Planting Flowers For Pollinators In Unusual Places

David Trammel's picture

This is something that I think could be brought up more.

Solar Farms Shine a Ray of Hope on Bees and Butterflies

The tidy rows of gleaming solar panels at Pine Gate Renewables facility in southwestern Oregon originally sat amid the squat grasses of a former cattle pasture. But in 2017 the company started sowing the 41-acre site with a colorful riot of native wildflowers. The shift was not merely aesthetic; similar projects at a growing number of solar farms around the country aim to help reverse the worrying declines in bees, butterflies and other key pollinating species observed in recent years.

And as pollinator habitat wanes, solar installations are taking up ever more land. The U.S. is expected to convert six million acres of land to such facilities before 2050, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Some researchers see this as an opportunity to reclaim land for pollinating species by replacing the usual grass or gravel at these sites with wildflowers that need insects to pollinate them, and that produce the nectar those insects eat. “If we can create some habitat where there wasn’t habitat before, like on solar farms, we can likely have a positive impact,” says Scott McArt, an entomologist at Cornell University.

Almost all of us work, and we often work at places that could have flowering plants around their buildings. They don't and chose to put mostly evergreen bushes, which are easy to maintain as a way to bring a little Life to an otherwise sterile place. I wonder how easy it would be to convince the owners and managers of our workplace, to allow us to add flowers to the mix? I'll have to try that this Spring.

Question then, what kind of wildflowers would be best to perhaps spread the seeds of among the bushes? It would have to be something that didn't get too high, and would bloom most of the Spring and Summer. Would be cheaper to just spread the seeds but not that hard to start indoors too.

David Trammel's picture

(posted on the old forum on 12/08/2018)

I've always planted a lot of flowering plants, in border cubbies and hanging baskets, among my vegetables as a way to help out wild pollinators. Seems I was onto something.

"Stefanie Christmann of the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas will present the results of a new study that shows substantial gains in income and biodiversity from devoting a quarter of cropland to flowering economic crops such as spices, oil seeds, medicinal and forage plants."

"Compared with control fields of pure monocultures, “amazing” benefits for farmers and an increase in abundance and diversity of pollinators were found. Crops were pollinated more efficiently, there were fewer pests such as aphids and greenfly, and yields increased in quantity and quality."

"In all four different climatic regions that she studied, the total income of farmers increased, though the benefits were most marked on degraded land and farms without honeybees. The biggest gains were in semi-arid climates, where pumpkin yields rose 561%, aubergine 364%, broad bean 177% and melons 56%. In areas with adequate rain, tomato harvests doubled and aubergine went up 250%. In mountain fields, courgette production tripled and pumpkins doubled."

ClareBroommaker's picture

That bee in the opening photo! Pollen all over it!

I guess we know that the US led the world in eliminating hedgerows where insects birds, snakes, toads, small mammals, etcetera could live. Could we apply the points of the article by returning hedgerows to farms? Or is the idea to leave out / prevent the growth of trees and shrubs so that rows of flowering plants (not to say that trees do not flower) can be planted and perhaps alternated within a main crop? It speaks of devoting 25% of "cultivation strips" to non-maincrop growth. That is huge, when I think of how crop farming is currently done in the US mid-west.

I don't really know how the size of US farms compare to elsewhere in the world, but my bro-in-law who grew up on a sheep ranch visiting from Australia marveled at the vastness of cornfields here in the US. Perhaps small farmers here in the US can have the foresight to leave strips planted as the article describes, but I have doubts that gigantic corporate farmers will do it soon enough.

I wonder if I could monetarily adopt a strip of diversely planted pollinator-favoring plants on a farm nearby? You know to, help ameliorate any fear of financial loss, to tide a farmer over until s/he she becomes convinced that this is the more productive, more ecological way to farm?

I think home gardeners are more likely to have a good mix of plants. Heck, in recent years we've heard that honey bees are comparatively more numerous in cities than in rural areas. (I had submitted my city orchard to participate in a university study of insect diversity, but never heard back from the researchers who were requesting small plots to study.) As for my own gardening, I hope I have enough non-crop plants nearby to help sustain the insects, and birds and such. I am in the middle of the city, with lots of pavement all around. But I have lots of weeds (eh, not that I don't try to minimize the root competition). And I do some companion planting, and in some places, I actually sort of hide my food plantings among ornamentals, so they are embedded in a sea of other blooming plants. At least I don't think that many people are using herbicides and insecticides on their lawns and gardens in the surrounding neighborhood. This is not exactly an area of weedless manicured lawns. Oh, some do, but not like I've seen elsewhere.

