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Modesto Pollinator Festival is for the birds. And the bees. And other helpful bugs

Pollinator Festival coming to Modesto park

Organizer Rhonda Allen talks about the first Modesto Pollinator Festival, set for Sunday, April 7, at La Loma Native Garden on Encina Avenue.
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Organizer Rhonda Allen talks about the first Modesto Pollinator Festival, set for Sunday, April 7, at La Loma Native Garden on Encina Avenue.

A bee. Or a butterfly. A lady beetle. A hummingbird even.

Whatever a child’s bug (or bird) of choice, spring break is a great time to get buzzing on a costume for the parade that’s sure to be a highlight of the upcoming Pollinator Festival in Modesto.

Guitarist Neil Buettner will lead the parade of kids along the path through the La Loma Native Garden, where the free festival will be held Sunday, April 7.

The event will open at 11 a.m. with face painting as information and vending booths are set up, festival organizer and La Loma Neighborhood Association member Rhonda Allen said Monday as she did some weeding in the garden on Encina Avenue.

The parade will be at noon (lineup at 11:45), with awards for most creative and most realistic costume. The day also will include the unveiling of a four-panel mural by artist Bianca Barrett in the children’s garden; a presentation by Bay Area resident Glen Schneider, who does habitat restoration work; a beekeeper with a demonstration hive; and a ladybug release, scavenger hunt and other activities.

One aim of the festival is to raise awareness of native plants and native pollinators, Allen said. People often don’t know the habits and needs of native bees, for example, which are better suited to pollinate native plants.

They pollinate 80 percent more than European honeybees, she said. “They’re very vigorous pollinators, but we don’t keep them in hives, so it’s harder to control them.” Most native bees live in the ground, so to help create a habitat for them, homeowners should leave a bit of bare soil here and there, into which they can burrow, Allen said.

Mason bees are native pollinators, and they like to live in places like log holes, so the festival will include a demonstration on how to build a bee box to attract them.

To promote the use of native, drought-tolerant plants like those in the La Loma garden, milkweed seeds will be offered at the festival, Allen said. Experts from the California Native Plant Society, Westurf Nursery and other sources will provide information and answer questions.

The die-off of monarch butterflies in California has been reported extensively. A January article in The Bee reported that in 2018, the statewide count recorded a mere 20,456 monarch butterflies, according to preliminary reports. That’s 1.7 percent of the 1997 population.

Milkweed is an important plant to promote monarch health, Allen said.

It’s crucial to protect native plants and pollinators, she said, but there’s too little education happening to promote that, she said. About a third of a healthy diet includes food that depends on pollination, Allen said, “so if our pollinators are dying off, we’re hurting ourselves.”

The La Loma Native Garden opened in the fall of 2017. Volunteers turned a roughly one-fifth-mile-long strip of city-owned dirt along Encina Avenue into a community garden featuring native plants and trees that need little water, a butterfly garden and bird habitat.

A Bee story at the time said the city is leasing the land to the La Loma Neighborhood Association at no cost for five years and providing the water. The city also planted 34 valley oak trees at the site. Modesto Subaru provided money for the irrigation system, Allen said, and has been a strong supporter by donating things like a pet waste station in the garden.

Garden improvement, including the laying of mulch, will be a Love Modesto project when the annual citywide day of volunteerism returns April 13, the Saturday after the Pollinator Festival, Allen said.

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