In Pittsboro, the buzzy Chatham Park pollinator program will expand

There is a community of hundreds of thousands of jobs left on the side of the highway.

Their office, near US Hwy. Business 64 East is nestled among holly trees and blueberry bushes, and their busy schedule limits them to a few tasks – so you can blink and miss the view very quickly.

Who are these workers? Honey bees at the Pittsboro Water Restoration Center.

Bees are at the heart of a series of pollinator gardens planned by Chatham Park, the first of which was installed at the WRC last summer. A second installation with beehives was installed at Mosaic in Chatham Park this spring.

“What we’re trying to do is create these pollination stations throughout Chatham Park to provide honeybee pollination to the entire development,” said Bill Oestereich, property manager for Chatham Park’s developers, Preston Development. “By the time we’re done, these stations will be everywhere.”

The pollinator garden, called a “pollination station” by Jody Moore, NC Master Beekeeper for the project, aims to attract bees, butterflies, birds, moths and other insects to support them by providing them with a source of nectar and nectar. pollen.

The garden at WRC features eight beehives—each containing between 30,000 and 40,000 bees, depending on the time of year—that are shaped to mimic a hollow tree trunk. In addition to beehives, Chatham Park has implemented local pollinator conditioners, such as birdhouses for bees and other pollinators.

“Small Safe Places”

The bees at both sites were raised by Moore, owner of Rocky River Bee Farm and past president of the Chatham County Beekeepers Association. Moore, who has been beekeeping since 2000, transported the bees from his 15-acre farm south of Pittsboro.

For Moore, beekeeping started as an “expensive hobby” but eventually turned into a full-time gig. More than a decade ago, he founded Rocky River Bee Farm; now, through a registered business, he raises bees, sells local honey, offers consulting services to local beekeepers and even produces bees — most recently on a rooftop at Mosaic a few weeks ago.

In the case of the Chatham Park pollination stations, Moore appreciates that native plants are included in the gardens as a requirement.

Honeybees also typically have several miles from their hives, a factor Moore said was taken into account when planning locations for the stations.

“It’s great that they’re being given a chance for these pollinators, otherwise it would be completely gone,” he said. “And it’s great that they have these little safe spaces in the area to thrive.”

According to Oestereich, the idea to include the stations in Chatham Park began even before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the pollination stations follow a number of key beliefs in Chatham Park — namely, the idea of ​​”stewardship.”

“We wanted to see if we could do something on a large scale that would make a difference with pollinators and honey bees in a large project like Chatham Park, where we’re developing almost 8,000 acres,” Oestereich said.

Bees as pollinators

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one out of every three human bites is caused by pollinators. And within this group, human-managed honey bee colonies are the primary pollinators responsible for increasing the nation’s crop value by more than $15 million annually.

Managing honey bee colonies is not an easy task. Rocky River Bee Farm has about ten bee yards in the county, and Moore visits each one regularly.

In the spring, he visits the hives every seven days to make sure the bees aren’t reproducing – a natural process by which a honey bee colony multiplies and splits into more colonies, but which beekeepers try to avoid, as bees often ‘forage’ or overcome pests and take up residence in someone’s home. they don’t survive because of what they know.

During a visit to WRC’s pollination station, Moore carefully removed the frames from one of the hives to show the honeybees at work.

The drones and worker bees remained tightly packed together, but were clearly busy crawling up and down the plastic hive base to perform their duties. The onlooker could see the larvae compacted into the cells like tiny grains of rice (the only bee that remained hidden was the queen bee).

Spending time in the garden with Moore, it’s clear he’s in his element, rattling off facts about bees and answering apparently elementary-level questions with endless patience. But it is also clear that he has great respect for pollinators.

“To go into a hive and realize how much work goes on there and how everything is connected — there are so many individuals, but, ‘Wow, they work as a unit,'” he said. “It’s really mind-blowing. And the more you learn about them, the more you realize what you don’t know.” you understand.”

A difficult time

At this time, bees are in a summer shortage, a dry period between spring and fall flowers, when nectar sources are scarce.

Late summer is a tough time to be a beekeeper, Moore said, as he must store enough food for the bees, manage high mite populations and ensure that the bees currently being raised are strong enough to raise the bees that should survive. Winter.

Rebekah Gunn, a veterinary pathologist and president of the Chatham County Beekeepers Association, said two of the biggest problems facing honeybees are varroa mites and a lack of forage.

