St. Vincent College's Pollinator Garden caters to bees, butterflies, birds, moths

| Tuesday, July 23, 2013, 8:21 p.m.

Master Gardeners with the Penn State Cooperative Extension were on hand during a recent open house to promote the Pollinator Garden at Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve at St. Vincent College.

In addition to serving as a peaceful and picturesque retreat near the campus, the garden plays an important role in Penn State's pollinator research projects.

Volunteers conduct monthly counts of four types of bees at pollinator gardens in every county of the state, and each pollinator garden certified by Penn State for the counts must contain the same pollinator-attracting plants.

“When the older monks left or didn't garden anymore, these beds sat idle,” said Penn State Master Gardener Ron Patun, who designed the three raised-bed gardens filled with native plants. “I took over three beds full of heavy weeds. We dug all the weeds out; we rototilled; we prepared all the soil. And at the same time, Penn State was coming up with their pollinator program, so we adapted it so this garden is certified by Penn State to be a pollinator garden. Some of the plants I put in here meet those requirements.”

The garden plots at the nature reserve are filled with dozens of native plants and herbs, all of them particularly attractive to pollinators such as bees, butterflies, birds and moths.

“This is the one that's full of honeybees now,” Patun said as he walked past a catmint plant. “The honeybees are coming out of the apiary, and they're coming over here. ... It's just loaded with them. All day long, they're there.

“This is about ready to open, and then the bees will be there, and they'll be here because they like oregano,” Patun added a few steps farther down the plot beside some Greek oregano.

Curt Fisher, another Master Gardener, showed off the hive of honeybees stationed a few yards from one of the garden plots and stressed the importance of the insects as pollinators.

“I've been a beekeeper for 50 or 60 years as a hobbyist,” Fisher said. “I enjoy the bees. I like working with them, and they're so essential to our lifestyle. We have to have the honeybee — that's all there is to it.”

He helps fledgling beekeepers get their hives started off right.

“I started out by selling some bees. Every spring, people were looking for bees. Then they don't know what to do with them, so I started answering their questions, and then it just developed into almost a full-time job where I am answering the phone all day long and trying to advise them,” Fisher said. “It has worked out. I don't know how many beekeepers in this county or this tri-state area that I have mentored, but it's a lot. Last year, I know there were 18 beekeepers that I had hands-on with them. This year, there's probably going to be 25 or 30, plus others that call me.”

With honeybee populations worldwide mysteriously in decline, pollinator gardens like the one at Winnie Palmer become increasingly important.

“The strawberry blossom that you or I see, it's a beautiful blossom. But when a honeybee looks at that, they will see up to 200 different blossoms in there that they have to (pollinate), and it takes 10 to 12 days of visiting the strawberry blossom in order to make it produce what it should produce,” Fisher said. “The next time you eat a strawberry, check the little stones you see on the outside. Those are where a blossom was. Blueberry production has increased three- or four-fold by the use of honeybees in order to pollinate them. Almonds — we wouldn't have almonds without honeybees.”

Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913.

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