I have something more to say about planting at the workplace, but will make a separate post. I'll try to remember to title it, "Ugly and off kilter", if anyone wants to look for it. Not sure if I will post it today.

ClareBroommaker's picture

After writing up a too-wordy post, I decided to just say a little bit instead of a lot. The gist of what I wanted to say is this:

Not at my own workplace, but at a sheltered workshop across the street from one of my gardens there is a bit of soil that is ugly and off kilter. The building was a printshop for decades and occupies half a city block. there's a strip of soil in front of it that is covered with plastic, then chunky wood mulch. There are a few ewe bushes which are at least thirty years old, but which are torturously sheared into tidy but graceless shapes. IMO, it is just ugly. I have been thinking since last summer about asking them to let me plant some flowers there. The administrators and families of workers have often said kind and supportive things about my garden across the street. If I can plant some showy flowers at their place it will increase the overall neighborhood plant life, offering insects a new resource.....There are three other businesses, a parking lot, and ten homes on the block. I really would like to start some annuals for all on that block who would accept them. Some of the homes and businesses have zero planting space out front, so pots, hopefully very large pots, would need to be found. I think it would be so cool if that block just bursts into bloom this summer.

Blueberry's picture

The ink at the print shop many years ago contained LEAD. Please be careful flowers yes food no, if you have the soil tested you could stir up a real s#!t storm.

ClareBroommaker's picture

Yes, I know. That is one of the things I decided not to include in the much briefer post than I had first intended. Probably lead is part of the "ugly and off kilter". A friend of mine was growing tomatoes on the grounds of an old residence of a Catholic men's order. They'd had a printing shop on the grounds. He had the soil tested _after_ he started harvesting and found out the soil was very, very high in lead.

David Trammel's picture

One of the ways that we need to re-learn is the way some plants can purify soils of toxins like lead. I wonder if we could identify which plants collect the most lead when grown and how much the lead levels decrease over each season? Maybe you could plant those types of plants, with some flowers too. You would be helping the environment and making the neighborhood greener.

Doing what we do now, scrapping the ground down to a depth and carting the whole mess off to a landfill isn't going to be an option in the future.

ClareBroommaker's picture

I wonder what people who plant sunflowers and such to accumulate the lead do with the plants which have then concentrated it. You cannot just let them return to the soil. Hazardous waste.

David Trammel's picture

I wonder if you couldn't use the lead filled plants as compost for trees and other no food plants?

mountainmoma's picture

If you compost to the trees, the trees will take it up and it will be release to the atmosphere, one way or the other.

You have to landfill it. Basically, you cant realy get rid of it. You just have to choose the least harm place to put it. So, all toxic stuff needs to be put in one place.

Bury it deep, away from food or water ?

If we did alot of bioremediation, we could of course get the metals out for re-use.

Blueberry's picture

I remember reading years ago about binding up heavy metal by changing the soil Ph. Do not recall all the details. also used to remove heavy metals from drinking water.

Practical Self Reliance
Medicinal Herbs to Plant for the Bees

"Let’s face it, the bees need all the help they can get these days. Organic beekeeping methods often involve using herbs to help repel mites and pests within bee hives. What if the bees could gather their own medicine? Could that lead to more resilient hives?

"There is some evidence that anti-microbial and anti-fungal herbs can help prevent disease within hives. Specifically, the essential oils of thyme and mint are commonly used (and effective!) treatments for varroa mites.

"By planting a medicinal herb garden, you have the opportunity to not only strengthen your health, while at the same time improving the health of your local pollinator population."

Solar panels pair surprisingly well with tomatoes, peppers and pollinators
In 'agrivoltaics,' crops and solar panels not only share land and sunlight, but also help each other function more efficiently.

"This idea — known in the U.S. as 'agrivoltaics,' a mashup of agriculture and photovoltaics — isn't new, but new research is shedding light on how beneficial it can be. Beyond the benefits of harvesting food and clean energy from the same land, studies suggest solar panels also boost crops' performance — potentially raising yield and reducing water needs — while crops help the panels work more efficiently. This could increase global land productivity by 73%, while generating more food from less water, since some crops under solar panels are up to 328% more water-efficient.

"Agrivoltaics won't necessarily work the same for every location or every crop, but we don't need it to. According to Higgins' research, if even less than 1% of existing cropland was converted to an agrivoltaic system, solar power could fulfill global demand for electricity. That still wouldn't be as simple as it sounds, but amid the growing urgency of climate change, energy demand and food insecurity, it's an idea that seems more than ready for its moment in the sun. "