A Bustle in the Hedgerow

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Want to save the bees? Plant a hedgerow.

Bee pollinating CA wildflower

credit Debby Zygielbaum

Say “hedgerow” to most folks and it conjures up an image of ancient English fields neatly bounded by bands of dark green. It’s true that hedgerows are a time­honored way of marking fields, creating wind breaks, and keeping livestock in one place. But as farms modernized, gaining the ability to plant crops fenceline to fenceline, hedgerows became a thing of the past. Only through their absence did farmers begin to realize what they’d had.

It ends up that being surrounded by a little bit of wild is a really good thing. Those hedgerows didn’t just mark the boundaries. They also provided habitat: a welcome, blooming refuge for honey and native bees, beneficials, and other pollinators. There is good evidence that natural spaces can actually host enough beneficials to pollinate, say, one’s canola crop and reduce the need to bring in outside beehives.

Though winegrapes are wind pollinated, I’ve planted hedgerows on four of our eight vineyards with plans for more. Our vineyards are living systems — it’s not just grapes that are blooming, but also cover crops and culinary gardens and olives and mixed fruit tree orchards. Hedgerows can also provide habitat for other beneficials, such as the tiny Anargus sp. wasp. When not dining on the pollen in the hedgerows, it is busy attacking the leafhoppers in my vineyards. I also have a hedgerow planted at Scintilla Sonoma Vineyard that will serve as a barrier to trap cold air and keep it away from our vineyard during frost season.

Flannelbush in RSV hedgerow

credit Debby Zygielbaum

Before I turned my sights on farming, I worked with California native plants both as a conservationist and a horticulturist. Our state has a flora to be envied, full of adaptations, endemics, rare flowers, bold scents and subtle colors. Thus, the RSV hedgerows are planted with California natives appropriate to our area. These plants will be excellent hosts to our native bees and pollinators. Much attention, justifiably, has been paid to the European honeybee — but even though hives might decline or die, replacement queens and broods are available worldwide, supported and bred by beekeepers. But once our native bees are extinct, there is no place to go and get them back.

Hedgerows are a beautiful – and functional – addition to any farm. Add one to yours today!