryan Fantasia

Some bee species that tend to be more colonial than solitary, like some bumblebee species, will also inhabit home-made bee boxes.

The Xerces Society offers a number of guidelines for maintaining and creating your own nesting sites in this fact sheet: Nests for Native Bees
Pollinator Friendly Lawns

Lush green lawns consisting of just one species of turf grass may look great to humans, but they offer little or no benefit to most bee species. Bare spots encourage nesting habitats for ground dwelling bees, and the flowerless lawn does not provide much of a food source for any bee species.

Some tips for making your lawn more pollinator friendly:

  • Use mixed grass seeds with species such as clover, trefoil, and other low growing, flowering ground cover
  • Eliminate use of conventional grub and insect control chemicals such as pyrethroids and imidacloprid (see the active ingredients in your pesticides and fertilizers!)
  • allow flowering weeds to flourish (they cover your lawn just as well as turf grass does)
  • keep some areas “low traffic” to minimize disruption of ground nesting bees

Native Perennial Flowering Species

In addition to adding clover and other low growing plants to lawns, another solution is to cut back on your lawn area altogether. Native flowering plant species are an excellent source of nourishment and habitat for pollinators and other native insects that can keep pests at bay, and trading some lawn area or exotic flowers for a bed of native perennials can provide greater aesthetic and ecological value to your property.

Planting native species helps to ensure that your work will not go to waste, as they are well adapted to the conditions in your area. Most bee populations have evolved with the native flora, and sometimes one plant species is dependent almost exclusively on a certain bee species, and vice versa.

 

Check out Northeast Natives and Perennials to purchase native species for your yard, right here in Haycock Twp!

 

The Xerces Society For Invertebrate Conservation offers information on Flowering Species and other resources for promoting bee habitats through their Pollinator Conservation Resource Center Website: http://www.xerces.org/pollinator-resource-center/

 

Through partnerships with the native seed industry, Xerces also offers seed mixes for native wildflowers and grasses that promote pollinator habitat: http://www.xerces.org/pollinator-seed/

 

Information on pollinator attracting plant species native to specific regions available through: Local USDA Cooperative Extensions: http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/

 

Native Flower Bearing Plants For Native Bee Species – PA and NJ

Penn State University. (2009). Agroecology in Practice: Conserving Wild Bees in Pennsylvania.

Full Fact Sheet available at: http://pubs.cas.psu.edu/FreePubs/pdfs/uf023.pdf

 

 


✝ The USDA-NRCS plants database lists Crisium discolor, a native field thistle, as potentially weedy or invasive. Though you should not encourage large populations, it is a valuable pollinator foraging resource and can be managed as such. Its seeds are not commercially available.
Photograph Credits: Elaine Haug @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database (Lobelia spicata, Asclepias syriaca, Pycnanthemum tenuifolium) Patrick J. Alexander @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database (Apocynum cannabinum) Jeff McMillian @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database (Erigeron strigosus, Prunella vulgaris Jim Stasz @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database (Scutellaria integrifolia, Verbena hastata) Seabrooke Leckie (Solidago odora) Thomas Barnes (University of Kentucky) @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS (Agalinis purpurea, Cirsium discolor) William Justice @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS (Vernonia noveboracensis) Janet Novak @ Connecticut Botanical Society (Eupatorium maculatum) Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database (Euthamia graminifolia) http://www.botanik.uni-karlsruhe.de/garten/fotos-hassler/ (Potentilla norvegica)
Bryn Mawr College and Rutgers University. (May 2009). Native Bee Benefits for Pennsylvania and New Jersey Farmers. Pg 6
Full fact-sheet available at: www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/pa-nj-native-bee-benefits1.pdf

Preventative Methods Against Insects and Weeds: “Cultural Controls”

Mixing up Lawn-care Practices

Planting a combination of tradition turf grasses and other low growing species like clover, rye grass, and trefoil can make lawn maintenance a much more simple, low input task. The roots of clover and trefoil species (legumes) are home to beneficial microbes that have the ability to fix nitrogen, that is, to fertilize your lawn naturally and reduce the need for high nitrogen fertilizers. Adding some variety with these plants which are commonly considered “weeds” can help to minimize groundwater pollution from excess fertilizer use, and also provides a better home and food source for bees and other beneficial insects.

A mixed bag of plant species also means less susceptibility to many common pests of turfgrass, such as the infamous soil dwelling “white grubs” and other insect larvae that may hurt your lawn and be destructive in their adult forms. Limiting the use of high nitrogen fertilizers and making use of the fertilizing properties of nitrogen fixing plants can allow your grass to devote more of its energy and nutrients to developing a robust root system, which makes a less desirable habitat for many of these soil dwelling pests, and cuts down on the need to use traditional, harmful insecticides to keep the bugs at bay. A mixed lawn can also be more effective at crowding out undesired weeds than a bed of single seed turf grasses.

