Friday, August 11, 2017

Building a Pollinator Paradise

Every year we try to do what we can to feed our workers.  Yes, we hope that Caleb, Emma and Jocelyn are happy.  But, these are not the workers we are referring to.  Instead, we are referring to our pollinator friends and our predator friends that help us grow what we grow on our farm.  We've mentioned them before and we'll likely mention them again.

Sadly, this year has been a bit of a struggle for our annual flower plantings.  On the other hand, the perennial plantings are having a pretty good year.

Finally Feeling A Full Recovery
Since the spray event in 2012, we experienced a significant decline in our reseeded wildflowers like Rudebekia and Coneflower (Echinacia).  With a drastically reduced pollinator population, there were fewer viable seeds.  But, it seems like things are starting to rebound.
Of course, some of this has been a natural process.  For example, coneflowers can and do survive winters in our area, so you don't have to rely on a fully reseeded batch of them every season.  The plants that survive can try again to set viable seed if they live for more than one growing period.  As a result, we have seen a quicker rebound of them on our farm. 
Some of the process of recovery was because we have been taking pro-active measures to try to encourage more flowers and 'wild areas' on the farm.  This Spring we had a little bit of help working to clear out volunteer maples and other brushy things form an area that is supposed to be wildflowers (and similar things).  That effort has been paying off with a better showing of Queen of the Prairie, anemone and other flowers this season.  We even got the surprise of seeing some remaining daylilies from our first few years on the farm when this was our perennial flower bed.

Sometimes Letting a Flower Bed Get Away From You Isn't All Bad
We like Helianthus.  We don't mind so much that it can spread by self-sowing.  On the other hand, we never quite intended this flower bed to be ONLY Helianthus.  We also got lucky with some nice clover in the foreground.  But, the pretty flowers other than these two are pretty much overshadowed and the weeds were getting out of hand.
On the other hand, we can get a pretty interesting picture if you find a daylily just opening its first flower in front of the Helianthus.  Let's just say that it is hard to not look at these flowers and stay grumpy.  That's a good thing.
Speaking of Clover
Some folks think we are a little odd because we let areas of our 'lawn' go to clover.  And, they think we are even odder when we tell them that we're trying to manage the clover so it will be strong again next year.  Essentially, our management consists of watching the bloom and the other, taller plants that tend to begin showing up in areas we are not mowing.  Once the bloom goes past peak and/or some of the other plants start taking over, we mow.  It seems to be working because we still have a decent grass base and we've had decent clover in this area for three years running.  The white clover is far easier to manage and many people should find it easy to have white clover as part of their in-town lawns.  The purple clover is a bigger plant and bit wilder.

Milkweed Here and There
I noted one of my neighbors driving down the road in their 4-wheeler with a portable sprayer.  He was specifically targeting milkweed that were growing next to the road.  I found this odd for a couple of reasons.  First, that road edge is due to be mowed by the county in the next week (edit: it was mowed soon after) so this seemed like a waste of time anyway.  And, second, I don't see milkweed as a horribly dangerous 'weed' for crops other than the fact that they can be tenacious, I suppose.  
Meanwhile, we have a milkweed volunteer by the downspout on one of our buildings.  We don't mind having milkweed here and there and we have enough around the farm that we don't cry either if we have to remove some in order to do our growing.  Personally, I would love to have a ditch full of milkweed, joe pye weed, queen of the prairie, wild phlox, wild day lilies and other cool things. 
If At First You Don't Succeed
As I mentioned earlier, we haven't had our normal success with annual flowers this year.  Our direct seedings of everything from borage to zinnia and marigolds have not been as robust as in prior years.  We have a lot of poor germination spots and germination was slow this season.  As a result, weeds popped into these planting before we could do much about it.  In some cases, we have worked the row back in because it was a lost cause.  In others, we've done things to add more plants to the row after working on weeding them.

 One example above is a row that we seeded in Phacelia (Bee's Friend).  We love Bee's Friend because it attracts many of our smaller pollinator friends.  The activity around these plants is just amazing.  But, germination was extremely poor and the weeds won.  So, we took out the row and replanted with some marigold, salvia and calendula plants starts.

It's late.  Some of the starts are past their peak.  So what?  We have them and we have a spot where they need to go.  So, there you have it.  In our minds, our workers need to eat all season long.  If some of these flowers don't really get going until September, we're fine with that, our friends need to eat then as well.  The down side, of course, is that we miss some of the attractant possibilities for this time of year when the squash is flowering.  But, that's not a reason to stop planting flowers - especially when you have them to plant.

And then there is the final succession of summer squash and zucchini.  We put a row of flowers on each side.  The good news here is that these flowers can also help boost winter squash to the north and an older succession of summer squash and zucchini to the south.

What Will We Change for 2018?
We always have ideas.  Sometimes we can make them happen, sometimes we can't.  We'll continue to support our perennial flowers as best as we are able, of course.  And, we're hoping to add some more things to the landscape this year.  As far as the annual flowers go, I guess we'll be doing more with transplants and move away from some of the direct seeding we've been doing up to this point.

But, for now, there is a good deal of the 2017 growing season left to go.  Let's see how wonderful we can make things look this year before we go worrying about next year.

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