CRANBERRY TWP — Gardens can provide much pleasure. There's the simple joy of helping something grow.
Of course, there's the color and beauty of plants and flowers, and there's the benefit of fruits, vegetables and herbs on the kitchen table.
But there is one other increasingly important aspect to the home garden — helping pollinators, that is, bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and essentially all kinds of flying and crawling insects.
“Pollinators are in trouble,” said Doug Oster, “They are losing their habitats, and as gardeners, we can help these pollinators.”
A renown gardening guru, Oster highlighted the first open event at the community apiary located at Cranberry Highlands Golf Course on Sunday.
About 20 attendees listened to Oster speak about his passion — creating a pollinator-friendly garden and yard.
“It feels really good to help pollinators as they're in decline, because of habitat loss, pesticides and many other reasons. But you get a benefit of helping the pollinators in that the pollinators are going to help you.” Oster has the credentials to back up what he says. He is the author of books on gardening, and he hosts a weekly radio show, “The Organic Gardener,” from 7 to 8 a.m. every Sunday on KDKA Radio. He also is an Emmy award-winning producer and occasional television host on the same subject.
At or near the top of his list of dos and don'ts is a don't — specifically, don't use chemicals.
“Everything you do in the garden,” he said, “any problem you have, whether it's a pest or a disease, can be dealt with without having to go to a chemical fertilizer or herbicides or pesticides.”
Organic fertilizers like compost and manure are readily available. He also touted the use of powdered plant foods such as Holly Tone, Plant Tone, Tomato Tone and Bulb Tone by Espoma Organics.
Another key to attracting pollinators are plants native to the region. Such plants, Oster said, will adapt to your soil and climate and be magnets for native pollinators, especially European honeybees, as well as insects, butterflies and the like.
He cited dill as one of the best plants to attract pollinators. In bloom, dill features hundreds of tiny yellow flowers bunched into an umbrella-type shape.
“Dill will keep honeybees happy and healthy,” Oster said, “and it's great for attracting other beneficials.
What makes dill a go-to plant for the pollinator-friendly gardener is that anyone can grow it, and it's there-to-stay reputation.
“Once you have dill,” Oster said, “you'll always have dill because it drops seeds like crazy.”
A personal favorite of his is the Mexican sunflower. It's an annual flower that he says will attract “every pollinator you can possibly imagine.” It typically grows 6 to 8 feet tall and offers orange blossoms.
Another annual that is a good pollinator, Oster said, is the zinnia. “They're great and easy to grow.”
Butterflies are particularly attracted to the zinnias' colorful blossoms and easy-to-access nectar.
“One of the greatest bargains you can find and great pollinator plants are lilies,” he said. “Lilies are really hard to sell when they don't have flowers on them, when it's just a green stalk.”
Russian sage, coneflowers and salvia are perennials that are great sources of pollen, and are recommended for any home garden or yard.
“Diversity is the key in bringing in pollinators,” Oster said.
One other tip he offered to gardeners is to use single flowers, those with one ring of petals around a lone disc, rather than pom-pom-shaped double flowers. Single flowers, he noted, provide more nectar and pollen than doubles.
Following Oster's talk, attendees had the opportunity to don beekeeping veils and other protective gear for a tour of two hives at the apiary.
Leading the tour was beekeeper Jeff Shaw of Burgh Bees, a nonprofit organization working in partnership with the Penn State Cooperative Extension. The group aims to introduce beekeeping to the region to promote bees and beekeeping, and it maintains a community apiary in Pittsburgh's Homewood neighborhood
Assisting in the tour was Mason Miller, also a beekeeper and a Cranberry Township public works employee who manages the Cranberry apiary.
Before the event, Miller discussed the success of the apiary, which opened in July 2019 and is located near hole 12 on the golf course, with a 150-foot buffer zone in each direction.
The apiary was founded to provide pollinator education and community honey beehive placement. It also offers a pollinator garden.
“We are pleased with the response from the community,” Miller said. “There's been a lot of interest from the public about what we're doing.