OE’s Hudson ValLey POllinator Project:

In response to the astonishing decline in insect populations, the Hudson Valley Pollinator Project is working to restore native plants in our communities to provide essential food and habitat for butterflies, bees, and other insects. 

The goal of the Hudson Valley Pollinator Project is to increase the number and diversity of insects, especially butterflies and pollinators, in our communities. Recent studies of insect populations show declines as high as 75%, and in some places over 90%. This decline is important for us as a community and society because insects are critical for keeping the ecosystems in which we live robust and resilient. For example, insects, particularly caterpillars, at the base of the ecological food web are a primary food source for songbirds and other wildlife. And pollinating insects, especially native bees, not only pollinate wild plants that produce seeds, fruits, and berries for wildlife, they are required for many agricultural crops fundamental to our food supply. Over 150 crops grown in the US and nearly 80% worldwide depend on pollinators. Reversing the decline of insects is essential for maintaining healthy, productive communities. 

Our Solution 

Our solution is to increase awareness of the insect decline crisis and empower community residents to participate in reversing this decline, starting with planting beautiful pollinator gardens at home and in our communities. 

Why Are Insects In Decline? 

Habit loss is a primary cause of insect decline, particularly the loss and fragmentation of meadows, wetlands, and forests as we have built cities and towns, industrial sites, and large-scale farms. In addition, the use of potent pesticides and herbicides in conventional agriculture, horticulture, and landscaping kills innumerable beneficial insects and the native plants they depend upon. Other factors such as climate change and the proliferation of invasive species also play a role in insect decline. 

The essence of the problem is insect starvation. Our insects feed on nectar and pollen from flowers, and host plants provide food for caterpillars. Some plants, like our native oak trees, provide food for many different species of caterpillars. Cutting down an oak forest removes food for all these insects. Other plants are the only source of food for a single kind of insect. Milkweeds are the only food for monarch butterfly caterpillars. No milkweeds: no monarch butterflies. Some flowers and insects need each other. For example, the bottle gentian plant has evolved tube-shaped flowers accessible to just a few kinds of bumble bees, giving these bees sole access to their nectar. As the bees fly from one bottle gentian plant to the next, they pollinate their flowers resulting in fertile seeds. The flowers provide food, the bees pollinate the flowers. When one is in decline that imperils the other. 

Restoring native plants that are essential food and habitat for the insects native to our communities maintains these highly developed plant-insect relationships that have evolved over millions of years. 

What You Can Do 

Suburban and rural residents can be part of the solution by converting part of their lawn, which has no food or habitat value as far as most insects are concerned, to flowering gardens full of native food plants for bees, butterflies, and other insects. Residents living in village centers and cities, without yards or very small yards, can participate by growing native flowers that provide nectar and pollen in planters on balconies and patios or in neighborhood and community gardens.

Insect Habitat Restoration Initiative 

The Hudson Valley Pollinator Project is a collaboration between Orange Environment and the Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery. Our Insect Habitat Restoration Initiative starts with all of us! Together we can restore insect habitats by planting native plants in yards, gardens, planters, and community centers. 

  • We are developing garden kits of native plants that are both beautiful and ecologically smart for distribution throughout our communities in Orange County, NY. 
  • We are growing local ecotype native plants from seed for our garden kits. 
  • We are establishing demonstration gardens of pollinator plants native to our region at the Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery to showcase the kinds of plants to add to gardens, yards, or planters.
  • We are reaching out to other organizations and programs to collaborate and coordinate with ecological restoration, pollinator gardening, and sustainable farming projects in our region. 

Garden kits 

In 2023, we prepared pollinator garden kits that flower from spring through fall creating a beautiful garden. These “pocket garden” kits of native perennial flowers suitable for a small garden also provide food and shelter throughout the growing season for insect egg, caterpillar, and pupa life stages as well as pollen and nectar for adult insect foragers. Our garden kits include seeds for annual plants that act as green mulch and produce bright flowers, enhancing the beauty of the gardens and providing weed control as the perennial plants become established. 

As our project grows, we envision modifying the pocket garden kits for patio or balcony planters and adding larger pollinator garden kits. Each increase in garden kit size builds on the pocket garden kit. Our “suburban garden” kit for 200-300 square feet, will include the pocket garden plants and seeds plus additional species and more plants of each species to enhance the diversity, habitat quality, design interest, and beauty offered by the larger garden plot size. Our “meadow garden” kit for 1,000-2,500 square feet, will include the suburban garden kit plants plus additional plant species. The meadow gardens will have the capacity to scale up to several acres for future outreach to our farm community. 

We envision expanding from gardens to landscaping that, along with native perennial and annual garden flowers, includes native trees, shrubs, sedges, and grasses that further enhance the beauty and interest of our yards and landscapes, while creating more complete, high-quality habitats. 

Sale oF native Pollinating plants 

Motivated by the difficulty and expense we experienced in 2022 finding native plants for purchase in our region, in the winter and spring of 2023 we grew native plants from seed for our garden kits. We worked in collaboration with the Wild Woods Restoration Project, which provided local ecotype seeds, and we also purchased local ecotype seeds for propagating native plants. In 2023-2024 OE Board member Dr. Grizzanti, in collaboration with the Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery, grew butterfly milkweed seedlings from seed which were offered for free to plant customers and Festival attendees buying plants. For the last 2 years we have offered native pollinating plants for an annual sale (including pre-ordering online) and in-person at our Annual Pollinator Festival which was held most recently on 6/9/24 at the Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery. We offered a range of plants from NY Astors to Black-Eyed Susans to milkweeds. While they are no longer available you can go to our Native Pollinator Plants for sale…to see the full inventory that was offered.

Demonstration gardens 

To showcase the beauty and potential of pollinator gardening and to increase familiarity with pollinator plants, in 2022 we established two demonstration gardens at the Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery. In May we directly sowed purchased seeds to install a 700-square-foot meadow garden. Throughout the late spring and early summer, we planted a raised bed demonstration garden with a variety of pollinator plants available from local nurseries as well as milkweed plants we grew from seed. Our goal was to establish beautiful gardens of pollinator food plants: both garden spaces were full of vibrant flowers and many monarch caterpillars foraging on the milkweeds. The gardens were abuzz with all sorts of insects and frequently visited by butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds. 

In the summer of 2023 we built upon our initial experiment with demonstration gardens to increase the number of native local ecotype species. These gardens offer an opportunity for public education about insect decline and the importance of pollinators. Our outreach efforts will link insect decline to the issues of biodiversity loss and global climate change, emphasizing that we as a community working together can make a positive difference.