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County conservation district aims to improve urban ag, invasives management

Landen Tetil, produce safety technician for the Marquette County Conservation District, holds a plant she picked in Trestle Park — a native plant area and monarch waystation on the bike path behind the 300 block of West Washington — while an attendee of Saturday’s urban agriculture workshop looks on. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — While the European honey bee is often what comes to mind when people think about pollinators, there are over 450 kinds of wild bees in Michigan. And many of these pollinate native plants that the non-native honey bee cannot.

However, half of the bumblebee species in Michigan have had populations decline by over 50 percent, with one — the rusty patched bumblebee — going extinct in recent years.

Because these critical pollinators depend on the availability of native plants, flowers and prairie-like areas, the Marquette County Conservation District held an urban agriculture workshop Saturday with a focus on pollinators and how to support them by growing native plants and managing invasives.

“Pollinators are responsible for a lot of the food that we eat,” said Jaime Beranek, urban agriculture assistant coordinator for the conservation district. “So when you think about a connection to the Earth, that’s a pretty intimate connection. We need to eat food to survive and we wouldn’t have food without pollinators.”

It’s important to offer education on this topic, she said, as area residents can make a big difference for local pollinators in their own backyards.

Attendees of the workshop collect native plant seeds provided at the free class at the Peter White Public Library in Marquette. The workshop taught attendees about pollinators and how to support them by growing native plants and managing invasives in their own backyard. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

“If you can become knowledgeable about native plants, your native ecosystem and try to mimic those native ecosystems in your own backyard — even if it’s just a pot of native plants or a small part of your lawn that you’ve allowed to just grow naturally — and then take some time to just observe the insects, the birds, the bees that start to visit that plot that you’ve created, that will help you start to understand how these animals depend on native plants for their survival, even if you’re in the city,” Beranek said.

Participants learned from experts on the topics during an interactive session at Peter White Public Library and explored Trestle Park, a native plant area and monarch waystation on the bike path behind the 300 block of West Washington Street. They also received native plant seeds, soil testing kits and boot brushes to take home.

Lisa Fosmo, an advanced master gardener who specializes in pollinators, told participants about the wide variety of native pollinators present in Michigan.

It’s important to recognize that many native bees don’t look like honey bees and pollinate plants that “honey bees cannot, such as tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries and a whole host of things that we love,” Fosmo said.

These pollinators can be supported in your own backyard by adding native plants, encouraging biodiversity rather than monocultures, adding bee waterers and bee nest tubes and avoiding the use of pesticides, she said.

Invasive plant management practices were covered by Elise Desjarlais, coordinator for the Lake to Lake Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area. She gave attendees recommendations on handling specific invasives and told them about resources available locally to help homeowners and landowners.

“I do home visits, it’s a part of my job. It’s one of my favorite parts of my job,” she said. “I can come out to your property at no cost to you and we can look around.”

It’s important to minimize invasives, she said, as these plants can crowd out the native plants and biodiversity that pollinators need.

Furthermore, pollinators may be attracted to invasive plants over native plants, which is problematic because invasive plants typically don’t offer the appropriate nutrition for pollinators and native plants could miss out on needed attention from pollinators, Desjarlais said.

While it’s “easy to get overwhelmed” by a wide variety of approaches, information and resources available on the topic, Beranek emphasized that it’s important to “start small, be patient and just marvel in the results.”

And for those who weren’t able to attend the workshop, Beranek wants to spread the word about the local resources available.

“If anyone’s interested in starting their own native plant garden, the conservation district is a great place to start. We have lots of resources, we can do site visits and make recommendations,” she said. “And we have a native plant sale every spring where you can get native wildflowers, trees, shrubs and other plants that will support pollinator habitats.”

This class was the final workshop in a series of four urban agriculture workshops held by the conservation district over the summer with support from a $30,000 grant awarded by the National Association of Conservation Districts. To learn more about the Marquette County Conservation District, visit www.marquettecd.com.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal.net.

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