Seb grange hedgerow

Grangers and local beekeepers worked together to create the pollinator-friendly hedgerow. Above, the volunteers doing the initial planting on the hedgerow in October 2020.

Shortly before COVID-19 shut down the world in March 2020, Sebastopol Grange President Laura Shafer started a conversation with Miles Sarvis-Wilburn, the program director of the Sonoma County Beekeepers Association, about planting a flower garden in back of the Grange Hall on Highway 12.

Shafer wanted to make the garden as environmentally friendly as possible, and the Beekeepers Association has a mission to plant more bee-friendly gardens in public spaces. It was a perfect pairing. By last April, the two groups had developed a plan, a budget, and a vision for a 630-foot, pollinator-friendly hedgerow, using mostly native California plants from local nurseries and the grangers’ and beekeepers’ gardens.

“The hedgerow project was a source of hope for us,” Shafer said. “It was like, we’re going to get something done this year even though nothing else is happening.”

Why a hedgerow?

Sarvis-Wilburn said hedgerows, which are long berms covered with plants that provide food and shelter to pollinators and other species, can bring biodiversity back to agricultural lands dominated by monoculture crops like grapes or hay.

“Living in Sonoma County, we have a lot of vineyards, and we have a lot of ag land — cow pastures and so forth. And when we think in terms of pollinators, we think in terms of forage, and forage usually means flowers. It means nectar and pollen. And when we think of forage what we want, ideally, is a lot of forage in an area where there isn’t a lot of forage otherwise.”

“Hedgerows, have often been used in places like vineyards,” he said. “So if you have a whole bunch of vineyards — which are wind pollinated, they’re not insect pollinated — you might want to put a hedgerow there to provide forage for all of the insects that live in that area and don’t have anything to eat on the vine.”

Likewise for cow pastures. “A lot of times ranchers will seed that land with clover or alfalfa and those will produce forage (for pollinators) but only for a certain period of time. The hedgerow is designed to have multiple different blooming plants that bloom throughout the year. So, the goal is to have forage provided year round.”

Shafer sees the hedgerow as a form of regenerative agriculture that hearkens back to an earlier agricultural stage. “It’s a European concept that we’re bringing back into California agriculture,” which she said “has a policy of ‘Grow to the edge of the field’" — an approach that has led not only to soil loss but to pollinator deserts—large areas where pollinators like bees and certain birds simply can’t find anything to eat.

Building the hedgerow

Creating a 630-foot hedge row is not for the faint of heart.

The project began in June with massive deliveries of dirt from Ron Peters Excavating. The company also donated two hours of backhoe and a driver to shape the mounds into three planting areas.  Grab N’ Grow donated planting soil, Sebastopol Hardware provided gopher baskets and Harmony Farm Supply donated drip irrigation supplies.

“This was a true community effort,” Shafer said.

The grange also had arbor mulch delivered which volunteers raked, spread and watered to kick start the mycelium process — an underground fungal web that supports healthy plant growth.

In late summer and early fall, while fires raged to the east and north of Sebastopol, the grangers and the beekeepers began gathering plants for the hedgerow: salvias, mints, sugar bushes, quail plants, vitex, coffee berry and other native plants, as well as two western Redbud trees. (Shafer gives credit to Maryle Brauer, garden director for the Beekeepers Association, and Josh Williams, owner of California Flora Nursery, for helping with plant selection.)

On Oct. 24, a dozen volunteers from both organizations came together to begin planting.

Shafer credits the hedgerow project for keeping the Grange community connected and active despite the pandemic.

“It’s been kind of a granger building thing for us when so much was shut down and it was so hard, we had the opportunity to do this big planting. Then some of us kind of bonded and showed up regularly, nursing it over the winter — weeding, pulling out the dead plants, and putting in a few things from our own gardens.”

The grangers christened the hedgerow the Really Good Bees Inspirational Garden or the RGB Inspirational Garden, a nod to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in September, as they were working on building the hedgerow.

Now that its spring and the plants are growing in, Shafer said they plan to have a few more planting events for the hedgerow in May to replace the plants that didn’t make it through the winter and add a few more.

“Maybe six or nine plants out of 60 plants died over the winter, but a lot of stuff has done really well, like the two Redbud trees we planted have budded and bloomed and look like they survived.”

She sees the growth and blossoming of plants on the hedgerow as analogous to the waking up going on in the larger world as the dangers of the pandemic begin to recede.

“It’s very exciting. We’ve got a regular work schedule this month, and we’re kind of coming back to life,” she said. “The hedgerow project is helping us because we needed regular work days — something we’ve always know we should have but we never did—and now we do.”

As the hedgerow grows in, Shafer said they’re planning on adding an educational section to the Grange’s website about the plants in the hedgerow and the pollinators that depend on them.

The Grange is also having its first public meeting since the pandemic began — the monthly general meeting on May 25. Members of the public who may be interested in joining the Sebastopol Grange are welcome to attend.

For more information, see the Sebastopol Grange website at https://sebastopolgrange.org/. For more information on planting for bees contact Miles Sarvis-Wilburn at programdirector@sonomabees.org.

Townsy Sebastopol is a recently-launched community web app, offering local news, online shopping at local stores, a local event guide, local volunteer and job boards and more. Find it at https://townsyapp.com.

Sonoma West Publishers is partnering with Townsy to make our news more accessible to the Sebastopol community. 

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