UNITY — It took the local bees only 10 minutes to find the bright orange marigolds of farmer Amy LeBlanc’s newly planted pollinator garden.

LeBlanc, one of 60 volunteer workshop leaders who gathered Saturday for the Maine Organic Farmer and Gardener’s Association annual Farm and Homestead Day, quickly pointed them out to the handful of would-be gardeners attending her “plant a pollinator garden” workshop at the Common Ground Education Center in Unity.

“Our food crops, fiber crops and animal seed, many of them depend on pollinators,” LeBlanc said. “So when you think of it that way, it’s necessary, as their habitat is destroyed, to provide wild places (for them).”

The key to a pollinator garden, LeBlanc said, is a variety of flowers and plants with different shapes and blooming times as well as clean water and mud. Together those elements create a habitat where pollinators such as butterflies, bees, flies, hummingbirds and even bats can come to feed and drink from spring all the way to fall. In addition to plants such as goldenrod, wild daisies, single-petal marigolds and anise hyssop, a mint-and-licorice scented herb with edible flowers, LeBlanc said pollinator gardens should include a bug and butterfly bath with enough sand, pebbles and stones to provide perches for thirsty insects to drink fresh water, which should be refreshed daily. The bath — in this case, a large, shallow bowl set atop a wooden stump — should be secured to prevent from tipping.

“It doesn’t look like much, but it’s a functional thing,” LeBlanc said,

As LeBlanc put finishing touches on her garden, volunteers led attendees in wide-ranging workshops on such topics as scythe use and maintenance, blacksmithing, sheep shearing and care, wooden spoon carving and learning to drive a pony cart.

Up a gravel path from LeBlanc, homesteader and author Jim Merkel, his partner Susan Cutting and 7-year-old son Walden prepared for a demonstration on dandelion coffee. Dandelions, typically dismissed as bothersome weeds, are incredibly nutritious, Merkel said, and recommended for medicinal use to treat digestive ailments, among others. Merkel said that when he was a boy, his father made him pull all the dandelions out of the garden each day to use for compost; but today Merkel has taught his own son to view the plant as a source of nourishment.

“For me, I love those plants that are so useful but are traditionally disliked,” Merkel said.

In fact, the much maligned dandelion is packed with more nutrients than many garden vegetables, containing more vitamin A and fiber than spinach or broccoli and more iron than collards. The plant is also a decent source of calcium. Americans tend to be turned off by the bitterness of dandelions, Merkel said, but by reducing the bitter greens in their diets, they are missing out on valuable digestive tools.

Merkel’s dandelion coffee is made from chopped dandelion root that is dried, roasted and ground before being poured into a pot of warming water. After five to 10 minutes, the brew is ready for consumption, and Merkel pulled out homemade maple syrup and half and half to accompany the nutty-flavored beverage, which observers said tasted quite like coffee with hints of chocolate. The only major difference, however, is dandelion coffee lacks the caffeine content of its wildly popular cousin.

As the day wound to a close, a gaggle of enthusiastic children surrounded Trevanna Grenfell, a teacher at Northwood Natural Learning in Unity, which offers nature-based educational programming for children and adults. On this cloudy afternoon, Grenfell was demonstrating how to start a friction fire. Children in elaborate iris crowns watched Grenfell closely as she methodically worked a spindle into a fireboard using nothing but a bow, a hearty stick tied with parachute cord, and a handhold. As smoke emerged from the board, Grenfell led the children in a round of a song believed to date back to the middle ages.

“Rise up, oh flame,” the song goes. “By thy light glowing. Bring to us beauty, vision and joy.”

Kate McCormick — 861-9218

[email protected]

Twitter: @KateRMcCormick

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