Happy New Year! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season. Doug and I have a huge project starting in 2020 that we are happy to share with you. We are creating a 26 acre conservation area and pollinator habitat. This is unlike anything we have ever done before, but if Morgan Freeman, can do it so can we. (In case you didn’t know, Morgan Freeman recently converted his 124 acre ranch in Mississippi to a bee sanctuary. I am a huge Morgan Freeman fan. He actually helped me learn to read thanks to his work on the Electric Company.)
Back in the spring of 2016, we purchased a 26 acre undeveloped tract of land where we live in Boone County Kentucky. The property has a little over 7 acres of pasture land and the rest is forest. Boone County is in the northernmost part of the state and is located just south of Cincinnati, Ohio. It is a fast growing region and in just a few decades the county transformed from rural and agricultural to industrial with high density housing. For those of us who grew up in Boone County, the change is bittersweet. Doug found the property the way he finds everything. He was playing around on the internet while throwing the ball for our dog. (Our German Shepherd requires hours of this activity every day in order to maintain some semblance of sanity.) The property price was low for our area because it had very little road frontage and no access to public sewers. Sewer lines are a really big deal. If an area does not have sewer lines then septic systems must be installed. Septic systems require larger lot sizes for homes. Home developers can’t build as many homes per acre in an area without sewers, and that is probably why the land we purchased hadn’t already been snatched up by a developer.
We bought the property without having any idea what we were going to do with it. We thought it was a good investment since the value of the property would increase whenever public sewer lines were run to that part of the county. We considered building a house on the land, but Doug and I quickly figured out that we are not the type of people that can build a new house. We simply don’t care enough about light fixtures, floor plans, and outlet placements. We find the home building process overwhelming. For two years we did nothing with the property other than let local farmers cut hay from the pasture. That changed in 2018 when we were contacted by the local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which is a part of the USDA. We learned the property is part of a critical watershed in the area, and the NRCS wanted to suggest improvements to the property to protect the watershed. They toured the property and suggested that we remove all the bush honeysuckle in the forest. We explained that we are beekeepers, so they suggested plating the pasture area with a combination of native grasses and pollinator habitat (aka wildflowers). We applied for a grant that would help defray some of the costs. After two rounds of grant submissions and lots of red tape, we were approved. Work will start this spring.
Before this process began, I had no clue that bush honeysuckle was so bad for the environment. Bush honeysuckle makes a beautiful ornamental plant, and that is why it was originally introduced to the area. It is an incredibly invasive species crowding out all other plants including tree saplings that are needed for the health of the forest. Bush honeysuckle offers little nutrition for deer and birds, so a forest that is full of bush honeysuckle makes poor habitat. Land covered with bush honeysuckle is more susceptible to erosion, so NRCS suggested removing it to protect the watershed. I will blog more about bush honeysuckle sometime in the future. For now, here is a short video I made this fall to help you see how bush honeysuckle takes over a forest.
You may be wondering how this property can be so good for bees if over half of the property is covered by forest. Trees are actually very important food sources for bees. A single tree that is blooming in the spring can provide much more food per square foot of land than a meadow of wildflowers. The key is to have a mix of trees of differing species with differing flowering times and wildflowers that bloom spring through fall. The other great benefit of trees is that they can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This property should be a good carbon sink, meaning it removes large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
In the year ahead, you will probably see more posts covering the following topics
- Logistics of planting acres of wildflowers
- Getting the neighbors on board with this project
- Threats from invasive species like Japanese stilt grass, Bradford pear trees, and bush honeysuckle
- Periodic progress reports
2020 will be a very exciting year for us and the bees. We wish you love, peace and joy for the year ahead.