Something's buzzing at Franklin Park Zoo
Franklin Park Zoo’s apiary project is home to approximately 90,000 honeybee residents housed within 12 wooden bee hives. With the apiary project come great benefits to the Zoo community. We plan to teach education program participants, our ZooTeens and others about beekeeping, the role bees play in the ecosystem as pollinators, and the importance of preserving this important species. On a local level, we hope to increase the number of honeybee colonies in the Greater Boston area. In addition to producing honey, these hives will also help pollinate our organic garden, which provides food and enrichment for our animals. Now that's certainly something to buzz about!
Bee Basics: Pollination, Pollinators and the Honeybee Crisis
The word “bee” is a direct link to the word “pollination”—very simply, the process by which pollen from the anthers of a flower is transferred to the stigma of the same flower or of another flower. Pollination leads to fertilization that allows a flower to develop seeds.
About 80 percent of all flowering plants and over 75 percent of staple crops that feed humankind rely on animal pollinators. Important animal pollinators include bees, of course, but also ants, nectar-feeding bats, beetles, birds, butterflies, some flies, moths, and some wasps. In fact, wind and water can also be pollinators. Animal pollinators visit flowers in search of food, mates, shelter and nest-building materials. They draw energy from the sugars in nectar and the proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals from pollen grains. Pollination is truly a partnership because neither the plant nor the pollinator can exist in isolation.
We’re told that pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat! Of all the animal pollinators, the most economically important in the world are managed honeybees. A U.N. report states that of the 100 crops that provide 90 percent of the world’s food, over 70 are pollinated by bees. In the U.S. alone, the honeybee’s economic contribution is over $19 billion.
Colony Collapse Disorder
In 2006, we first heard about the bee crisis, as beekeepers around the country reported massive loss of honeybees—in some cases, more than a third of hives and in the worst up to 90 percent. Bees were flying away and simply not returning; keepers found boxes empty except for a live queen; no bee corpses remained. The name CCD—colony collapse disorder--has now been given to this mysterious killer condition. Each year since, commercial beekeepers have reported unprecedented losses double what they consider normal --about a one-third annual loss. Though experts say we’re unlikely to experience a food security crisis as a result, the variety and nutritional value of our food system is threatened since most fruits, many vegetables, almonds, alfalfa and other crops all depend on honeybees for pollination.
The European Union announced a two-year ban on the use of neonicotinoids, the pesticide group of chemicals suspected of causing the honeybee decline and routinely used in our country on wheat, corn, soy, and cotton crops. Although a group of beekeepers and environmental groups sued the EPA for not acting, the U.S. has not sanctioned a ban here.
How can we help?
Beekeepers in Italy, Germany and France and other parts of the EU where action has been taken against harmful pesticides say that their bees are recovering. Bees need your help here at home to bring the same result.
- Write/email/call your government officials at state and federal levels to pass the needed legislation.
- Protect bees in your own backyard. Home gardeners and backyard beekeepers can join the movement and provide a honeybee haven with access to pesticide-free food, shelter and water. Only a little space is needed– a few containers of the right kinds of plants tucked into your garden, on a balcony or front stoop, and you’ve created a little bee-haven.
- Write your local newspaper and urge action. Help build momentum to protect bees. Decision makers read the opinion pages of their local newspapers to “take a pulse on public opinion.”
- Plant bee-friendly plants like sunflowers.
Pests, Plants and Staying Pesticide-free
Invasive Plant Removal
Invasive plants are non-native species that have been introduced, either intentionally or accidentally, into a new habitat. They can spread aggressively, taking over vegetation around them. Luckily, Zoo New England has a chemical-free method of combating these plants: our animals love to eat them! If you don't have a gorilla or giraffe to eat invasive plants in your backyard, you can learn more about controlling invasive plant species through other methods on Audubon's action sheet (pdf).
Invasive Pest Management
Both Franklin Park Zoo and Stone Zoo avoid the use of chemicals by using techniques of Invasive Pest Management (IPM). IPM is a science-based process used to minimize pests without the use of synthetic chemical pesticides. Rather than simply eliminating pests repeatedly, IPM looks to determine the reason for the pest’s presence and find a solution that reduces the risk to people and the environment. Once we know what environmental factors allow pests to thrive, we can create unfavorable conditions for them.
