Monday, August 3, 2015

Feeding the Workers

If you read the title, you might be tempted to believe that we will be talking about the lunches our workers receive when they come to the farm.  While these are usually quite good - at least we haven't heard many complaints about the food - we're actually referring to the pollinators on our farm.

We take keeping our workers fed (human or otherwise) seriously at the Genuine Faux Farm.  So, we thought we might share a few things that we hope keep the bees (whether they are honey bees or not) happy.

Clover is Our Friend

I was absolutely dismayed to overhear someone proudly state to another person that they had NEVER had clover "problems" in their yard.  At first, I was a bit indignant that they would consider clover to be a problem.  But, then, I was a bit sad for them.  This means they have probably never looked for a four-leaf clover, or dodged a bee when they were walking barefoot in the clover, or gotten a whiff of the lightly sweet smell clover emits during one of those beautiful mid-July evenings where the wind is very light and the air feels soft.

One of our lawn areas this July - with lots of white clover blooming
I realize we may go further over into the spectrum than most people about clover, but it really wasn't that long ago that clover was ROUTINELY mixed with grass seed for lawns.  Clover grabs nitrogen from the air and fixes it into the soil.  This nitrogen can be used by the other plants in the area (such as grass).  Sadly, we have this perverse fascination with having a thick monoculture of one type of grass in our lawns.  And, since it IS a monoculture, we are forced to buy weed/feed products to keep the monoculture looking good.  But, I didn't start this blog to rant about that.

I'd rather talk about this
Instead, I wanted to talk about what we do at the farm to help our pollinators.  We have taken to trying to mow our lawn areas in parts.  We watch where the clover is blooming and leave it alone until it is past peak.  We want pollinators to stay on our property and to have a good variety of food sources.  So, we encourage clover growth as a part of the program.  We also try to mow clover patches during times of the day when pollinators are less active.

Wildflowers Making a Comeback
Purple coneflower and other wildflowers
Our wildflowers took a hit when we were sprayed a few years ago.  Less of their seed was pollinated, which resulted in a drop in wildflower population.  While they are not as dense as they once were, we are happy to see a decent variety on the farm.  In particular, we like the pollinator presence we are seeing in the purple coneflowers so far this season.
Queen of the Prairie is a favorite on the farm
Queen of the Prairie appears to like our farm and we're trying to find the time and energy to move clumps of it to other locations around the farmstead.  We have two patches at present and we'd be happy to have more.  They do spread a bit, so might not be the best for someone who wants a fully controlled garden.  But, for wildflower areas, they are great.  And, the pollinators like them.

Letting the Arugula Go
We will occasionally let a crop go to flower (like arugula) after it bolts just to provide more habitat for our pollinators.  I suppose you could argue that you are distracting pollinators from the plants you want them to pollinate, but I think you would be wrong about that.  Instead, I prefer to think that I am providing a smorgasbord of tastes for our pollinating workers that will prevent them from thinking they even have to leave the farm.  There is little chance that we have come even remotely close to capacity for the number of pollinators we can support, so I would rather err on the side of providing too much opportunity than not enough.

The bee activity in the arugula was strong this June/July
I suppose one good argument against doing this might be the number of volunteer arugula plants we might get in the area.  But, I think I can live with that.  The only real issues?  The rows were a little close so the arugula impacted some of the nearby crops, the tall plants provided some cover for deer (which then ate much of our new chard) and it takes a bit more labor to clear the plant matter once we decide the plants have finished their job blooming and feeding our pollinators.

Cover Crops as Pollinator Attractors
A newer picture is definitely in order for this.  But, I'll go with what I have here.  The Southwest field holds our melon patch this season.  We plant zinnia, borage, calendula and bee's friend as flowers in rows to keep the melon varieties apart from each other as they vine.  this season, we had a couple areas in this field that we felt were a bit rough, so we cover cropped those areas.  The middle area you see below is buckwheat.
Lots of ways to feed the workers.
Buckwheat is a favorite of bees (especially honey bees) and it really attracts them.  We think we have it timed so that these will bloom at the same time our melon vines will also have alot of flowers.  The hope is that we will help amend the soil AND provide attraction to pollinator workers for our melons.  We have noticed alot of activity on the vines already with the zinnias, borage and calendula blooming. 

Trying to Be Consistent
Every year has its own challenges.  One of our perpetual issues is finding enough time to make our farm pollinator friendly.  Planting annual flowers is nice, but it sometimes feels like it is just another crop to plant, weed, water and maintain.  And, if you're desperately trying to get your food crop in as it is, it can be hard to put in the crop for the pollinators.  Sometimes, it would be nice to mow the lawn and not think so hard about what areas we are NOT going to mow this time.

But then, I get a whiff of the clover on an evening after I've been sweating through shirts in the field.  Or, I see a monarch floating by after it visited some milkweed we left to grow in a corner of one field.  Or, perhaps I stop and smile back at the zinnias (aren't they always smiling when they are blooming?).  Yup, I think we can keep doing this.

1 comment:

  1. I see all that clover and think "you can make clover jelly in your spare time Tammy."


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