On-farm Beneficial Habitats 2017-2020

Beneficial Habitats at Hawthorne Valley Farm (2017-2020)

In addition to the Native Plant Garden that we care for at the Creekhouse where the Farmscape Ecology Program is based, there are other established beds that we have created to support pollinators and other beneficial insects, and—hopefully—the farmers’ vegetable growing endeavors. As we gear up for the 2021 growing season, here's an opportunity to look back over the last few years and watch these beneficial habitats as they've grown and changed. Follow along to learn about the establishment of two different Pollinator Patches and two different Beetle Banks at Hawthorne Valley Farm. 

golden yellow and purple flowers

Pollinator Patches

Pollinator patches are plantings of native wildflowers that aim to offer food and habitat for native pollinators. In one of the vegetable fields on the farm called the Corner Garden, we installed two pollinator patches—one large and one small.

The Large Pollinator Patch

The large Pollinator Patch in the Corner Garden was established in May of 2017 and has really evolved throughout the years. Check out the following images to witness the progression...

On May 10th, 2017 the large Pollinator Patch was born! It was thanks to our loyal volunteers (pictured here Betsy Goodman-Smith, Sheila Rorke, and Robin Zitter) that we were able to start planting.

people kneeling in the soil planting small potted plants into a freshly mulched area of a cropfield
Volunteers helping to plant the Pollinator Patch in the Corner Garden in 2017

Hardly 6 weeks later in July 2017, the plants have tripled in size and are quickly filling up the patch.

larger plants thriving 6 weeks after being planted
New transplants thriving 6 weeks after being planted!

By September the fall flowers are in full bloom, the New England Asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) paint the background of the pollinator patch, and the front is full of Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) that decided to bloom late in the year.

purple and pink flowers blooming in september
The Pollinator Patch blooming in September of its first year!

On September 23rd, 2017 we decided to expand and add even more potted plants, which Betsy had lovingly raised in our native plant nursery, to the pollinator patch.

a person rakes soil to prepare more ground for planting
Expanding the Pollinator Patch in September of 2017

Betsy and Kristelle planted easily over 100 potted plants.

potted plants are spaced out on the bare soil and ready to be planted
Plants laid out and ready to put in the soil!

This is after the Pollinator Patch’s first winter, pictured mid April 2018. If you look closely, you can already see green starting to creep in. 

plants starting to creep back in after experiencing their first winter
The Pollinator Patch beginning to emerge in April 2018

Just three months later and it is almost unrecognizable, you can see the Lanceleaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea), Narrowleaf Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium), and Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta).

pollinator path bursting with plants and colorful flowers
Pollinator Patch in July of 2018

By July the red Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and purple Anise Hyssop ( Agastache foeniculum) were in full bloom.

beautiful red flowers of cardinal flower
Brilliant red Cardinal Flower

Another view of the Cardinal Flower mixed in with the Blazing Star (Liatrus spicata), Echinacea, Brown Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba) and Lavender Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum).

a mix of red, yellow, pink and purple flowers
Black Eyed Susans, Blazing Star, Cardinal Flower and Echinacea fill the Pollinator Patch in July of 2018

Monarda (Monarda fistulosa) is also blooming brightly in the lower right hand corner of the photo, along with an orange glimmer of Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa).

another angle of the pollinator patch shows orange milkweed flowers and white mountain mint flowers

Here’s a beautiful shot of the purple Blazing Star with the white clusters of Narrowleaf Mountain Mint.

purple blazing star flowers next to white mountain mint flowers
Blazing Star and Narrowleaf Mountain Mint make a fine pair

In July of 2018, the Pollinator Patch is looking spectacular!

view of the entire pollinator patch full of colorful flowers
Pollinator Patch in it's second season (July of 2018)

By the end of the second season the Pollinator Patch is glowing with Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) and New England Aster blooming vibrantly together.

yellow goldenrod flowers spill out of the pollinator patch against a backdrop of purple aster flowers
Yellow Showy Goldenrod and purple New England Aster in the late fall light

The front of the patch was also full of another late season plant, Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum), a close relative of Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum).  

