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How To 'Bee' A Friend To Pollinators

Valley of the Sun Quail Forever's Native Pollinator Seeds Program

You most likely already know that bees around the world are in trouble, but they aren't the only pollinators – butterflies, bats, ants, hoverflies, wasps, mosquitos (yes!), beetles, hummingbirds, and even slugs are pollinators, and almost all of them have had their numbers decrease over the last few decades. In fact, they are down to 20% of what they used to be.

Think about it. If you've been an Arizonan for long, you probably remember driving down the highway through desert and getting the windshield plastered with bugs. I know I remember it and until Sherry from Arizona Game and Fish brought that up at the Valley of the Sun Quail Forever banquet, I hadn't even noticed that it doesn't really happen much anymore.

We're Both In Trouble

Our pollinators are in trouble, and that means trouble for us. Without pollinators, most of our food crops won't produce food. Pesticides, urban sprawl, and many other factors have endangered our tiny friends.

You might feel a bit helpless about it – I know I did. I truly care about bees and all the pollinators, but I can't fight growth or commercial farms using pesticides. But there is ONE thing I can do – I can do a small part toward making sure that the pollinators that we do still have get the best chance to thrive. And that's where Valley of the Sun Quail Forever comes in.

Valley Of The Sun Native Seed Program

AJ Murosky is the man behind the Native Seed Program that VOTSQF is working on. He says that it's a small idea that grew. Quail Forever is known for volunteering for habitat projects – they recently helped the Game and Fish put in a 3-mile long line of industrial dog bowls with floats to supply water for wild animals in Robbins Butte. The bowls are about every 400 feet or so, and they worked for 3 years on that project.

So when AJ saw that the national Quail Forever chapter does a seed program in the Midwest, he thought "why can't we do it here?". He took the idea to the board, and they said "let's do it!" so the program began in March of 2023.

A Partnership Grows

AJ learned that there are seed programs for the West and initially he got the seeds from National, but he thought they weren't quite right, so he went to the board meeting for the Arizona Trail Association at the Desert Botanical Gardens hoping to talk to someone about native plants.

As luck would have it, he got seated next to a Desert Botanical Garden botanist named Wendy and she gave him a tour of the research center at the gardens. Soon a partnership grew between the Gardens and VOTSQF.

Subsequently, AJ learned a lot – such as the need to search for specific scientific names of plants. In the seed mix that the National Quail Forever had for the west, they weren't really Arizona seeds and that makes a big difference.

Need Native Seeds

Desert Botanical Gardens taught them which seeds to provide for native Arizona pollinators, and AJ visited nurseries all over and found out that the seeds that nurseries have for sale are assumed to be correct for your area, but in the lower 48 states if there is a native seed in Maine, for instance, it is considered to be a native seed for the whole 48 states!

This clearly is wrong. The milkweed seeds in the National packets, for example, won't grow here, and milkweed is crucial for Monarch butterflies on their migration flights. The seeds in the Valley of the Sun Quail unlimited Native Pollinator Seeds packets are proper for the area. They have two mixes: one for planting above 3000 feet elevation, and one for 3000 and below.

For All Pollinators

They really vetted the seeds for the Native Seed mix to make sure they were actually for plants native to Arizona. The mix has both perennials and annuals, but AJ says the perennials may not grow for 2 or 3 years because they need rain and a frost to crack open the seeds. Their original thought was to provide seeds that would produce flowers for butterflies, but they broadened that to pollinators in general: ants, bats, bees, flies – everything.

And just because the club is Quail Forever doesn't mean the seeds benefit birds only. Birds will eat any seeds, as anyone who has bought a quail block can agree with. These seed mixes are meant to create a system where all the critters can live: insects draw birds and other animals, and all of the animals benefit.

How To Plant The Native Pollinator Seeds And How To Get Them

To plant the seed mix is pretty simple – plant October through December and they just need about a ¼ inch of soil over them. You'll need to water them now and then until rain takes over. In the past few years, a trend called guerilla gardening has become popular, and that is simply planting or sowing seeds on ground that you don't own. People in big cities, for instance, may throw flower seeds in a vacant lot and transform it into a place of beauty.

VOTSQF does not encourage guerilla gardening. However, they do encourage you to plant these seeds on your own property. Another modern trend is to have a bit of a meadow for a front yard, meaning rather than having a manicured lawn, you spread seeds whose plants will benefit native insects and wildlife.

Insects In Decline

According to ruralsprout.com, 40% of all insect species are in decline and could continue to die out in the coming years. Butterflies, moths, sawflies, wasps, bees, ants, and dung beetles are most at risk. If everyone would plant a native wildflower meadow instead of grass in their front yard, the insects would be helped immensely. Habitat loss is the number one culprit for the decline of insects.

Another big culprit is non-native, invasive species of plants that impact not only our insects, but the plants that our insects need to live. And, 80 million pounds of pesticides are used every year on lawns in the U.S. Ruralsprout.com has an excellent article on starting a meadow in your front yard. If that's too much, then why not a garden? If you start a meadow, get a few "Pollinator Garden" signs that will let people know the benefits of your garden – the neighbors are a lot less likely to complain when they understand.

Packets For Planting

On http://www.votsqf.com you will be able to click on the Native Seed Program button and put your name down and they'll contact you when seeds are for sale. I was super lucky because they gave a packet to everyone at the Quail Forever banquet this year. I've planted one packet so far and am eagerly awaiting flowers.

They are also working with public libraries – the Glendale Library system and many rural libraries have seed packets that you can get for free – just check out a packet with your library card! They are hoping to get them in Yavapai County and Phoenix Public Libraries soon. VOTSQF is also working with ranchers and other people with large plots of land so that they can buy the seed mix in big quantities to improve the ecology in their area.

Grateful To VOTSQF

I am totally stoked about this program and so grateful to AJ Murosky for the incredible amount of work he has put into this project, and also to Valley of the Sun Quail Forever. They are an excellent example of how hunters are the first, and best, conservationists.

 

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