The alarming news about the decline in our honey bee population has spurred agricultural extension specialists around the country to take a hard look at how our native wild pollinators are faring. It seems to many that we are seeing fewer pollinating insects in our area, and researchers at Penn State are providing the science that verifies that opinion.
In a recent email inviting local Master Gardeners to "The Great Insect Fair" held annually at Penn State, urban entomologist Steven Jacobs included this note.
"Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania monarch population has been very low this year. ... If you know of any good milkweed patches or sites with adult monarch butterflies, could you please either collect the butterflies/caterpillars and bring them in or let us know where to look? ... We really appreciate your help!"
The reasons for the decline are complex. As more land comes under development, we lose plants that are vital sources of nectar and pollen. We lose nesting places, and we destroy the cocoons and niches that help the insects winter over when we burn our leaves and dead stalks in the fall. We spray systemic pesticides that kill pollinator caterpillars at one bite.
So much of our land is cultivated in wind pollinating plants like corn, turf grass, and wheat that there isn't enough food to sustain our wild pollinators. Those vast crop fields and lawns look like barren deserts to hungry bees. With fewer pollinating bees, butterflies, flies and beetles we could lose some of the fruits and vegetables we love to eat. Without high protein caterpillars to feed their young in the spring, our woodland birds will decline.
The good news is that home gardeners can make a dramatic difference in the future of our pollinators by making a few changes to our gardening practices. With advice from Penn State Extension and our local Carbon County Master Gardeners, it is easy to take the steps necessary to create pollinator friendly landscapes around our homes, farms and workplaces.
Pollinating insects need food, water, shelter, and a place to reproduce. Many of those needs can be met by including native plants in your landscape. We all know monarch butterflies rely on milkweed as a larval food source. One of the prettiest milkweeds for the garden is called butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).
Carbon County Master Gardeners have spent the summer preparing displays and collecting literature to help local residents make their landscapes more pollinator friendly. Our biggest project has been the creation of our pollinator demonstration garden next to the Penn State Extension office on Lentz Trail in Jim Thorpe. We proudly held an open house on Saturday, Sept. 14 to celebrate establishing one of the first pollinator demonstration gardens in our area to be certified by Penn State.
Now we are ready to spread the news, and help you make your garden pollinator friendly as well. We have a display at the Carbon County Environmental Center showing how to make a mason bee house for your garden. At the extension office, we have lists of plants that are pollinator friendly, and of course our pollinator garden is there for you to tour.
Clubs, schools or church groups interested in a presentation on pollinators, can schedule a master gardener to speak at an event. We can even help you get your own garden certified by Penn State.