beautiful blueish purple flowers of blue mistflower
Blue Mistflower

This image was taken in the spring of 2019, entering the third season of the Pollinator Patch’s life.

green leaves of plants starting to emerge in the spring
The Pollinator Patch entering its third season

Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis), a spring flowering plant, really starts to show off by this third season.

white blooms of beardtongue

Lanceleaf Coreopsis, another spring flowering plant, is also quite at home now too!

yellow lanceleaf coreopsis flowers
Lanceleaf Coreopsis

In July of 2019, the Blazing Star, Echinacea and Mountain Mint are starting to come on the scene.

tall green plants in their third year
Pollinator Patch in its third season (2019)

You can see the variety of plants starting to fill in for the season, Narrowleaf Mountain Mint, Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata), and even a little of the orange Butterfly Milkweed peeking out through the middle of the photo.

tall green plants with colorful flowers beginning to bloom
Another take of the Pollinator Patch in it's third season (2019)

In the summer of 2020, you can see the patch has definitely changed over the years! Grasses are more prominent, and the drought early on in the summer made for slightly stunted plants and fewer blooms.

view of the entire pollinator patch full of green foliage and colorful flowers
The Pollinator Patch in its fourth year (2020)

The whites and yellows are lovely though: you can see a yellow patch of Grass-leaved Goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia) on the right, with white Narrowleaf Mountain Mint amidst Brown Eyed Susans and Wild Carrot (Daucus carota). Wild Carrot is not native, but it’s tiny flowers are a welcome feeding spot for small insects.

yellow and white flowers in the pollinator patch
Yellow and white flowers in August of 2020

The Small Pollinator Patch

The smaller Pollinator Patch we have in the Corner Garden has been around for less time than the larger Pollinator Patch. Follow along with images to witness how it came to be!

This patch was prepared in 2018 by Kristelle Esterhuizen, who solarized the lawn under plastic tarp, then tilled the land, and finally seeded it in the autumn of 2018 with a mix of seeds we had collected in the Native Plant Garden and other Pollinator Patch. The following image was taken in spring of 2019: On the right side of the strip you can see some Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum) bushes which had been planted in 2017. In front of it, Kristelle had added a small, native shrub nursery, including Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba), Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), dogwood (Cornus spp.), and willow shrubs (Salix spp.). In the far section, the seeds had been hand broad-cast the year before.

freshly tilled garden bed with shrubs and small transplants
The small Pollinator Patch taking off in 2018

Here are some of the first seedlings coming up in the seeded section in the spring of 2019!

a strip of soil with green plants starting to emerge
The small Pollinator Patch emerging in the spring of its first season (2019)

By August you can already see Lanceleaf Coreopsis, Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis), Black Eyed Susan, Echinacea, Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) and Lavender Hyssop.

lush green plants have filled in the strip of soil
The Pollinator Patch is looking more full and lush by the end of the summer.

By June of the second season (2020), the small Pollinator Patch features a plethora of Lanceleaf Coreopsis and a few Beardtongue flowers.

yellow blooms and green plants
The plants emerging in the second season 2020

A close-up photo of Beardtongue and Lanceleaf Coreopsis together (two native, spring flowering plants).

white blooms of beardtongue with yellow blooms of lanceleaf coreopsis
Beardtongue (white) and Lanceleaf Coreopsis (yellow)

Around the same time, the Arrowwood shrubs are full of white blooms.

shrubs with white flowers
The shrub, Arrowwood blooms white flowers in the early summer

In the summer, part of the patch becomes a beautiful sea of Yarrow. As you can see it ranges in many colors and bloomed from June all the way to August.

pink and white flowers
Sea of colorful Yarrow flowers

By the end of July the Brown Eyed Susans had taken over the patch, with Lavender Hyssop, some Black Eyed Susans, and still some Yarrow.

yellow, pink and white flowers
The Pollinator Patch in July of 2020

The Echinacea, Brown Eyed Susan and Lavender Hyssop really complement one another!

pink yellow and purple flowers
Echinacea (pink), Black Eyed Susan (yellow) and Lavender Hyssop (purple)

With how dry it was this summer the Blue Vervain was almost unrecognizable, it came up in the patch but only grew to about 14-18 inches, it usually averages 26-72 inches tall! You can see how small it was this year as it is a similar height as the Brown Eyed Susans.

