Dear Ruth, I have a large pasture that is visible to the road and have received comments about the area looking unkempt. I often leave the land ‘overgrown’ because it is full of milk weed and other plants that pollinators love. Can you suggest a compromise between providing habitat for pollinators and still maintaining the property?
Tim R., McDowell County
That is a great question! I have lived on streets where I prayed the neighbors would mow the grass before my relatives came to visit… and I have been the person whose yard desperately needed attention – so I can sympathize with both perspectives in your question. Things can be more relaxed out in the country, although some of my neighbors in Madison County kept the roadsides beyond their property mowed and “well kept” and the neighborhood appreciated their contribution.
One important fact – your pasture provides an essential service to pollinators. There is no doubt that pollinators need every possible piece of available habitat and more. Pollinator habitat (and wildlife habitat in general) is shrinking and becoming fragmented for multiple reasons. Every time a new house is built, habitat diminishes. To make ends meet, financially-stressed farmers have maximized field sizes to the very edge – which results in narrowed field borders i.e. reduced habitat. The cost of gasoline (until recently) has led to increased ethanol production which means growing more corn.
Most of the corn grown in the USA is Roundup Ready corn which is genetically engineered to withstand multiple herbicide sprays. Pollinator habitat that normally would have grown up in the crop rows or along the borders is eliminated. Click HERE to see how Roundup (glyphosate) usage has increased from 1992 through 2012. This graphic map shows a staggering increase through the years, illustrating just how much glyphosate (Roundup) is currently being applied across the center of the USA – over prime monarch migration areas and over much of the Mississippi River basin. According to a 2013 Yale Environment 360 article, “a new census taken at the monarchs’ wintering grounds found their population had declined 59 percent over the previous year and was at the lowest level ever measured.”
As you can see, the habitat you are currently providing is vital to pollinators, beneficial insects, and wildlife. However, good neighborly relations are extremely valuable for a multitude of reasons. Perhaps you can navigate a way to keep the pasture unmowed AND keep your neighbors happy.
Here are a few ideas:
• You could turn your pasture into a hayfield and mow just twice a year, avoiding big milkweed patches when you mowed the hay. In dry years you would only mow once. None of your country neighbors would complain because that’s the expected hayfield routine. If you don’t have a tractor, try trading hay for mowing and baling services.
• You could share your passion for pollinator protection with your neighbors, and attempt to get them on board with creating pollinator habitat on their property too.
• You could put up a sign with a picture of a Monarch butterfly facing the road that explained that your pasture was a pollinator habitat zone. Very professional looking metal signs can be produced locally for under $100 – a small price to pay if you are a permanent member of the community where you live. Monarch Way Station signs only cost $17 once you are certified with Monarch Watch, and there are other options on the internet. If your pasture is large, I suggest more than one sign. Insert Monarch Watch sign photo with this • You could mow a narrow strip between your fence and the road, so that the area up to the fence looked manicured and most folks would probably be happy. If you don’t have a fence, mow over to an invisible line parallel to the road.
• You could plow and plant a section along your fenceline, and “farmscape” that strip with an eye toward beauty. Your neighbors would see the farmscaping flowers when they drove by. Hopefully it would be beautiful and everyone would be happy. ATTRA has an in-depth article about farmscaping that includes many pretty flowers that attract pollinators and beneficial insects, or check out the online list of native plants for pollinators at BeeCityUSA’s website.
• And a question…is the pasture clean except for the unmowed plants? If not, perhaps you could clean up and consolidate any objects in your pasture into neat organized-looking piles so that the general feeling is tidy.
• You could combine a number of these ideas, such as mowing the border AND installing a sign.
• It is your prerogative to choose to do nothing at all, however neighborly relations are pretty important out in the country. In case of an emergency, a good neighbor is invaluable. Plus neighbors often possess many useful skills you would love to learn.
Each of us can increase pollinator habitat by planting nectar plants (flowers) and butterfly host plants in our yards and properties. Ideally the habitat we create would be continuous and unbroken, but every little bit helps. Plant flowers of varying heights and colors, and plan a succession of blooms throughout the year. Pollinators prefer single flowers (rather than double flowers) and they like large clumps (3-4’ in diameter) of the same flower for easy feeding. This may be obvious, but pollinator habitats should be free of pesticides.
Tim, best of luck with your neighbors, your pasture, and your pollinator friends. I hope you work out a great compromise all around.
All my best,
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Ruth Gonzalez is a former market farmer, gardener, and local food advocate and blogger at http://tailgatemarketfanclub.wordpress.com. In her job at Reems Creek Nursery, Ruth offers advice on all sorts of gardening questions, and benefits daily from the wisdom of local gardeners.
Ask Ruth © 2015 Ruth Gonzalez & Organic Growers School
Author: Ruth Gonzalez
Ruth Gonzalez is a former market farmer, gardener, and local food advocate who wants to see organic farms proliferate and organic gardens in every yard. She serves on the Organic Growers School Board of Directors, and in her job at Reems Creek Nursery, Ruth offers advice on all sorts of gardening questions, and benefits daily from the wisdom of local gardeners.