By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
VENTNOR – Any experienced gardener will tell you that cloudy, slightly rainy days are the best days to pull weeds. That’s because the roots come out easily when they are slightly damp.
A small group of dedicated volunteers from the city’s Green Team spent a few hours on a drizzly Saturday tending the pollinator garden they planted last year. The community project converted a 20- by 100-foot plot of land on Lafayette Avenue behind the Ventnor Educational Community Complex that is protected by Green Acres into a native plant garden that attracts pollinating insects, including the beloved Monarch butterfly.
Resident Lee Widman, who is a member of Rutgers University Environmental Stewards program, and Diane Birkbeck planned and organized the project, which brought out families and children to put the small plants into the ground. Another group of volunteers showed up weekly to water the garden during the long, hot summer that saw near record drought in some areas of New Jersey. The city provided access to water from the nearby pump station, as well as all the mulch needed to top the garden.
The plants were provided at no cost by The Xerces Society, a non-profit organization focused on protecting the natural world through conservation of invertebrates and their habitats. It takes its name from the Xerces Blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche xerces), the first butterfly to go extinct in North America due to human activity.
The society’s Northeast Monarch and Pollinator Habitat Kit for the Northeast Region included more than 100 plants and information about how to properly plant and maintain them.
Plants included the appropriate species of milkweed, which is a host plant for the Monarch butterfly, and other flowering plant species, such as false indigo, coreopsis, asters, sunflowers, bergamot, black-eyed Susan and more.
Science teachers at the VECC used the garden as a teaching tool during the school year to educate students about the life cycles of beneficial Monarch butterflies, bees and other pollinators.
“We just planted this last year,” Widman said. “We had super growth since then.”
Widman was laying cardboard on the ground for two purposes: to create a pathway around the outside of the garden and to deter the growth of pesky weeds that can crowd out the beneficial plants.
“We’ll be putting up a small fence to delineate the garden and keep out small animals,” he said.
The day before Arbor Day, the last Friday in April, Commissioner Tim Kriebel joined a group of students to plant a few native tree saplings. The trees were surrounded by a small wire fence to identify the tree species.
“Principal Rob Baker read a poem and the kids planted the trees and helped with some weeding,” Widman said.
Widman said the green team is working on some other projects that are of interest to the community.
“We want to apply for grant funds to get more beach baskets set up so people can clean debris from the beach when they go on their morning or evening walks,” Widman said.
The green team is also encouraging residents to participate in a community solar project that will be coming online in September in Millville. Those who sign up will be able to receive a discount on electricity.
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