Person of the Week
‘Plant it and They Will Come:’ Trecoske Will Share Ways to Support Native Bees
Branford resident and UConn Master Gardener Malaine Trecoske’s talk, Plant It and They Will Come: Gardening from a Native Bee’s Perspective, will be given as a free online presentation on Wednesday, April 7 at 7 p.m. presented by the Branford chapter of Living Wisely and Well on Planet Earth. (Photo by Catherine Kiernan/Kiernan Photography )
Have you heard the buzz? The earliest of the area’s native bees, that fuzzy bumble bee, will be headed to your backyard soon—and it’s one of 340 native bee species in Connecticut that needs your help to survive. Luckily for the state’s native bees and this community, UConn Master Gardener Malaine Trecoske is teeing up a Zoom presentation to help educate her neighbors and share some simple tips to support these vitally important pollinators.
Malaine’s talk, Plant It and They Will Come: Gardening from a Native Bee’s Perspective, will be given as a free online presentation on Wednesday, April 7 at 7 p.m. The talk is being presented by the Branford chapter of Living Wisely and Well on Planet Earth. The presentation’s Zoom link is available at www.livingwiselyandwell.org
If you haven’t had the delight of learning a thing or two about gardening from Malaine, you’re in for a treat: her story-telling style sinks in like a good read while also infusing years of expertise and guidance. Malaine’s interest in bees began building a few years back.
“It was August of 2019 and I was taking my son back to Keene State College. I was in the car and I’m listening to a gardening podcast—I do a lot of that—and I was listening to this interview with a professor from UMass, and he was talking about native bees. And he was specifically talking all about bumble bees. And if you looked at me in the car, you would have seen this light bulb go off over my head,” says Malaine. “There was this realization that there was this whole topic—this whole world—out there, and even as a master gardener and somebody interested in this stuff, I didn’t know about it. And I thought, if I don’t know about this, probably a lot of other people don’t know about it.”
That kicked off an exploration on Malaine’s part to read books and scientific articles about bees and native bees.
“I’m a chemist by training, and so I’m used to reading technical information, distilling it down and then creating a story,” says Malaine, who taught chemistry at a number of colleges around the country and on the east coast during her career (she’s now retired).
About this time last year, Malaine first presented her native bee story during the first week of March 2020 to the Branford Garden Club. Her next presentation of Plant It and They Will Come was set for mid-March 2020, to be hosted by Living Wisely and Well. But that talk was sidelined by the rise of COVID-19 and the urgent, rapid shut downs created as the global pandemic deepened it grip.
One year later, Malaine’s talk is back on, albeit as a virtual presentation offered online. So what can one expect when they sit down in front of their screens on April 7?
“I strongly suspect that a lot of people have no idea there are 340 native bee species in Connecticut,” says Malaine. “And I want them to know why are they important to us, because they are vitally important to our food supply. What are the challenges they face? And what can we, as individuals, do in our own yards, and maybe even in a town wide effort, to help them out?”
As a side benefit, creating nurturing environments featuring native plantings will not only help native bees, but also native birds and insects.
“They’ve co-evolved over tens of thousands of years with the native plants, so there’s a lot of overlap to what can happen if you’re helping the bees,” says Malaine.
Installing native plants (many local garden centers now have native plant sections) is one way to help, but remember, says Malaine, “just because it’s a native plant doesn’t mean you can plunk it anywhere. It’s still ‘right plant, right place.’ If it says it needs wet, give it wet; if it needs sun, give it sun. Anytime you’re going to plant something in your yard, you need to be looking at that.”
Creating the right environment will support bees by providing nectar as an energy source and pollen to feed their young.
“Some of the native bees are very selective about the pollen they collect, says Malaine. “For example, the squash bee—it’s out for the two or three months when the squash plants are out. That’s it. So there’s a big distinction between many of our native bees which can be very specific, and some of them which can be a little bit more of a generalist.”
Honey bees are generalists (and also have a bit more support out there, in the form of the bee-keeping culture). The bumble bee, also a generalist, is out there on its own, Malaine notes.
“So the mama bumble bee, she kind of has to do it all,” says Malaine. “She crawls out of her little nest in March and goes out foraging, looking for nectar and looking for pollen; and she has to create a nest and lay the eggs. There’s nobody helping her.”
The bumble bee starts the year during the first warm days in March, seeking out early flowers including crocus. It’s also relying on trees and shrubs, Malaine notes.
