“In the United States, the pollinators which we depend on for the majority of our pollination services are bees, including the non-native European honeybee and over 4,000 species of native bees. Evidence of population declines of bees, not only in the United States, but around the world, has prompted scientists to encourage changes in ecosystem management” (USDA).
As Benedictines we profess a vow of stability; we commit ourselves to living among members of one community in one place. This promise ties us closely to the tradition of our monastic ancestors to care for and steward the place where we live in community. Pope Francis shared this reflection in his encyclical Laudato si’: “We can also look to the great tradition of monasticism. Originally, it was a kind of flight from the world, an escape from the decadence of the cities. The monks sought the desert, convinced that it was the best place for encountering the presence of God. Later, Saint Benedict of Norcia proposed that his monks live in community, combining prayer and spiritual reading with manual labour (ora et labora). Seeing manual labour as spiritually meaningful proved revolutionary. Personal growth and sanctification came to be sought in the interplay of recollection and work. This way of experiencing work makes us more protective and respectful of the environment; it imbues our relationship to the world with a healthy sobriety” (126).
Last year, Sister Gardener began shifting parts of our monastic vegetable garden to pollinator habitat. Seeking to support a pollinator population that is in distress here on the plains, she planted our habitat. She filled it with native prairie blooms and grasses which haven’t been sprayed with any insecticide or pesticide; in other words, our pollinator habitat is a safe garden home for the many little bees, wasps, butterflies, and insects here in the southeast corner of South Dakota. The habitat includes: prairie grasses, prairie comb flower, gray comb flower, poppy, flaxes, sedum, prairie sunflower, red yarrow, black-eye susan, and mexican red-hat .
You might be wondering why we planted a pollinator habit. Our monastery is already surrounded by blooms: flower beds; an orchard filled with apple, apricot, plum, cherry, and pear trees; and a vegetable garden. Each of these is a wonderful source of pollen for the pollinators during their moment of blooming; however, this new habitat offers a stable diet of blooms and grasses that continue throughout the summer and fall. This buffet of blooms and grasses also attracts a wider population and a greater number of pollinators for our gardens’ needs.
As the years progress, Sister Gardener plans to continue this slow shift from garden to habitat. Encouraging these species that are native to our monastery grounds will take time. It all begins with the ground being tilled and raked to break up the earth, and next a mixture of seeds is broadcast (sown) by hand over the dirt; then, we pray for rain. During the first year, the habitat looks a bit awful. The weeds grow faster than the newly sown flowers and grasses. These quick growing weeds aren’t pulled out or doused with herbicide…the whole plot gets mowed! The mower is placed on its highest setting and the weeds’ leaves are shredded away leaving room for the newly sprouted grasses and flowers to peek through. Even by the end of the first season, the weeds seem to have won their rights to the plot of land, but the prairie habitat is a mix of perennial and self-seeding annual species.
The second year, the flowers sprout up quickly throughout the habitat. They break into bloom and celebrate God’s cathedral of creation! The prairie grasses hidden below the abundant flowers slowly take deep root, over the next few years the grasses to spread and thin the flowers. Early each spring, Sister Gardener will mow the pollinator habitat. Creating an area of land call a ‘carbon sink’ that will hold the carbon the plants take-in and store in the soil. Soon after, the native plants spring to life in an abundance reflecting God’s great blessings in Psalm 65: You crown the year with Your bounty. Abundance flows in your pathways; in pastures of the desert it flows (12-13). The challenge of this beautiful habitat is reminding our sisters that it was planted for the pollinators alone! It is so tempting to pluck a bloom or two for the chapel or refectory, but each flower and grass needs to be left in place for bees and bugs. Left in its beauty, the pollinator habitat is becoming a wonderful place of peace to wonder at all God’s creation.
We invite you to consider supporting a pollinator habitat at your home too.
Here are seven ways to make your garden a haven for native pollinators:
- Use pollinator-friendly plants in your landscape. Shrubs and trees such as dogwood, blueberry, cherry, willow, and poplar provide pollen or nectar, or both, early in spring when food is scarce.
- Choose a mixture of plants for spring, summer, and fa ll. Different flower colors, shapes, and scents will attract a wide variety of pollinators. If you have limited space, you can plant flowers in containers on a patio, balcony, and even window boxes.
- Reduce or eliminate pesticide use in your landscape, or incorporate plants that attract beneficial insects for pest control. If you use pesticides, use them sparingly and responsibly.
- Accept some plant damage on plants meant to provide habitat for butterfly and moth larvae.
- Provide clean water for pollinators with a shallow dish, bowl, or birdbath with half-submerged stones for perches.
- Leave dead tree trunks, also called “snags,” in your landscape for wood-nesting bees and beetles.
- Support land conservation in your community by helping to create and maintain community gardens and green spaces to ensure that pollinators have appropriate habitat.
Blessings to you,
Return to “One Heart and One Soul”