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Sabin residents raise awareness about pollinators, habitat

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Jeff Shang joins fellow neighbors at a volunteer work party for the Sabin Community Orchard last Sunday. Grant funds paid for the addition of bee-friendly trees, plants and shrubs to the orchard last summer.Next time you’re out and about in Northeast Portland, stop and smell the flowers.

That’s what the Sabin Community Association hopes you will do on their Bee Friendly Garden Tour, a program heading into its third season this spring.

“This is about providing forage and native habitat” to bees and other pollinators, says Diane Benson, a neighborhood board member and co-founder of the project. “Bees need food, and all of us can do that.”

In three years, the tour has come to include 41 stops — 40 residents’ homes plus the publicly owned Sabin Community Orchard, at Northeast 18th Avenue and Mason Street.

Each stop has a “Bee Friendly Garden” sign, funded by the neighborhood association. There are maps and a telephone hotline that provides information about each site. Hundreds of people throughout the city and suburbs have come to check it out.

Now the Sabin neighborhood would like to inspire other neighborhoods to create a similar project of their own.

They’ll hold a public forum March 19 to share their experiences and suggestions for how to start a bee-friendly garden. They’ll answer questions about plant types, outreach, pesticides and more.

“Beekeeping is a fun thing to do, but it’s not a way to save bees. You’ve got to get these flowers out there,” says Mace Vaughan, another co-founder of the Bee Friendly Garden Project who is the pollinator program director for Portland’s Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

Vaughan happens to live six blocks from Benson in the Sabin neighborhood. The third co-founder of the project is Tim Wessels, a pioneer in the field and a master beekeeping instructor at Oregon State University, president of the Portland Urban Beekeepers, and founder of Bridgetown Bees, an effort to breed a winter-hardy Portland queen bee.

Serendipitously, Wessels, too, lives in Sabin.

The project started, Benson says, when one of her neighbors wanted to do a standard garden tour to show off the gorgeous gardens in the neighborhood.

“I thought, ‘Let’s make this something that had a purpose and can do some good for the community,’ ” Benson says. “We decided to focus on pollinator conservation.”

She wrote a proposal to her board, asking for support and funds to purchase yard signs. They approved it. Then she posted notices in the neighborhood newsletter asking for help. That’s how she met Vaughan and Wessels. “I don’t know anything about bees,” Benson confesses.

In fact, she says, it’s not necessary to be a master gardener or a beekeeper to host a bee-friendly garden.

All that’s needed is an interest in pollinator conservation, Benson says: “It’s about raising awareness and inspiring others to make a few small changes in how they perceive and manage their outdoor space.”

Buffet for bees

Last year, the Bee Friendly Garden Project got a big boost from the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods in the form of a $1,100 community grant.

The grant is open to the 12 inner North and Northeast Portland neighborhoods. Eleven projects were awarded last year. This year five will be awarded. Grant applications are due March 1.

The Bee Friendly Garden Project used part of the grant funds to plant bee-friendly trees, shrubs and flowers at the Sabin Community Orchard, one of the stops on the tour.

There’s a new fig tree (which was vandalized during the winter, its branches ripped off), a plum tree and an apple tree. There are new clumps of shrubs, including huckleberry, salmonberry, thimbleberry, gooseberry, Russian sage, salal, ocean spray and currants.

And bee-friendly flowers include lavender, rosemary, thyme, showy milkweed, hyssop, echinacea, blanket flower, monkey flower, Oregon Sunshine and kinnikinnick, among others.

About half the plants are native; half are non-native.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Volunteer Michelle Moulton prunes the top of a tree in the community orchard, one of the stops along the Sabin Bee Friendly Garden tour. The orchard, now heading into its fourth season, also installed a path, interpretive signs and a grape trellis with other grant funds that make it much more inviting to the community.

The signs and path were a “big step in making it more visible; passers-by are much more likely to interact with it,” says Rachel Lee, who oversees the Sabin Community Association’s partnership with the orchard.

Lee thinks any neighborhood with the interest and a little bit of capital should be able to build something similar to the garden tour.

“The city is full of people, bees and gardens,” she says.

Vaughan, of the Xerces Society, notes that there are a handful of parallel efforts around the country to promote thriving bee habitats.

Seattle has a “Pollinator Pathways” program; nationally there’s a “Bee City USA” effort that encourages neighborhoods to think about creating bee-friendly urban landscapes; and the Overlook neighborhood in North Portland has been working on efforts to curb pesticide use, a major threat to pollinators. There’s been a buzz over bees for years at Sabin K-8 School, where Vaughan’s daughter attends fourth grade.

The school has adopted the mascot of the “Tickle Bees” — their name for the bees that come out of their ground nests en masse on the first warm day of spring (at least 72 degrees after St. Patrick’s Day).

Also known as mining bees in the genus Andrena, “they don’t sting, they just make a little movement, like a tickle,” Vaughan says. “They’re down there at recess playing with them as they come out of the ground. It’s an amazing phenomenon.”

Vaughan first heard about it when his daughter started kindergarten; in the past three to four years the schoolchildren have made T-shirts, stickers and posters celebrating the Tickle Bees, and there’s talk of monitoring and doing field renovation to protect the bees.

Sabin neighbors think the idea of a bee-friendly garden tour will be wildly popular in any Portland neighborhood.

“A bush here, a wildlfower here,” Vaughan says. “Everybody has this mosaic. Pretty soon you have this buffet for bees to feed on.”

What’s that buzz?

• The Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods will host a forum called “Urban Bee Habitat: Start a bee-friendly garden project in your neighborhood!”

• The event begins at 6:30 p.m. March 19, at the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, King School Facility, 4815 N.E. Seventh Ave.

• It will include a panel discussion with Mace Vaughan, Tim Wessels, Diane Benson and Glen Andresen, who teaches gardening and beekeeping classes and moderates The Dirtbag, a KBOO radio show about organic gardening.

• For more, visit

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