The members of Wilmington Country Club have historically taken great pride in their sensitivity to our natural environment as well as our obligation to do all we can to be responsible stewards of this wonderful setting cradled within pristine and historically famed Delaware Valley. Together with the total dedication to excellence in overall presentation, our Club has pursued a number of significant programs that are dedicated to environmental stewardship. These initiatives include our continued commitment to Audubon Sanctuary Certification, the WCC Blue Bird Trail and more recent Purple Martin and Osprey nesting programs. Toward the end of last year’s fruit season, discussion was initiated among knowledgeable and environmentally active WCC members about the possibility of revisiting the Apiary (bee-keeping) program that had previously been considered here at Wilmington Country Club. In concert with leading members of the Grounds staff, the subject matter was enthusiastically investigated prior to any thought of advancing a proposal for Board approval. Information was garnered from initial meetings with an extremely knowledgeable consultant, Don Coats. He suggested conservation efforts could be more helpful to the environment and more widely appreciated by WCC members if we created attractive native habitat for all pollinators.
We learned that European honey bees are considered agricultural stock animals, and the winter losses we read about are restored on bee farms in the south, shipped by truck-loads of “packages” and relocated in all regions. The honey bee industry loses about 30% of their stock annually, requiring regular spring replacement. The importance of honey bees as pollinators for a significant amount of our farm and floral crops is widely recognized. There is a growing concern however, that honey bees may crowd out native bees, share viruses with them, and may enhance pollination of invasive plant species. So it is our native bees that also need help. Their decline is continuous, not restored. Native bees evolved over eons with native plants, pollination for berries, fruit and our floral landscape. They need native habitat which humans can appreciate as well.
There are well over 100 bee hives located between Greenville and Chadds Ford. These bees have little or no crop pollination need in this area except for two CSA farms where they indeed, have hives. Ninety percent of these hives are motivated by the hobby passion of their owners and their quest for collecting honey.
The reality is that the first and best thing that WCC can do to assist in this important area of our natural environment is to create greater areas of meadows or wildflowers that will support all forms of pollinators. With this information in hand, we devised a plan. The first step is to pick an area that would be appropriate for development of our first pollinator meadow. Many character actors were considered, and it was concluded that the area behind the North Snack Stand, left of #10 North tee, would provide the proper exposure, be out of play, provide an attractive aesthetic value, and would also be close to our fruit trees which will benefit from native orchard bees. The second step will be to provide a limited display area that would provide our members a limited representation of the meadow and wildflower plants available and what they might look like at maturity if envisioned in larger forms of planting. This area will be grown from plugs and will mature quickly as opposed to a much larger area that would be grown from seed. The third step would be to develop the size and shape of the desired larger areas of presentation and the dynamics of support necessary to grow from seed and to maintain thereafter. This certainly promises to be an exciting undertaking that will add great value to our already established environmentally friendly efforts. Not only will it be a vibrant backdrop to the North Snack Stand, but we will be helping to sustain the local populations of pollinators that provide us with such abundant annual fruit in our orchard.
Additionally, periodic presentations can be offered by appropriate resource experts in natural history that will help club members appreciate the contributions they are making for conservation. Appropriate signage and newsletter articles will also keep members abreast of the habitat progress.
Most people are unaware that there are such important and fascinating creatures as native bees. There are about 200 species in Delaware. The conservation of butterflies should not be overlooked. The proposed array of wildflowers, in clusters that will eventually spread to multiple locations, will attract Monarchs, Swallow Tails, Cabbage, and many others. The potential enhancement of this pleasant visual experience should inspire the informed observer if attentive to the beauty of “little things.”