First MUD workshop since COVID-19 focuses on gardening for bees

First MUD workshop since COVID-19 focuses on gardening for bees

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In time for National Pollinator Week, the Missoula Urban Demonstration Project held its first workshop since COVID-19 shutdowns on gardening to support bee habitats on Saturday.

A handful of participants met at the MUD site just off of Russell Street for the Gardening in Bee Country workshop. With a view of the tool library shed, some native gardens and a rainwater catchment system, participants learned how to attract native bees to their gardens.

Education and outreach assistant Claudia Hewston from the National Wildlife Federation AmeriCorps led the discussion, asking people to share some of the words they associate with bees. Some words that came up were honey, flowers and hive.

“Growing up all you hear about are social nesters with a hive and a queen,” Hewston said.

One familiar social nester Hewston said is the honeybee, a domesticated species brought to America from Europe. Honeybees nest in hives and have queens, worker bees and drones, but of the 4,000 native species in North America about 75% are solitary nesters. Solitary nesters can burrow in bare soil or make homes in tunnels often made by other insects or animals.

NWF is partnered with the City of Missoula, local businesses, schools and homeowners to establish certified wildlife habitats around the city. Missoula is Montana’s first designated community wildlife habitat.

Hewston explained that loss of native wildlife habitat is the biggest threat to wildlife. Without places to nest, eat, find water or raise their young the wildlife native to the area can’t flourish or grow. Native gardens are an effective way of preserving the wildlife, Hewston said, because the animals and plants have already formed relationships. And native plants need less attention and care because they’re built to thrive in Missoula soil.

After learning about the importance of supporting native wildlife, MUD’s garden steward Johnathan Peeblson, who specializes in landscape design, walked the workshop participants through the process of planting a garden. He let each person pick from a collection of shrubs and flowers to plant in an empty plot of land. The plants were purchased from Pipilo Native Plants Nursery and Bad Goat Forest Products.

Peeblson emphasized the importance of spreading the plants out, being aware of how large they will grow and planting flowers that will attract bees. Bees are drawn to yellows, blues and purples as well as sweet smelling plants.

MUD member Ashley Meaux and her 8-year-old son Jacque were eager to get into the dirt. Jacque picked out two silky lupines and planted one on each side of the plot. The lupines will eventually grow a cone tower of bright purple flowers.

“We love this concept,” Meaux said. “It’s absolutely the spirit of why we moved to Missoula.”

Meaux and her family moved to Missoula almost two years ago when she accepted a job as a speech language pathology professor at the University of Montana. She said Jacque loves all things gardening, nature and bees and so they’ve been attending MUD workshops together as they learn how to grow their own garden.

Annual MUD memberships are priced on a sliding scale depending on how much someone is able to pay. Members get 50% discounts on workshops, access to a tool library and a truck share.

Casey Valencia, director of MUD, said the goal of their organization is to empower people to live more sustainably. The main way they do that is through tool sharing and hands-on learning. This year they’re working on a bee series, after getting a grant for some honeybees.

“It’s not as simple as just putting in boxes and getting some bees,” Valencia said. “So, we knew an important part of that would be landscaping and how to create pollinator friendly spaces for them.”

After gardening, Peeblson donned a beekeeper suit and brought people around the building to see their honeybee boxes. He explained the best ways not to agitate the bees and showed people the honeycomb, explaining that bees make it from their saliva.

The workshop wrapped up with participants making their own bee homes for native solitary nesting bees. Participants drilled different sized holes into dried out cottonwood and made rooves to protect from rain out of cut up pieces of lumber. Jacque used a power drill for the first time.

Valencia said there will hopefully be three more workshops in the fall. They hope to do one on managing sick bees, preparing bees for the winter and what to do with bee products like beeswax and honey.

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