IPM techniques include:
- Biological: Using natural enemies that attack or feed on pests
- Cultural: Using particular gardening practices, like crop rotation or mulching to create unfavorable conditions for pests
- Genetic: Planting pest-resistant plant varieties
- Physical: Using covers, screens, etc.
- Chemical: As a last resort, pesticides may be used
Read more about Franklin Park Zoo's Organic Garden Project which, of course, uses chemical-free IPM methods!
Vermicomposting: Putting our worms to work
What you won’t see on your visit to the Zoo--both because it’s behind-the-scenes and it’s three feet underground--is our living, breathing vermicompost pit. Under the Zoo, we’ve got thousands of worms happily digesting things like used paper towels, coffee grounds and leftover food waste (like pumpkins). After they’re done decomposing our waste, worm compost is used as fertilizer for the Zoo’s Organic Garden Project. Produce from the garden is then used as food and enrichment for Zoo animals. Thanks to our worm friends, vermicomposting is a win-win process!
Here's a little more on vermicomposting and how you can put your worms to work:
What is compost?
A key ingredient in organic farming, compost is organic matter that’s been decomposed and recycled as a fertilizer and soil additive. It’s great for gardening fresh produce.
Also called vermicomposting, it’s easy, can be done indoors or out year-round, and helps the environment. Organic waste, like kitchen veggie scraps and garden clippings, make up 30 percent of what households currently send to landfills. If we compost this waste instead, we recycle nutrients back into the earth, significantly reduce the volume of garbage destined for landfills, reduce the number of trucks on the road, and lessen the methane gas generated by landfills. The earth wins and the worm lives! By the way, our composting heros are red worms and red wigglers (Eisenia foetida and Lumbricus rubellus).
Worms need moisture, air, food, darkness, and warm (but not hot) temperatures. Here are Seven Easy Steps:
1. Fill your empty worm bin with a variety of bedding (made of newspaper strips or leaves that will hold moisture and contain air spaces) and two handfuls of sand or soil.
2. Add water to the bedding until the mixture feels like a wrung-out sponge. Make sure the bin is half-full of bedding.
3. Gently lift the bedding to create air spaces. This helps to control odors and gives the worms some wiggle room.
4. Add the worms.
5. Add food scraps by pulling aside some of the bedding, tossing in the scraps, then covering the scraps with bedding.
6. Bury successive loads in different locations in the bin.
7. In one to three months, you’re ready to harvest your compost!
The rich compost your worms produce can be used as a soil conditioner for both indoor and outdoor gardening and to make potting soil—equal parts sifted compost, soil and vermiculite. Give your plants a tea party by offering worm tea; the liquid produced as part of the composting process is an excellent plant fertilizer (dilute one part liquid with 10 parts water).
Recycling, Comingling & TerraCycling
Bottle & Can Drive
If you're interested in not only helping the environment but contributing to a worthy cause, bring your empty bottles and cans to Stone Zoo during the Bottle and Can Drive --held the second Saturday of each month, April through October. Proceeds from the annual fundraiser benefit conservation efforts supported by Zoo New England.
Bulk Paper Recycling
Need a place to get rid of that pile of newspapers? Head on over to Stone Zoo, where you’ll find a receptacle for recycling bulk paper (located in parking lot).
Comingling & TerraCycling
- Guests at both Franklin Park and Stone Zoos are encouraged to recycle their used cans and bottles in receptacles throughout the Zoos.
- The Zoo comingles trash, mixing paper, glass, plastic, and metal onsite.
- Zoo New England works with TerraCycle, a company that collects hard-to-recycle items and converts them into consumer goods. Items are collected and shipped to the company’s corporate headquarters. TerraCycle pays all shipping costs and makes a donation to charity for collections received.
Recycle your old cell phone at Admission Booths
Read more about Zoo New England’s work with EcoCell.
And for the Animals...
The animals benefit from recycling, too! We repurpose items like egg cartons, paper towel rolls and phone books for animal enrichment. We use reusable containers for animals’ diets, and we even use shredded paper bags for animal bedding.