"Declining bee populations pose a threat to global agriculture," reads a headline on the website of the Center for Pollinator Research at Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. The article cited this week's ban by the European Commission on a class of pesticides suspected of playing a role in "colony collapse disorder," a phenomenon in which worker bees from a colony abruptly disappear.
Bees, and other insect pollinators such as butterflies and wasps, are necessary for production of one-third of the world's food supply and for the economic strength of both Pennsylvania and the United States, who both rate agriculture as their number one industry.
In recent years, there has been an insect version of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, which a half century ago documented the decline of bird populations due to the thinning of their eggs by ingestion of the insecticide DDT. Now, it is the beneficial insect population that appears to be falling to more modern, systemic insecticides coupled with the additional stresses of loss of habitat, invasive species, and monoculture.
"There is a national campaign to save our pollinators and native plants by encouraging home gardeners to plant indigenous species in their landscape, and in particular, to plant pollinator gardens," said Eileen East of Jim Thorpe, a member of Penn State Extension's Carbon County Master Gardeners. "It is similar to the national campaign to save birds by creating bird-friendly gardens across America."
"Part of the problem in our area is habitat destruction, and part of it is deer stripping the forest of edible plants," she continued. "Our Carbon County Master Gardener group is planting a pollinator garden for certification so we can use it as a teaching tool. We encourage people to visit the garden, and to call us about ways to help with this conservation effort."
Master Gardener John Kupec of Summit Hill, leader of the Pollinator -friendly Garden project, designed the 25-foot diameter circular garden next to Penn State Extension's office at Mauch Chunk Lake in the shape of a compass, with stones placed at the north, south, east and west locations.
Kupec liked the site's lake overview because it provided an essential element to the garden water. "Being near the lake is important because the insects need water," Kupec said. "Everyone needs water."
He is transplanting perennials from his personal garden to the Pollinator-friendly Garden. The project is just getting underway now only in its third week, and as plants become available, Kupec relocates them, positioning them in the garden-based upon their colors, the time of the season in which they bloom, and how they lend form and balance to the garden.
Kupec, with the assistance of master gardener Mike Cormier, have already planted: turk's cap lily, angelica, valerian, spirea, Jacob's ladder, bee balm, sedum, sambucus, a black-eyed Susan, Ollie ox, anise hyssop, coreopsis, wild hyacinth and bleeding heart.
The project began by laying out the plot, then removing the grass overlay by hand. "Then I tilled it, mixed mushrooms soil in it, topped it off with wood chips, and set the plants," Kupec explained. "We placed rocks in the garden so there would be areas for insects to hide, and small amounts of water for butterflies."
"We are doing it for our own research, to understand what's going on," he noted. "So far, what did we learn? We learned it takes a lot of hard work."
"There is a lot of pressure on pollinators these days. Systemic insecticides killed pollinators," Kupec explained. "Insecticides that people put on their plants are absorbed by the plants and it will kill insects like honeybees. It penetrates the entire plant and anything that tries to eat the plant, who will effect and it's not selective."
"This garden is chemical free and organic. I wouldn't use any pesticide or herbicide. People use chemicals because they don't know any better. I tried to teach organic gardening. Anytime people use chemicals, they are killing off some of the pollinators."
"I like to offer organic solutions to any question that comes into our office. If it is a devastation of some type, or if you have a farm where it is your livelihood and you can't afford to lose your crop, sometimes you have to go to chemicals."
"We are encouraging people to build pollinator friendly gardens," East said. "This is a demonstration garden and is part of a national push to save our pollinators as we have had a decline in bees and so forth by replanting the plants that they rely on in the wild."
The Center for Pollinator Research at Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences offers a program for Pollinator-friendly Garden certification. Qualifying gardens must meet four requirements: provide food, provide water, provide shelter, and safeguard habitat.
For information on how to certify your Pollinator-friendly Garden, see: ento.psu.edu/pollinators. To follow this Master Gardener project, see: www.facebook.com/carboncountymastergardeners . To talk to a Master Gardener, call on Tuesdays: 570-325-2788.