“Give bees a chance” is the motto of the Portland Pollinator Partnership, a group of Bayside residents who want to protect and create new habitat in the city for wild bees and other pollinating insects.
The Bayside Neighborhood Association founded the organization in April, and since then a variety of other local organizations have signed on to help, including the East Bayside Neighborhood Organization, Friends of Deering Oaks, Maine Audubon, Mayo Street Arts and Portland Trails.
The city of Portland has offered to help by locating appropriate places to put new insect-friendly plantings.
Annie Wadleigh, 53, is acting chair of the group and vice president of the Bayside Neighborhood Association. She’s lived in Portland for 30 years, and in Bayside since 2007.
A poet, writer and artist, she is assistant director of development at the Maine College of Art.
WHAT’S A BEE WALL? At a Bayside Neighborhood Association meeting last spring that Wadleigh attended, someone mentioned bee walls.
“I ran home and looked it up,” she said, “and immediately emailed all these people to say, ‘This is really cool.’ Bee walls are like bee houses. They’re pieces of wood that have holes in them. I said ‘We should put some of those around the trail, wouldn’t that be great?’ ”
Other people got enthused, too, and the Portland Pollinator Partnership was born.
BEE SMART: Bee walls are not the same thing as beehives. While honeybees and bumblebees are social creatures, most bees are solitary, with each female building her own nest. There are more than 270 species of native bees in Maine, including plasterers, sweat bees, miner and sand bees, and leafcutter and mason bees.
Wild bees, Wadleigh says, “have natural habitat but a lot of it gets disrupted by mowing, traffic, all the things we do in an urban area.”
BEE INCLUSIVE: The PPP is not just about bees. “Worldwide, there is a big collapse of honeybees, but there are also wild pollinators beyond honeybees, including moths, bats, wasps,” Wadleigh said.
“Honeybees are the most efficient and the top pollinators. All our crops and our food sources depend on the pollination technique, for the most part, and there are a lot of wild bees out there that can do it wonderfully if we restore some of their habitat.”
BEE EDUCATED: Two of the biggest threats to bee health are the overuse of pesticides and the lack of pollinator-friendly plantings.
“A big part of it is landscaping and garden care,” Wadleigh said. “I have a dog we walk all around Portland, and I started writing down places I saw the little pesticide signs – big places, hospitals – and I thought to myself, maybe there’s a way we can educate about landscaping and gardening in ways that don’t destroy our own insects.
“I think people’s attitudes are changing from the idea that a garden has to be immaculate and green with perfect grass, no weeds, in which case you often will have no bugs, no butterflies, no birds.”
BEE CIVIC-MINDED: Recently Wadleigh met with city officials, including the city arborist, on the Bayside Trail to talk about what kind of pollinator-friendly plants might do well there.
“There was a tree they had planted in the Bayside area that was actually attracting all kinds of bees while we were there,” Wadleigh recalled. “It was called a sourwood tree. I had never heard of it. There was a slope where maybe we could make some low-mow areas. They’re going to come up with some suggestions.
“I think that’s another thing that’s changing too, is the idea that recreational areas have to look like golf courses.
“One of our partners is the Mayor’s Initiative for Healthy Sustainable Food Systems urban agriculture subcommittee, and I think they’re interested in creating some urban farms in Portland. This winter we’d love to do some workshops, maybe about pesticides and landscaping, and permaculture.
“Another thing we’d love to do is involve schools to see if they could partner with us.”
BEE PROACTIVE: Wadleigh said learning more about the plight of pollinators has inspired her to take personal action.
“I live in an apartment building, but I do have a community garden in Bayside and it has inspired me to let certain parts of my garden go to blossom rather than trim things back more like I used to,” she said.
“And I’ve expanded bee balm. In that same garden, I’m hoping to do a pilot project with more bee plantings and maybe start putting some bee houses around there.”