CALDWELL, Idaho — As warmer spring weather moves in, many Idahoans are planning backyard summer gardens. A local partnership in the Treasure Valley is hoping residents prioritize plants for native pollinators.
It's the second year for the Treasure Valley Pollinator Project, aiming to get 64,000 plants in the ground that will benefit local bees, butterflies, and beetles.
This year, participants have four flats to choose from featuring a variety of native flowers, herbs, and medicinal plants. The process is simple: People pre-order pollinator packs online, pick them up at the end of April, and plant them at home.
"We started it last year as a way to get people really excited about bringing pollinators to your garden and a hands-on way for people to get involved and really make a difference in our community," Program Coordinator Jessica Harrold said.
Harrold works with the Ada County Soil and Water Conservation District which partners with Caldwell's Peaceful Belly Farm for the project. Farm owner Josie Erskine oversees the early stages of the project, as seeds are planted and cared for at her farm's greenhouse. Her passion for plants and pollinators is palpable.
"Without those bugs, there is no life on earth," Erskine said. "Not just human life — no life."
Erskine said the earth's pollinators provide a variety of important services for the planet.
"Through those flowering plants our water is cleaned; our air is cleaned; they are pollinating our forests," Erskine said. "And it's estimated that the ecosystem service provided by pollinators on a global scale is around $412 billion that we don't know, as humans, how we would perform those tasks."
The plants are designed to bloom from early summer to the first frost, offering a variety of shapes and colors to attract several types of insects. For example, butterflies need larger petals to land on versus a small fly or bee.
"The flowers are shaped differently; so to attract butterflies, to attract beetles," Erskine said.
"Flies, in particular, will pollinate flowers that are light-colored and kind of sweetly scented," Harrold said. "Bees really like pinks and yellows and whites."
This year, pollinator packs are focused on supporting habitats for monarch butterflies. Every flat will include milkweed, which despite being the favorite plant of Idaho's official insect, Erskine says it's hard to find and hard to germinate.
"There used to be a lot of monarchs in Idaho and now they're rare," Erskine said. "It's very rare that you're going to spot a monarch in our state."
By planting habitats for native pollinators, project leaders hope to provide ample nectar across the Treasure Valley to support the thousands of species of insects known to our area.
"And you can do it in your backyard. You can do it on your windowsill or on a porch in pots," Erskin said. "And you can start viewing it as, 'I have wildlife that visits my backyard,' and that's special!"
Project participants can also keep in touch throughout the summer by sharing updates, pictures, and posts on social media.
"I would say that from when the plants start getting picked up to the end of the year, I cry weekly because of something that somebody's posted or something that somebody says," Erskine said. "Like right now, I get a little teary because it is incredible to be part of something that is bringing so much hope and joy and it's an honor to get to do it through plants."
Customrs can still pre-order pollinator packs online here. Plants will be ready for pickup April 29-30 at Peaceful Belly Farm.