Monday, March 2, 2015

William Dam Seeds: Bee and Butterfly Trial Garden

Chatting with Connie Dam-Byl about the trial Pollinator Patch on their William Dam Seeds property (Dundas), you can feel the enthusiasm for the project she helped design and plant last summer.

This garden took one summer to grow, using plants and 1/3 seeds.
"There is a big trend in the seed industry about pollinators, especially the studies around bees. A lot of our focus was on the bees and how to bring that back--because colonies are going down," Connie says.

Known for selling quality, untreated seeds, William Dam has always had gardens and bees but when people were coming into the store inquiring about what they could plant for the bees, "We decided to test out what we could grow for food for bees, looking at that from early spring on to frost."

Not surprisingly, this is the reverse of what has been happening over the years, where Connie's personal hunch is that as communities, we had been slowly going away from flower gardens—the trend being up until now, for low maintenance, leafy perennial-type landscapes.

This pollinator garden (planted in their "trail gardens") would not only be dedicated to the bees and butterflies but would also be used to demonstrate and educate costumers on the importance of food for pollinators.

The garden was divided into two sections; half for the bees, the other half for butterflies.
Connie describes how the beds were prepped: they put in manure-compost mixture and a slow release fertilizer and then tilled it under. They then went through and hand planted the garden. They added a fish fertilizer when they watered it.
Over the summer, weeding happened once every two weeks until September.

Educational signage was placed along the paths such as "Do bees really like blue?" (Answer is, they aren’t picky).

"I had "Red Salvia" and when I’d go outside, the salvia would be buzzing because there was so many bees congregating on them," Connie laughs, "Prickly Poppy drew the most bees."

Asked about the importance of growing native plants, Connie says that it's not a focus for them: "For centuries they have been going to North America, brought plants over to Europe, they've refined them in Europe, and we buy them back. So is it native or not?"she asks."When it comes to things like "Zinnia," the Monarchs go down to Mexico and Zinnia is native to Mexico." 

Europeans are starting to build bee strips around their crops (Holland, France, Germany).  —one of the biggest things they use is a North American plant: Lacy Phacelia.

The main concern for Connie is that the plants not be invasive.
The garden only had 85 varieties in it, but there were heights and colours that would go in anyone’s garden; "People don’t have to rip out whole hostas plants," Connie says.

Herbs and Veggies feed pollinators too!

Flowers too frivolous for you?
Connie remarks that in the last five years, there have been a lot of people wanting to grow their own veggies--brought on by the "eat local movement," she assumes.

Some veggies are good for bees: these include tomatoes, and a favourite is broccoli (flower).

About a third of their garden beds were herbs!
Herbs really work well to attract pollinators once they start to bloom:sage, dill, arugula, thyme. Basil is really well loved, oregano too.

Swallowtails love dill.

The plan is to continue educating the public. The project has a list of plants that they know is good that everyone can access. Outreach continues through social media, presentations at local garden clubs, lots of photos on their site etc.

Visit in June for a great display of the plants.
In the meantime, check out their seed catalogue including "Bird and butterfly mix" and "Beneficial insect attractant mix" and start planning your patch!

Tips and Facts

  • Planting for pollinators? Remember to plant for all their life cycle!
  • Monarch caterpillars eat only Asclepias (Milkweed) during their life, but the adult butterflies have a more varied diet that includes Aster, Buddleja, Echinacea, Zinna, Verbena.
  • Butterflies like flowers that give them a platform to hold onto while they sip the nectar so includeAchillea, Rudbeckia etc
  • Leave some of your broccoli, arugula, and other mustards to bolt to provide a month of food for bees. (from the William Dam Seeds Catalogue).