Other methods that can be employed to reduce the risk of weed and grub infestation in the lawn, and limit dependence on chemicals include:

  • Mowing higher and less frequently to decrease the amount of exposed soil
  • Watering less frequently (~once a week), but thoroughly and deeply to ensure strong root growth, and avoiding watering when precipitation provides sufficient water supply
  • “Over-seeding” lawns with mixed seeds in early spring or fall to reduce bare spots
  • Leaving a portion of grass clippings on the lawn to decompose and maintain balanced, steady nutrient levels

Mulching and Sheeting (Weed Barriers)

Aside from providing a clean and appealing look for flower beds and gardens, proper mulching around plants can:

  • Return organic nutrients to the soil
  • Prevent implantation of weeds
  • Help retain moisture in soil
  • Keep soil cool

Some environmentally friendly mulches to help prevent weed growth and eliminate herbicide use in your garden:

  • Brush, wood-chips, and sticks from around the yard (makes use of material that would be otherwise disposed of, NO COST)
  • Pine needles/straw and pine bark
  • Cocoa shell mulch (by-product of cocoa manufacturing, insect repellent properties, WARNING: Poisonous to Dogs)
  • Agricultural by-products (peanut shells, corn husks, etc)

Weed barriers are sheets that can be applied below mulch, around plants, to keep weeds from gaining a root foothold. Common weed barriers are made of plastics, but biodegradable materials such as old newspapers, and recycled cardboard sheets available commercially do the job quite well.

Companion Planting to Deter Insects

Many plants, specifically aromatic herbs, can be planted along with garden vegetables in order to deter pest insects including mosquitoes, flies, fleas, ticks, caterpillars, Japanese beetles, and others including:

  • Broadleaf sage (also covers ground area to limit weed growth)
  • Lavender
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Parsley
  • Mint / Catnip
  • Thyme

Biological Controls of Insects Pests

Of the many alternatives to synthetic chemical insecticides, biological controls are arguably the best for the environment. Introduction of natural predators of common pests can help to restore ecological balance, and provides a relatively risk free way to deal with your pest problem.

Birds and Bats – Natural Insect Predators

Birds and bats are two common controls for pest populations, like mosquitoes. Insectivorous bats and birds offer a double whammy in pest management, because they often act as pollinators just as bees and butterflies do.

Common birds used as biological controls for mosquitoes and flying insects are various types of swallows and purple martins. They can be attracted to the home by providing a risk free habitat and nesting site.

Many people create both bird and bat houses on their property to achieve this goal. In the case of bats particularly, making use of these practices can help to make up for lost habitat and population declines.

Bat houses should sit high above the ground, get plenty of sun for warmth, and be built close to a water source such as a lake, stream, or home pond.

National Wildlife Federation Web Producer, Carla Brown, built her own bat house using the Small Economy Bat House Plan from Bat Conservation International’s website, and you can too!

Building a Bat House

Microbial Insecticides (Neem Attack, Mosquito Dunks, etc.)

When problems with pest insects really get out of hand, a broad spectrum, synthetic chemical application is not usually necessary. Identification of the pest at hand, and what type of damage it may cause is always the first step, and then, a variety of microbial insecticides may be of use. Most microbial insecticides are very pest specific, and do not pose much of a threat to humans, pests, and non-target insects. Careful when using them on grubs and caterpillars though, those little bugs may be slated to morph into a harmless, pollinating moth or butterfly!

Bacteria of the Bacillus variety are some of the most common microbial insecticides, and most are quite safe. Different species and strains can target different insect pests. Common targets include mosquito and blackfly larvae, Japanese beetle grubs, and various grub and caterpillar species.
Some useful information that can get you on your way to identifying and purchasing the best Bacillus strain for your needs, can be found in  Microbial Insecticides, Published by R. Weinzierl, T. Henn, P. G. Koehler and C. L. Tucker at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The full fact sheet is available here.

Nematodes

Nematodes are roundworms that are hosts to bacteria, and can parasite pest insects in the soil and in some cases on leaves and plants. They are particularly useful in home lawn management and in gardens.

The Cornell University Department of Entomology offers a great resource through their biological control webpage, on different varieties of nematodes, insect pests they can help to control, and various commercial products and distributors of nematodes.
http://www.biocontrol.entomology.cornell.edu/pathogens/nematodes.html