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Make the world a better place for pollinators

A monarch butterfly, a monarch butterfly caterpillar and a honeybee go about their daily job of foraging for food and pollinating our world. Special to the Pine Journal1 / 5
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Bob Nelson of Cloquet stands with his garden of milkweed that provides habitat for monarch butterflies. Special to the Pine Journal4 / 5
Flowers on Bob Nelson's property provides habitat for many different types of pollinators. Special to the Pine Journal5 / 5

Breakout box: Want to know more?

1. The Northeast Minnesota Beekeepers Association ( will host Sarah Doroff, the Minnesota Honey Queen, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at the Honey Shack (located near the blacksmith shop) at the Carlton County Fair this weekend. There will be local honey for sale on site, bee-keeping education, and a live honey extraction demonstration at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Members of the Monarch Society and FDLTCC beekeeping group will also be there.

2. Are you are interested in creating pollinator habitat? Attend the "Pollinator Habitat: Planting for Bees and Butterflies" workshop next Saturday. In this two-hour workshop you will:

• Learn how to establish native plant habitat for pollinators via do-it-yourself or hired-out methods.

• Learn about planning and funding assistance.

• Visit several pollinator habitat sites, new and established.

When: 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 26

Where: Meet in the Zion Lutheran Church parking lot, 1000 Washington Ave., Cloquet.

Cost: $10 per person, $15 per group or family.

Register with Cloquet Community Education at 218- 879-1261. Instructor is Carlton SWCD's Kelly Smith and sponsored by Minnesota Forestry Association.

Join us! Don't forget to dress for the outdoor weather and to bring water!

Part II


In last week's story, we learned about pollinators, those little insects responsible for pollinating most plants that produce food, flowers and seed. Without enough pollinators, we have big trouble! In fact, "populations of wild and tame bees, as well as pollinating beetles, flies, moths, and butterflies, have plummeted in the last few years, partly due to habitat loss," said Kelly Smith, conservation technician for Carlton County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD).

So, what can we, as individuals, do to help our important pollinators? Almost all of us can work on creating "pollinator habitat of native flowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees," Smith said, adding that such habitats "can be a beautiful and fun project that really helps the environment." Creating pollinator habitat can also add value to your property and get your whole family outside, working together and enjoying and learning more about our fascinating world!

To help get your pollinator habitat project up and growing, here is advice from Smith and two Carlton County landowners who have been actively creating new habitat.


First, to make sure that a project will succeed, property owners need to come up with a plan, one that takes into consideration the property and interests as well as energy and commitment levels.

The best way to start, according to Cloquet landowner Bob Nelson, is to call the experts.

After buying his parents' property, Nelson decided to plant flowers, as a way to honor his father, Walter Nelson, "who loved nature and would have loved what I've been doing."

Nelson called in help from experts at the SWCD, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Sugarloaf Cove and the Cloquet Forestry Center. Whenever problems or questions arose, Nelson said he simply asked them to come out.

"I knew what I wanted to achieve, but I needed expert advice," he said.

During the planning process,the SWCD can help in several ways. Smith will analyze soil type, traffic patterns, shady and sunny locations, and wet and dry areas for the proposed site. He also wants to know the goals and dreams and landowner's commitment level to care for the pollinator habitat.

"I can then create a plan suited to your site, to what you are capable of doing and can afford to do," Smith said, adding that he can also explore funding possibilities to help accomplish your goals.

If deciding between a large area or several smaller gardens, Smith advises people to consider the amount of edges they will have.

"Larger block sites will have less weed and grass creeping in from the edges than multiple tiny sites," he said. More edges mean more weeding, he added.

Plans may also include removing and replacing unwanted plants and trees.

For instance, Nelson's plans included removing the hedge of 15- to 20-foot-tall buckthorn his father had planted decades ago, long before they were identified as invasive. Smith helped arrange for Conservation Corps of Minnesota employees to cut down the buckthorn and treat the stumps to prevent further growth. Nelson now has a wide row of beautiful, pollinator-friendly plants hiding the dead buckthorn stumps.

Carlton County Commissioner Gary Peterson, a rural Barnum landowner, has also been working on creating pollinator habitat, especially after he and his wife, Barb, started raising honeybees. While his wife does most of the bee care, Peterson does project work and maintenance on their five-plus acres of pollinator habitat.