blue and yellow flowers
Small Blue Vervain in front of a backdrop of Brown Eyed Susans

A pink plant popped up amidst the seeded plants, that really took us by surprise.

pink, yellow and white flowers

It’s a native biennial, called Biennial Bee-Blossom (Oenothera gaura)...A tall plant with interesting, straggly flowers!

pink flowers
Biennal Bee-Blossom

Beetle Banks

In addition to the Pollinator Patches in the Corner Garden, we created a couple of beetle banks at Hawthorne Valley Farm. A beetle bank is an elevated bed planted with native perennial grasses and wildflowers and intersecting a tilled field (in our case vegetable fields). It serves as overwintering habitat for predatory ground beetles and other invertebrates which (we hope) provide natural pest control in the annual vegetable beds. We are managing two Beetle Banks, one in the Corner Garden (where the two Pollinator Patches are), and one in the Main Garden, a large vegetable field on the farm. We'll first illustrate the process of establishing the Beetle Bank in the Corner Garden.


The Corner Garden Beetle Bank

In May of 2018 the construction of the Corner Garden Beetle Bank began. Establishing the Beetle Bank was a slightly different process than the construction of the Pollinator Patches. In this photo you can see there are rocks that were piled underneath some sections where the Beetle Bank was built, this is to help elevate the Beetle Bank and provide crevices and habitat for the beetles and other insects.

a strip of soil with rocks
The Corner Garden Beetle Bank being established in 2018

Then the soil was worked into a raised bed. Irrigation hoses were laid down to make the bed easy to water once it was planted. Then, in July, we were able to start planting! Here are the many pots of the small Little Blue Stem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and the taller Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans), as well as the some pots of Oxeye Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) and Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata).

potted plants are spaced out on the bare soil and ready to be planted
The Beetle Bank ready to be planted!

This gives you a good reference for the length of the Beetle Bank, it takes up about half of the length of the other beds in the field. As you can see, it runs parallel to vegetable beds that are rotated with annual crops. Kristelle and Brenna are planting.

the beetle bank is long and runs parallel to the vegetable beds
The Beetle Bank is long and runs parallel to the vegetable beds

After a full day of planting, all of the grasses and flowers were in the ground.

the strip of soil is now planted with small grasses and flowers
The Beetle Bank is planted (in 2018)!

The grasses started to flower mid-September, and the Oxeye Sunflower was heavy with still-blooming flowers.

taller grasses and flowers
A much more robust Beetle Bank later in the season

The Beetle Bank’s second season (2019) is off to a good start, with the grasses growing in more developed clumps.

beetle bank next to row of small onions
Beetle Bank emerging in its second season (2019), next to rows of onions

The Blue Vervain wasn’t as noticeable the first year but by July 2019 it was very prominent, and complimented the yellow of the Oxeye Sunflowers and the green of the grasses.

blue and yellow flowers
Blue Vervain and Oxeye Sunflowers

Here’s a wider picture of what the Beetle Bank was looking like at the end of July—it’s sure filling in nicely. The bare soil on the left side of the bed resulted from a reorientation of the neighboring farmland. This extra space provided the opportunity to widen the Beetle Bank.

purple, yellow and white flowers
A full Beetle Bank (2019)

Here, interns Jackie and Molly are adding more flowers to the extension on one side of the Beetle Bank! These new plants included Lavender Hyssop, Butterfly Milkweed, Lance Leaf Coreopsis, Mountain Mint, Partridge Pea, Blazing Star and others.