According to the NC Cooperative Extension, the mites, first identified in North Carolina in 1980, have contributed significantly to declining honey bee populations in the state. Red-brown parasites have destroyed wild honey bee colonies.

Moore uses organic treatments in her colonies, practicing “Integrated Pest Management” with her Chatham Park hives. NC Cooperative Extension implements IPM through multiple tactics to target pests and minimize risks with sustainability and effectiveness in mind.

As for the lack of food, Gunn said honey bees are “phenomenal” at adjusting their environment within the hive, but they still need food no matter where they are in the country.

“I mean, it doesn’t matter if you’re a bee in Alaska, a bee in Florida, a bee in North Carolina or any other pollinator — you need a food source,” Gunn said.

On a personal level, he said, people often don’t realize that the green manicured lawns or rose bushes common in many suburban yards have no nutritional value for pollinators (and lawns contain many harmful chemicals). .

Instead, Gunn recommends growing native plants that offer pollinators food and support.

Pollinator gardens also provide more information to the public, he believes.

“It’s amazing to me to watch the quote from the ‘general public’ or non-beekeepers at Chatham Mills. [which has its own pollinator garden],” he said. “They’re walking past a plant that’s full of things like paper bees and honey bees and all kinds of things that out of context might trigger a fear reaction in people, but yeah, they see them on these beautiful flowers and they’re not. scary. So I think people are starting to get this information about the pollinators around us.

It’s important for people who want to keep bees to be aware of what’s going on and provide regular colony maintenance, he said. From overharvesting honey to keeping too many bees in one place, Gunn said sometimes too little is done in bee management, “which the bees actually prefer to do.”

“More people are getting into it, which is both good and bad,” he said.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember native pollinators and the balance of quality and quantity when it comes to honey bee management, he said.

Pollinator gardens

When designing the WRC pollinator garden, the landscape architects on the project took a lot of input developed by NC Cooperative Extension, Oestereich said.

Debbie Roos is an agricultural extension agent with the Chatham County Center of NC Cooperative Extension. Moore calls him the “go-to guy” in the area when it comes to pollinating gardens.

Roos, who started working on the pollinator garden at Chatham Mills in Pittsboro more than 14 years ago, now has more than 225 species of pollinator plants in the demonstration garden, which is maintained by volunteers and is open to visitors for tours. Its website, growsmallfarms.ces.ncsu.edu, has resources on everything from beekeeping and pollinator conservation to pest control and crop production.

Roos was part of early conversations about pollination stations in Chatham Park, but was not involved in the development of the project. He said he was glad to see Chatham Park put into gardens.

“Certainly, I mean, if they’re building all these places, we want them to be able to benefit the wildlife, especially given that they’re going to have to tear down habitat to accommodate Chatham Park,” Roos said.

He also emphasized the educational aspect of pollination gardens. The last 15 years of his work in this field has been mainly working towards one goal: to enable people, whether individually or at large, to incorporate native and pollinating plants into their environment.

“So that’s the idea of ​​it, we’re looking at how we can help,” Roos said. “Even in an urban setting, whether it’s in a backyard or a natural area or downtown Pittsboro, how can we provide floral resources, nesting resources, refuges, protection from pesticides, of course, is important, and how do we provide all of that?” pollinators.”

Anyone can make a difference to support pollinators, he said.

“It doesn’t have to be big, you can make a difference by planting milkweeds in your yard to help monarchs,” Roos said.

Similarly, Moore said there are several things homeowners can do to help pollinators: planting a variety of native plants (such as fruit trees, ornamentals and flower gardens), avoiding pesticides or limiting use to evening hours, and keeping birdbaths.

“You’d be amazed how many honey bees you can attract to a birdbath,” he said. “And it really helps them this time of year.”

Finally, the WRC plans to conduct educational tours of the center and the pollination station. Last year, Oestereich said they were able to collect 248 pounds of honey from hives they gave out at realtor events and to business partners. At some point, Chatham Park developers may sell the honey harvested from the hives, but Oestereich said they want to avoid competing with Moore.

Preston Development is also in talks with Strata Solar to install Chatham Park’s third pollination station.

Oestereich, who worked closely with Moore on the project, said he didn’t know honeybees as intimately before the program as he does now. Over time, the bees “[his] family.”

It seems the goal of visitors to Chatham Park’s gardens is to develop a similar appreciation for the pollinators around them.

“It’s a never-ending sense of wonder,” Moore said. “It’s a really fascinating thing.”

Reporter Maydha Devarajan can be reached at mdevarajan@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @maydhadevarajan.

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