In addition to several fields of white clover, Peterson has a field he cleared to encourage goldenrod, gardens filled with many varieties of flowers, a large vegetable garden area, a number of fruit and flowering trees, and a field of other wildflowers, including lupines and milkweed.

Peterson strongly stressed that pollinator habitat includes something blooming from early spring to late fall.

"Bees need nectar and pollen right away in the spring," he said. They also need food throughout the summer and right up to freezing time in the fall."

In fact, Peterson plants extra broccoli to go to flower in late fall and loves to watch the bees go wild for broccoli flowers and goldenrod during their last efforts to gather as much food possible for winter.

"The goal is three or more species of flowering plants each season so there is always something for the pollinators to eat," Smith said. These can be everything from wild to cultivated flowers, fruit trees to nut trees, and ornamental bushes to berry plants. Keeping species together in clumps is also much better for pollinators, too. For example, instead of lots of individual plants, a landowners should plan for a small field of clover, a big patch of milkweed, a patch of raspberry plants, multiple blueberry bushes, etc.


The next step is putting the plans into action. Both Peterson and Nelson say that creating habitat is hard, but very satisfying, work. However, they both also called for help where needed to clear land and remove trees. Don't be afraid to call for help! If requested, Smith can help people find assistance for labor intensive work as well as possible funding sources to help pay for project costs.

One thing both Peterson and Nelson emphasize is that creating habitat is not a "get it done in a year" project. It's something to work at bit by bit for several years or more.

"When it comes to establishing native plants, it takes about a year of weed control before planting as well as follow up weed control for several years," Smith said.

To plant wildflowers and/or native plants, Smith recommends a year-long site preparation to control weeds. There are several approaches.

Here's one way to do it when starting in late summer.

• Mow the site.

• Let the clippings wilt, then till to a depth of four inches.

• Prepare a firm seedbed.

• Sow to oats.

• Shallowly cover and roll the seed.

• Next spring, mow and till again, just an inch or so deep.

• When danger of frost is past, sow to buckwheat.

• When the buckwheat just starts to flower, mow and let it wilt, then till it in shallowly, and repeat a buckwheat seeding.

• In late summer, till in the buckwheat and seed to oats again. The following spring you should have weeds well under control. Don't let weeds go to seed in or near your plot.

When creating habitat from overgrown or old wooded areas, Smith said having "an immaculate floor" isn't necessary. In fact, it is recommended to leave a few logs, brush piles, snags, stumps, overgrown grassy spots, and areas of bare soil. These are places for pollinators and other insects to build their nests.

"Keep your goals in mind and don't be intimidated by what others do," Nelson said. "Just do what you can."

Peterson agreed as he is constantly thinking of habitat projects on their property, and adds new plants and trees every year.

Although they have plans and goals, both Peterson and Nelson remain flexible to take advantage of opportunities and to compensate for schedules and changes. Habitat work becomes part of a person's lifestyle, but life itself is filled with change and variety.

Therefore, "learn to appreciate your project as it is right now," advised Nelson ... even if your project doesn't move fast enough or look good enough.

"If you don't overlook the imperfect, it will frustrate you," he added


Once the pollinator habitat is developed, it's time for maintenance, which is especially important during the first couple of years. In dry weather, the new habitat may need to be watered. People should also pull weeds from around the desired plants until they are established enough to crowd out most weeds. Other maintenance chores include planting, transplanting, removing invasive and unwanted plants and trees, cutting back plants, raking, mowing, etc.

Both Peterson and Nelson spend many hours each week on habitat maintenance. Although he enjoys the work, Nelson also looks forward to winter as a "time to relax, dream and plan."

Peterson discouraged herbicide and insecticide use as most of these can kill or severely affect pollinators. However, there are a few that can be used under limited conditions in certain situations. Seek expert advice if this is something that might be needed!

In summary, Nelson aptly said: "I'm only one person, but I will do what I can. It's not always easy and the results may not be entirely what I imagined, but knowing that I'm contributing to pollinator habitat" is worth the work.

Both Nelson and Peterson find they are more aware and appreciative of pollinators now: watching beautiful butterflies dance among the flowers, hearing and seeing bees busy in the clover, and delighting in Monarch butterfly caterpillars crawling on the milkweed. For Peterson, it's a time to be grateful for our blessings and to "give back" to these little ones that need helping hands ... our very important pollinators.