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Johnson City hosts seed swap and pollinator event

Robert Houk • Feb 3, 2019 at 9:30 AM

Bees are hard-working insects, but they are not the only pollinators laboring in your garden.

Darrell Moore, a biological sciences professor at East Tennessee State University, told attendees of the Johnson City Park and Recreation’s first Seed Swap and Pollinator Day at Memorial Park Community Center on Saturday that “honeybees are persistent and really work hard, but there are other pollinators.”

Moore said common flies and ants are also important for pollination, as are butterflies, beetles and wasps. And he said gardeners shouldn’t forget the role hummingbirds play in spreading pollen from plant to plant.

“It’s dangerous out there,” he said, noting pollinators often fall prey to other insects and birds while doing their jobs. 

Three-fourths of flowering plants rely on pollinators to reproduce. That includes most of the fruit, vegetable and seed crops that feed and fuel the world.

Helping The Pollinators

A number of exhibitors at Saturday’s event focused on helping honeybees and Monarch butterflies, two pollinators that have seen their numbers decline in recent years. Some organizations call on citizen scientists to help count pollinators in their natural habitats.

Tonya Van Hook, who represents the Carver Peace Gardens, said community gardens offers neighborhoods a growing space, while “bringing people and resources together” for organic food and education.

One way Carver gardens have helped to educate the community has been to promote the growing of milkweed, which she said is a plant that is key to sustaining Monarch butterflies.

“We come together to learn and share,” Van Hook said.

Judith Hammond, director of Johnson City’s What’s the Buzz, said her program offers gardeners a way of helping pollinators while marking the city’s 150th birthday this year.

Hammond is encouraging city residents to celebrate the sesquicentennial by “building Sunflower Forts and planting anchor gardens around town.”

There are more than 150 flowering plants that nourish pollinators. Many varieties, such as trumpet vine, sumac and honeysuckle, are common to the region.

Learning What To Plant

Connie Deegan, naturalist for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, said the Groundhog Day event at the Memorial Park Community Center was a way of promoting gardens that are friendly to pollinators, and to help local gardeners get an early start on their spring planting by swapping heirloom, native and vegetable seeds.

“People who are into this are really into this,” Deegan said. “If you are a plant enthusiast, you are going to bring your best stuff.”

Gloria Snodgrass said she had recently moved from Arizona to Johnson City, and wanted to know “what are the best varieties to plant in this climate?”

Richard Browning said he was also new to the area, and was “interested in learning how to grow vegetables in Northeast Tennessee.”

Lexy Close, with Build It Up East TN, said her organization’s backyard garden program could help answer their questions. She said her group concentrates on “organic gardening education.”

Close said she was “very happy” to give away knowledge and seeds to aspiring gardeners.

 “We try to focus on things that really work,” she said.

Paula Sarut, who attended the seed swap with her daughters Jonah Sarut-Childress and Stella Sarut-Childress, said it was “so cool to see so many people” at the event.

“I’ve been saving seeds for several years,” she said.

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