Waking Up Slowly

The Sun is Coming Out: Ne’ata’q, The Food Forest at Bluenose Academy

(Illustration: Jessie McLaughlin)

It’s spring in Ne’ata’q, the Food Forest at Bluenose Academy. There are tiny buds on the pear and apple trees, the day lilies have poked up from the soil, the walking onions have sprouted.

But you have to look closely to see these bright signs of life. Standing back, the forest looks, well, messy. It’s covered with mulch and brush that we added last fall. There are leaf piles, dead stalks and soggy hay bales. So like most gardeners, we’re itching to get out there and tidy up! But we won’t.

You’ve heard of No Mow May? Leave-it-Alone April might be even more important, if less catchy. Because while humans are eager to get raking, digging, and pruning, our insect friends aren’t ready to be disturbed. In fact, they depend on the “mess” of early spring.

Here’s a small list of small critters who like to wake up slowly:

~ Bumblebees: Queen bumblebees overwinter in holes just below ground level. They are often the first bees seen in spring yet still don’t emerge until late April or May. Raking or digging the ground too early can disturb the queen—and therefore the whole colony.

~ Mason bees: These important pollinators of native plants overwinter as adult in furry cocoons, often tucked inside hollow stems of plants. Cutting and tossing out those “dead” stems early in the season means tossing out the bees too.

~ Swallowtail butterflies: Unlike Monarch butterflies, swallowtails do not migrate. They spend winter in chrysalis form hanging from branches of trees and shrubs and emerge only in late May. Pruning branches too early may disturb or destroy the chrysalis. 

~ Soldier beetles:  Also known as leatherwings, these hard-working beetles overwinter as larvae in fallen leaves and under mulch. Adult beetles feed on aphids and help pollinate from spring into late fall.

Many other beneficial insects spend winter in our gardens. As a rule of thumb, wait until temperatures reach a steady 10 degrees Celsius before you start spring cleaning.

In the meantime, check out what else is coming up at the food forest. We have seven workshops planned for spring and summer, everything from companion planting to creating a naturalized rain garden, as well as many other opportunities to get involved. See workshop details here or email us at foodforestatbluenose@gmail.com


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