Interns help to plant flowers and grasses
Expanding the Beetle Bank width-wise

Many seedlings were planted that day!

 mature plants next to bare soil filled with seedlings

In this photo taken in the fall, you can see the new additions next to the beautiful red hue of dead grasses.

reddish stalks of grasses remain standing in the fall
The Beetle Bank in the fall of 2019

In June of 2020, the bottom half of the bed where the Beetle Bank resides was taken out of vegetable rotation, so we decided to seed it with native wildflowers. Ellen and Nellie are spreading seeds saved from last season that are mixed with sand to give more volume and allow for even hand-seeding. Can you see the established Beetle Bank all the way at the other end of the bed?

two people cast seeds on tilled soil
Ellen and Nellie seeding a new section of the Beetle Bank in 2020

Unfortunately, this June seeding was perfectly timed with the early summer drought... We had extremely low germination and only found a few Partridge Peas sprouted up. Here we are with our wonderful volunteers to try to weed the bed!!

people weeding
Volunteers help to weed the new extension of the Beetle Bank

We decided to change our approach after that and use potted plants to populate this section rather than reseed. We used some plants from the nursery that Ellen started, and we divided and transplanted some grasses and flowers from the older section of the Beetle Bank.

new transplants
Transplanting mature plants and potted plants into the length-wise extension of the Beetle Bank

However, the already established half of the Beetle Bank is off to a good start: in the second week of June you can see the yellow blooms of the Lanceleaf Coreopsis glowing amidst last year’s grasses and Evening Primrose stalks. If you look super closely you can see the speckling of white from the Beardtongue.

yellow and white flowers
Coreopsis (yellow) and Beardtongue (white) blooming in the Beetle Bank in 2020

Despite the lack of rain in the early summer, we saw some beautiful phases of the already planted half of the Beetle Bank. The purple cylinders of the Lavender Hyssop were favorite feeding spots for a lot of pollinators!

purple and yellow flowers
The Beetle Bank in July of 2020

Further into the season, our Beetle Bank started to look even greener! The summer blooms are in full swing! I see the white flowers of Narrowleaf Mountain Mint, and the pink flowers of Echinacea, and some light purple Monarda flowers. The Beetle Bank continues to grow and transform through the years, and we are excited to see what form it takes next season!

pink, yellow and white flowers

The Main Garden Beetle Bank

In one of the other vegetable fields on the farm called the Main Garden, we established another Beetle Bank in 2018 with the help of the farmers.

Here is the drive strip in the Main Garden that is slated to become the Beetle Bank!

a strip of grass speckled with dandelions
What will become the Beetle Bank in the Main Garden

Spencer, one of the farmers, uses a tractor to plow and prep the bed to be planted into in June.

a tractor uses an implement to break up the grass and soil to prepare for planting
Spencer plowing the strip of land

Potted plants are planted, and are looking quite at home in July: including Little Bluestem, Indian Grass, Oxeye Sunflower, Anise Hyssop, Evening Primrose and Blue Vervain.

small grasses and flowers planted in a strip of soil
The Beetle Bank planted with native perennial grasses and flowers

Another view of the fresh planting.

small grasses and flowers planted in a strip of soil
The Beetle Bank from another angle

The first blooms of the Main Garden Beetle Bank in the fall of 2018!

larger grasses and yellow flowers
Oxeye Sunflower blooming towards the end of the Beetle Bank's first season

By the spring of the following season (2019), the Beetle Bank is overflowing with Oxeye Sunflower, Blue Vervain and grasses.

strip of tall plants leaning over with the weight of yellow and purple flowers
Main Garden Beetle Bank in 2019

The Beetle Bank is looking very robust in July of its third year (2020), despite the drought earlier in the season.

a strip of tall grasses and flowers
The Main Garden Beetle Bank in July of 2020

Pictured here are the purple blooms of Lavender Hyssop and Blue Vervain, the white flowers of Annual Fleabane, and the yellow sea of Oxeye Sunflower.

yellow, purple and white flowers

The Beetle Banks have progressed beautifully over the years. Unfortunately, the perennial vegetation that never gets mowed or plowed makes it a very hospitable home to groundhogs, which is not ideal for the nearby crops. This season, we’ll be discussing with the farmers the pros and cons of having perennial vegetation amidst the annual vegetable fields.  

A large number of people have helped establish and maintain these on-farm habitats over the years and we would like to express our thanks for all your energy, enthusiasm, and hard work. A special shoutout goes to Betsy Goodman-Smith, Brenna Bushey, Ellen Scheid, Jackie Edgett, Kristelle Esterhuizen, Nellie Ostow, and Rory Schiafo, who have been instrumental in the realization of these projects.