“If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.”
Wild geraniums, field thistle, golden Alexander, blue vervain — native plants that feed pollinating bees, birds and butterflies — will be planted along Main Street on Earth Day, Sunday April 22, kicking off Ridgefield’s “pollinator pathway.”
Earth Day weekend will also find Ridgefielders out picking up papers, bottles, cigarette butts, and other trash in the town’s annual “Rid Litter Days” cleanup, Saturday, April 21, and Sunday.
The spring cleanup along roadsides, and in parks and school grounds, is a longstanding Ridgefield tradition. But the Earth Day planting launches Ridgefield’s first town-wide initiative to benefit pollinators.
“They need pollen, they need food, they need nectar, they need water, they need not to have pesticides sprayed,” said Kitsey Snow, a Conservation Commission member and one of the organizers of the Ridgefield Pollinator Pathway initiative.
Snow pointed to a German study, highlighted recently in The New York Times, that found a 76% decline in flying insects over the last 25 years.
“It’s a pretty serious problem. Bugs are really important,” she said. “People think they’re pests, but they’re not — they’re really important.”
Some 35% of the world’s food supply is dependent on pollinators, she said.
The rid litter effort encourages people to take spring cleaning beyond their own yards.
“It’s for pride and beauty in your town. If everybody helped for 15 minutes, what a difference it would make,” said Barbara Hartman of the Caudatowa Garden Club, who’s organizing this year’s effort along with the cleanup’s founder, Beth Yanity.
“Most people pick up their own property. You have to think a little beyond, look around the schools, the parks, do your street.”
People may pick up wherever they choose over the weekend, then drop the trash bags off at four designated spots: Farmingville School, East Ridge Middle School, Ridgefield High School, and the Fox Hill Lake beach area off Bennetts Farm Road. The town highway department will pick them up Monday.
Trash bags and safety vests — newly designed this year by Highway Department administrator Ellen Rossini — are available in advance at the Recreation Center off Route 35 or the Chamber of Commerce at 13 Grove Street. Bags will also be available at the RVNA Health Day on Saturday.
“Ridgefield Hardware donates the pickup bags,” Hartman said.
The effort is growing.
“In 2016 we collected 880 pounds of litter. And in 2017, 1,440 pounds,” Hartman said. “Our goal this year is 2,000 — or a ton.
“We would ask,” she added, “that people do not clean out their garage and put old cans of paint and hazardous waste in these bags.”
The pollinator initiative begins Sunday, April 22, with volunteers planting pollinator gardens from noon to 2 p.m. at four prominent properties along Main Street — Jesse Lee’s nursery school, Keeler Tavern, the Aldrich Museum, and the Casagmo condominiums.
“We’re meeting at the Community Center parking lot, and we’ll divide people up as they arrive,” said Snow. “And they need to bring shovels.”
Plants and refreshments are being provided by Ridgefield Rotary, the outdoor supplies retailer REI of Norwalk, the Conservation Commission, and the Norwalk River Watershed Association.
There’s a regional aspect, said Snow, a member of the Ridgefield Garden Club and the Norwalk River Watershed Association, as well as the Conservation Commission — three of 10 environmentally conscious organizations sponsoring the pollinator effort.
“It was started by Donna Merrill of the Wilton Land Conservation Trust,” she said.
Local environmentalists are looking to expand the program into Ridgefield, and now more neighboring towns.
“Redding is interested. Danbury is interested. I think Norwalk is interested. New Canaan, Weston, North Salem, Lewisboro,” Snow said.
“The Norwalk River Valley Trail has agreed to be part of it as well. Wherever they’re disturbing land to build the trial, they’ve agreed to let us plant native plants,” she said.
The Ridgefield organizers have “pathways” they hope to get planted with pollinator-friendly gardens.
“The idea being that we plant pollinator gardens all along the pathway,” said Leonorre Herbst of the Woodcock Nature Center, which is supporting the effort.
“A key distance, apparently, is every 750 feet they need a plant they can land on — that can be a tree, a shrub, a flower — and they need to be in succession, so there needs to be plants that are blooming in the spring, in the summer and in the fall,” Snow said.
“Succession planting. We need plants that are blooming in all three seasons,” she said. “Some pollinators are migrating. Some are going north in the spring and south in the fall, and they need places to stop.”
The effort isn’t limited.
“We don’t want it to be just along the pathway, we want everybody,” Snow said.
“People need to get to know what invasive plants are, because a lot of the plight of these pollinators is due to these invasive plants overtaking the native plants,” Snow said.
There’s a list of about 20 plants, 20 trees and 20 shrubs organizers want planted.
The garden club plant sale at Ballard Greenhouse, May 11 and 12 from 9 to 2, will offer pollinator-friendly native plants.
Websites the pollinator advocates suggest for information and lists of valuable native plants include pollinator-pathway.org, ladybug.uconn.edu, bringbackthepollinators.org, and gobotany.newenglandwild.org.
Certain plants are vital.
“Some of these pollinators are really species-specific,” Snow said.
Monarch butterflies need milkweed — for egg-laying, and it’s all they eat in their caterpillar stage.
In Richardson Park, routine mowing of milkweed has been curtailed for pollinators the last few years.
“We’ve had great success there,” said Hartman. “We used to have zero butterflies. And last year I saw 15 or 20.”
“Caterpillars are really important, too,” said Snow, “because they provide 100% of the food for baby birds.”
“Baby birds cannot eat seeds,” Hartman added. “They need mushy things.”
So field mowing should be limited.
“You can’t mow this stuff in the middle of the summer. It kills all the milkweed and all the other native pollinator plants,” said Snow.
“Field mowing should occur in the spring, but not when the ground is too wet.”
“No mowing between May 1 and Nov. 1,” said Hartman.
Native plant species are important because they’re what local creatures eat.
“Native white oaks support over 550 species of caterpillars. Ginko trees, on the other hand, which are not native, support zero,” said Hartman.
Lawn perfectionism is another concern.
“A good lawn is not really a good thing,” Hartman said. “A green lawn is a wasteland, especially since everybody hires commercial lawn companies to come in with herbicides and pesticides. If they kill all the dandelions, they kill all the clover — bees love clover.
“And then they fertilize it like crazy,” Snow added, “and all the fertilizer runs off into the water.”
Pollinator advocates urge people not to overreact to leaves with bites taken out.
“It shows the insects have been eating the leaves, which is what they need to do to thrive,” said Snow. “A little munching is not a bad thing, and you don’t want to spray it, or call your tree guy and get them in. Then you’ve killed off all your caterpillars.”
Leaf eating can reach a point that it’s problematic — as periodic gypsy moth infestations demonstrate.
“Decimation may be another story,” Hartman said.
But spraying should be approached cautiously.
“Pesticides are not species-specific,” said Snow. “They’re not just killing ticks, they’re not just killing mosquitoes — they’re killing all insects. And ticks and mosquitoes, frankly, are bird food and frog food and bat food.
“There is no organic pesticide that is good for pollinators. If you use a pesticide, you’re going to kill good bugs,” Snow said.
“I’m learning to love the dandelions and clover. The bees are happy.”
Slideshow photos by Dave Cronin.