Contact us

Keeping an Eye on Wisconsin’s Pollinators

Keeping an Eye on Wisconsin’s Pollinators

By Braden Wallenkamp

Gwenyn is Welsh for honey bee, so it is in the name that Gwenyn Hill Farm honors the bees. Across our 430 acres of fields and hills, we monitor 19 honey bee hives. This past summer, researchers from UW Madison spent time in our melon field tracking pollinators. This research team contributes to the work of WiBee: The Wisconsin Wild Bee app, a citizen scientist project developed by the Gratton Lab. WiBee functions as a survey tool tracking pollinator populations in Wisconsin’s fruit and vegetable fields. While their work is nowhere near done, the time they spent in our fields showed that over half of the working pollinators were honey bees, most likely from the hive just a few hundred feet away.

To learn more about the goals of this project, I contacted Dr. Claudio Gratton, of the Gratton Lab. One of the goals of WiBee is to offer advice to farmers regarding pollinators in their fields. Claudio wrote that some of the advice the research team hopes to provide is based on patterns in bee activity. With this information, the team can help determine “things like success of flowers in setting viable fruit.” As farmers enter their own observations from across varied parts of their fields, WiBee can use that data to “suggest places where habitat enhancements, or pollinator plantings, could offer opportunities to increase wild bee activities on farms.” With more observations, the researchers at WiBee can help farmers better understand and protect the key players in crop pollination. 

Gratton Lab researchers conducting pollinator study in 2021

The result of their research is essential because pollination accounts for a third of the crops we eat. The WiBee scientists state that currently “we don’t know enough about the abundance and distribution of wild bees to recommend, for an individual farm, whether wild bees alone can provide a crop’s full pollination needs.” Eventually they hope to advise farmers on how best to maintain a pollinator population in their fields. 

As we wait for this research to continue, there are important measures to take in line with our Organic Certification that promote pollinator health. One of these measures is keeping our fields free from harmful pesticides. 

Neonicotinoids, or neonics, are an especially harmful branch of pesticides commonly used in conventional farming. A seed coating derived from nicotine, neonics have been linked to the decline in bee populations globally. These pesticide-coated seeds are planted across millions of acres of conventionally farmed cropland. They easily dissolve in water and end up in our waterways through agricultural runoff, but they also move throughout the individual plant. The bees are most directly impacted while collecting pollen when the crop is in bloom, but the chemicals linger throughout the crop’s lifecycle. This is one reason why tracking pollinators regularly through WiBee is so important. While Gwenyn Hill does not apply any of these harmful pesticides, they are common across the state of Wisconsin. Claudio Gratton commented that “bees are sensitive to small changes… Because of this, bee activity is super variable, which makes it difficult to easily predict why bees are where they are.” Keeping fields neonic-free is one essential start to promoting pollinator health.

There are many ways that you can get involved with pollinator tracking. First, download WiBee onto any smartphone or tablet and begin observing the pollinators in your yard, garden, or neighborhood park. The work of WiBee is only possible with the help of citizen scientists. Gratton reminds us that the team needs “people on the ground making lots of observations. Even observations where no bees are seen are extremely valuable…A better understanding of our relationship with nature is an important outcome of WiBee.”

Looking to source organic, non-toxic starter plants? Check out Gwenyn Hill Farm’s seedling sale! Find us Saturdays at the Brookfield Farmers Market and Sundays at our Farmstand. These plants all are grown from organic seeds, meaning they will never be coated in harmful chemicals.

Another great way to get involved is by attending a WiBee volunteer observation day on the farm. You will be trained in identifying pollinators and logging observations in the WiBee app. After the training session, volunteers will observe and record pollinator activity in our vegetable and flower fields. Interested in participating in pollinator research? Click here to fill out our pollinator research volunteer interest form. 

Explore the links below to learn more about WiBee, Wisconsin Pollinators, and Neonicitinoids:

Braden Wallenkamp is a recent graduate of Lake Forest College. She holds a degree in Environmental Studies. She joined Gwenyn Hill’s team in the summer of 2021. 

Select the fields to be shown. Others will be hidden. Drag and drop to rearrange the order.
  • Image
  • SKU
  • Rating
  • Price
  • Stock
  • Availability
  • Add to cart
  • Description
  • Content
  • Weight
  • Dimensions
  • Additional information
Click outside to hide the comparison bar