Compass School Embraces Biodiversity to Attract Beneficial Insects, Pollinators

By RICK ENSER

A potter wasp on mountain mint. (Rick Enser photos)

A potter wasp on mountain mint. (Rick Enser photos)

KINGSTON, R.I. — What is a biodiversity garden? Essentially, this means gardening with the intent of increasing native biodiversity. Although many are familiar with gardening themes that focus on various ways to support nature, such as gardening for wildlife, or pollinators, or butterflies, gardening for biodiversity addresses all of these groups, and more, by focusing on plant diversity using a basic ecological concept: The greater the diversity of plants in an ecosystem, the greater the animal diversity.

Although termed a “biodiversity” garden, pollinators and other beneficial insects will be the primary focus of The Compass School farm project, through increased pollination services from native bees and other pollinators and the biological control of crop pests, such as native wasps and other predators/parasites.

Continual monitoring of vegetable, fruit and herb gardens is conducted to determine which species are providing the greatest benefit for maximum crop production, and data cross-referenced with results of monitoring at the biodiversity garden to determine which plants are most valuable for supporting beneficial insects at various stages of their life cycles.

A hummingbird clearwing moth nectaring on bee-balm.

A hummingbird clearwing moth nectaring on bee-balm.

The Compass School Biodiversity Garden is a unique educational resource, providing learning opportunities for all grade levels. Data collection is primarily conducted using a basic digital point-and-shoot camera. Most insects visiting flowers for nectar and pollen resources are intent in their work and oblivious to the close approach of a photographer. Each photo becomes an instant record of the insect, the plant being visited and the date. A database of all photos will document plant phenology (flowering period) and insect visitation and be an invaluable tool in assessing the diversity of insects at the Kingston school.

Moreover, The Compass School Biodiversity Garden will be a demonstration site for what can be accomplished at other schools, and as such will serve as a location for teacher workshops and field trips.

The educational opportunities afforded by this pollinator project are limitless.  Some of the opportunities include: database development; photographing, editing and cataloging images; collection of scientific field data; preparation of graphs, spreadsheets and other statistical analyses; development of identification keys and field guides; seed collection and preparation; plant propagation; preparation of signage and other educational resources; presentation of findings at science fairs, workshops and conferences. And, students will become participants in a new citizen science project to assess the status of pollinators and other beneficial insects in Rhode Island.

The Compass School dedicated a 1,300-square-foot former perennial garden for the biodiversity project. The garden was established using guidelines of the South County Pollinator Conservation Project, which encourages the retention of valued plants already growing on site. The garden was also augmented with a wide diversity of other native plants acquired from local sources.

In March, The Compass School was awarded a $1,000 grant from the Rhode Island Wild Plant Society for the purchase of native plants propagated by the Rhody Native Initiative. Selection of The Compass School as one of the Rhode Island sites for the Pollinate New England initiative of the New England Wildflower Society will also help increase the diversity of native plants.

Rhode Island resident Rick Enser worked for the state Department of Environmental Management for 28 years, as the coordinator of the Rhode Island Natural Heritage Program. He and his family propagate herbs and native plants at their Ragged Orchid Farm in South Kingstown.