“That’s where they start their year, with the trees and shrubs. That’s one of the things we’re going to talk about, not cutting them down in the fall. This whole concept of fall clean-up really is not helping out. A lot of our native bees nest and overwinter in hollow stems. So it’s better to wait until after we’ve had several warm days in March for them to clear out,” says Malaine. “And we need to provide them food from March through October. So a succession of blooms is what we need to provide them with. When I first heard that, my eyes popped open—March? Yes, March.”
Another way to help?
“There’s a saying now: ‘Leave the leaves,’” says Malaine. “Not on your grass, but leaving it on your perrenial beds, for example, because it creates a habitat for bees to burrow.”
While emerald green carpets of lawn don’t provide support for pollinators, Malaine’s not suggesting a drastic change. Instead, consider minimizing grassy areas and instead installing trees, shrubs, and undergrowth of native plantings as a different approach for your yard and as a way to support bees and other pollinators, birds, and insects that are being diminished due to loss of environments they need to thrive.
Changing your environment, yard, and cultivating practices (such as not using pesticides or herbicides indiscriminately) are all ways to help.
“It’s all about raising awareness, and that’s what I want to do,” says Malaine.
Not Just Bees
As part of her current UConn Master Composter studies, Malaine is undertaking a 20-hour community service project that has to do with composting. She recently met with Diana McCarthy-Bercury, Branford’s sustainability and compliance manager, to brainstorm on ways to offer her composting knowledge to the community.
“She had already been thinking about the Earth Day program, so I’m getting involved with that,” says Malaine of the annual effort that includes a volunteer clean-up of the town’s great outdoors and the Town Green hosting environmentally minded vendors and educators. This year’s program is set for Saturday, April 17 on the Branford Green (look for more details at www.branford-ct.gov).
“I’m going to be there to talk about the importance of composting, how to do it, and present some different ideas for ways you can compost,” says Malaine. “I’ve been doing it for decades. I have four compost bins and two heaps in my vegetable garden. It’s great for the garden. It improves the till for the soil, it helps retain water...There are so many benefits.”
Malaine also hopes to inspire more home composting in Branford as a cost-saving measure, because composting’s main component, food waste, is better used as compost fodder than adding to the town’s costs to haul away and incinerate heavy, wet food waste.
Malaine grew up on a dairy farm in northeastern Pennsylvania and has been gardening and harvesting vegetables since childhood (one of her earliest memories is following her grandmother through the vegetable garden, dropping beans in newly dug furrows). Malaine and her husband, Tom Jarvie (CEO and co-founder of a biotechnology company, Shoreline Biome) lived and worked in several different areas of the country before settling in Branford about 25 years ago and raising their two sons here. For her many community contributions, Malaine has been inducted into the Branford Education Hall of Fame (Class of 2018) and selected as a 2016 Shore Publishing Beacon Award Winner and a 2012 Branford Cares Volunteer recipient.
She’s a member of the Branford Living Well and Wisely Steering Committee, a co-founder of Branford Community Gardens, and horticultural advisor/founder of its all-volunteer Seed, Weed, and Feed program, which delivers hundreds of pounds of fresh produce harvested and rushed to Branford Food Pantry and the Community Dining Room every week from May to October. The group grows leeks, butternut squash, garlic, lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, and other produce the non-profit agencies request to supplement their inventory.
She also offers her expertise to answer questions and, on learning of the latest pests, blights, or other incoming scourges, share preventative measures gardeners might want to take.
A member of Branford Garden Club (BGC) since 2008, Malaine recently stepped away from 4 ½ years’ service as BGC Horticulture chair in June 2020, which left a little space in her schedule to begin her studies toward becoming a UConn Master Composter.
This time of year, she’s also busy starting plants for the Seed, Weed, and Feed program and a fair number of plants that will go on to be offered for sale in May at the Branford Community Garden and Branford Garden Club annual spring plant sale on the Town Green from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 15 (rain date Sunday, May 16).
If you see Malaine on the green and you have a gardening question—or one on getting started with composting or helping native bees—don’t hestitate to ask.
“I’m interested in education,” says Malaine. “I want people to know, I want them to understand, and I want them to appreciate.”
UConn Master Gardener Malaine Trecoske will share Plant It and They Will Come: Gardening from a Native Bee’s Perspective as a free online presentation on Wednesday, April 7 at 7 p.m., hosted by the Branford chapter of Living Wisely and Well on Planet Earth. The presentation’s Zoom link is available at www.livingwiselyandwell.org.