On Saturday, June 29 as farmers and residents circled Owatonna’s Central Park during the weekend’s farmer’s market, they got the chance to learn a little more about pollinators and the city’s recent push to become a pollinator friendly city.
In March, the Owatonna City Council passed a resolution to become a pollinator friendly city, joining more than 30 other municipalities throughout the state that are aiming to protect and prosper pollinators.
During Saturday’s event, there was face painting and coloring books for children as well as an opportunity to raise awareness for both children and adults on the benefits of pollinators and what can be done to help steady their numbers.
The event was hosted by the Steele County Master Gardeners and the Bee Friendly Environmental Alliance of Steele County. The farmer’s market made for a perfect venue to help get the message out.
“Plant more plants,” Deb Arlt, coordinator for Master Gardeners said of the first step to helping pollinators. “Those poor little bees and butterflies have a long way to go between plants so the more gardens we get, it’s better for them.”
A big part of the celebration was raising awareness. “We’re providing habitat and plants, but we’re also trying to educate people on pesticides, because there’s a few pesticides that are so detrimental to the bees, like neonicotinoids,” Arlt said.
“At the end of the season, don’t clear out everything in the garden, leave some of the stems and cut them back 18 inches because there’s a lot of native pollinators that hibernate over the winter in these stems,” Arlt said of what people can do around their house to help pollinators. “It will help leave some habitat for the pollinators.”
She also suggested that people focus on planting native flora. “Plant plants that are native rather than some of the hybrids which do not have the nectar or the pollen that bees need, the native ones have evolved with the pollinators.” Arlt and the Master Gardeners were selling native plants during the event.
Theresa Harsma of Bee Friendly echoed Arlt’s thoughts on pollinators, stressing the importance of providing adequate habitat for them. “We are hoping to encourage people to plant more native plants to protect pollinators, and also provide more habitat and food,” Harsma said.
Native plants include species such as sunflowers, wild geranium, purple prairie clover, yellow coneflower, calico aster and many others. These native species will provide pollinators with the nectar they need and help them to flourish. “There’s a wide variety,” Arlt said.
“Some people think that they don’t want bees in their yard, but they really are something that you don’t want to be afraid of, they’re solitary insects that don’t bother us,” Arlt said. “The bees have had a lot of trouble because of certain chemicals, it affects their nervous system and their navigation capabilities, and so bees are dying out, plus the habitat is disappearing.”
While bees are often the most recognizable pollinators zipping through the garden, there are many others, including butterflies, humming birds, and bats. “It’s not just bees either, there’s a lot of other pollinators out there, and native pollinators do a better job of pollinating,” Arlt explained.
By adopting the resolution to become a pollinator friendly city, Owatonna has already helped bring to light the plight of native pollinators. “I think it helps raise awareness for the city and the city employees, so I think the more awareness we have the more effect it will have,” Harsma said. “The city has been doing a lot of good things.”
“People can stop using insecticides and pesticides in their yard and can plant a garden with native plants for the pollinators,” Harsma said of what folks can do around their house to help pollinators. “One good resource for getting native plants is Steele County Soil and Water Conservation, you can actually order a pack of plants through them by each February so you do have to think about it quite early.”