Like the cornfield in “Field of Dreams”, this formerly barren back lot at Highland Middle School must have been sending out visions of what it could become. Fortunately some of us were listening – and thanks to grant funding from The North American Partnership for Environmental Community Action, the vision is being realized. This pics in this post show what amazing things can happen on a little plot of turfgrass in just one season.
NAPECA funded a grant submitted by the Louisville Nature Center called “People for Pollinators”. This two year project provided for the purchase of native perennials for pollinator gardens at many local schools, a number of which I helped students to plant. Helping with the one at Highland Middle School was more personal: I attended this school (long ago!) and now my daughter does too. So in the spirit of contributing, and to get myself out of PTA, I offered to be a long-term garden volunteer.
But the real energy behind the HMS garden comes from science teacher Tua Gravatte, who was the garden’s sponsor. She runs the garden club, helps the kids plant and care for the adjacent vegetable garden, hauls mulch, shares her tools and homemade compost, and much more.
These few raised bed plantings may not look like much, but the insect inhabitants of the neighborhood have taken note and gathered for the feast – sometimes to feast on each other.
The pics are from the first season of the garden; the variety of pollinators and others it has attracted is quite astounding. So far as I know none of these insects had been seen on the site before, when it was a mowed lawn desert. And it’s just beginning; another planting this fall will more than double the size of the pollinator gardens, and we’ll add native trees and shrubs like Pawpaw and Elderberry.
The biggest draw for nectar seekers was the Hoary Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum incanum, with its abundant tiny flowers. One rather maligned group in particular, the parasitic wasps, was very devoted to it. These terrifying-looking, but docile and beneficial creatures sip nectar during their short adult lives. After mating, the females seek caterpillars and other larvae, the main target of their stings. “Parasitoid” is the proper term for these wasps, since the larvae they lay their eggs on are ultimately devoured from the inside out. As a group, parasitoids are incredibly diverse, and may be the single most important biological weapon gardeners have. See these great links for more:
Females of the formidable looking Great Black Wasp paralyze adult Katydids and grasshoppers and drag them into their burrows for the consumption of their larvae. But “kleptoparasites” such as House Sparrows and Catbirds may try to steal their prey before they get it underground.
The beautiful Digger Wasp, Scolia dubia, is also quite large; though gentle enough to observe closely, it likely suffers a good deal of pesticide persecution due to its appearance. Why don’t parasitoids want to sting you? As solitary wasps, they don’t live in a colony and aren’t programmed to protect it as the social Yellowjacket Wasps and Hornets are. Disclaimer: parasitic wasps can sting people but rarely do. Approaching them at close range with my camera, I’ve had the occasional “back off” bluff, but have never been stung.
This orange legged wasp may be an Ichneumen, in the genus Pimpla.
As with most nectar sippers, the individual lives of parasitoids are short. After these aptly named Thread Waisted Wasps, Eremnophila aureonotata, have finished mating, the male will be done with his purpose in life. The female will live just long enough to lay her eggs.
This tiny metallic bee is one of the “sweat bees” or Halictids. It’s likely Augochlora pura; which loosely translates to Pure Golden Green Sweat Bee. https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/pollinator-of-the-month/augochlora_pura.shtml
One of the smallest visitors I was able to get a good pic of – this long-legged metallic fly in the genus Chrysosoma goes after other insects and won’t bother your picnic.
This little garden insect tour quite obviously includes only a smidgeon of the creatures that are benefiting from it. But the take home message is simple: creating backyard habitat is easy and it works. Plant it, and creatures you’ve never seen in your yard before will begin to show up. You can even hang out with wasps that don’t want to sting you!
Last minute update: at the HMS garden yesterday evening, spotted this tiny juvenile Cope’s Grey Tree Frog. Which means there is a breeding pond nearby – likely the old kiddie pool I saw in a neighbor’s yard.