Ranchos resident opens new bees-ness | RecordCourier.com

Ranchos resident opens new bees-ness

by Amy Roby
A bee polinates flowers in a Genoa garden.
Kurt Hildebrand

VitalBeeBuds LLC is on a mission to increase local pollinator populations. The company’s carefully selected and cultivated plant offerings are designed to draw pollinators to areas throughout, and in proximity to, the Carson Valley.

VBB owner and Gardnerville Ranchos resident Lorraine Fitzhugh is an inspired gardener who pursues her passion with an eye toward sustainability and permaculture (a gardening system modeled on nature that is self-supporting and ecologically sound).

Self-described as someone who “likes to move,” Fitzhugh enjoys exploring “how to make the land work for you” and is driven to find ways to support declining pollinator populations, including bees, butterflies, beetles, and birds. She chooses to cultivate flowering plant species that provide valuable food sources for these important creatures.

“(Pollinators) are so beneficial and if we didn’t have them, we’d really miss having our most nutritious and flavorful food,” said Fitzhugh. She explained that pollinators are responsible for fertilizing 75-80% of flowers, which directly impacts 1/3 of overall food production.

The need to protect her plantings from wildlife coupled with a wish to extend the growing season led her to design and construct an off-the-grid, climate battery, saltbox greenhouse with the help of her husband and brother.

Climate battery structures store excess generated heat in an underground tubing system beneath the greenhouse and circulate both warm and cold air throughout the structure to regulate temperatures. When the warm air and cool air intermingle, valuable moisture is produced, providing much-needed humidity to new plants.

The greenhouse was completed in spring 2019, just as Fitzhugh retired from a 19-year career teaching math and computer science at Douglas High School. The success she experienced with her greenhouse soon bloomed into an idea.

“I thought, ‘If I can get these (pollinator-supportive) plants into people’s hands and into their gardens, that would be amazing,’” she said.

Fitzhugh consulted a variety of sources including Comstock Seed in Gardnerville; Greenhouse Garden Center in Carson City; Valley Garden Center in Gardnerville; University of Nevada, Reno Extension, The University of Sussex in England, and The Xereces Society for Invertebrate Conservation for information, expertise, and inspiration. She cross-referenced all she learned with her own experience as a longtime Carson Valley gardener to produce a list of the best pollinator-friendly plants specific to this area, and VBB was launched.

VBB places emphasis on native plants, as they are a natural attractant for native pollinators, and only seeds that are deer and critter resistant and tolerant of dry, harsh conditions are utilized. All of VBB’s perennial offerings are appropriate for at least zone 5 (indicating hardiness to -20 degrees F) and showcase pollinators’ favorite hues of blue, purple, yellow, and white.

Current inventory includes: Geranium, Lavender, Lupine, Papaver (poppies), Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan), Salvia, Scabiosa (Pincusion flower), and Veronica spicata (spiked speedwell). New plants are offered each week as the season progresses, and a variety of tomato plants are also available for purchase.

Fitzhugh appreciates the aesthetic aspect of gardening, and her eye for design inspires the inclusion of a few less-hardy plant varieties to add splashes of color. As a proponent of making a pollinator’s foraging job as easy as possible, she recommends planting in clusters to provide easy access to blossoms.

“Pollinator patches can be collaborated [and] designed with VBB for folks interested in doing more to repair [or] create pollinator habitats,” Fitzhugh said.

Each VBB plant comes in its own biodegradable cow pot; gardeners simply dig a hole and set the plant, pot and all, directly in the ground. The manure-based pot nourishes the surrounding soil and because there’s no root shock, the plant establishes quickly and fibrous root development is encouraged.

Plants are available in either 4-inch or gallon sizes and currently offered at three locations: every Wednesday at the Sierra Chef Farm to Fork Farmers Market at Heritage Park in Gardnerville, every Friday at Bonsai Blue Garden Market in Reno, and at the Sparks United Methodist Church Farmers’ Market on alternating weeks.

For Fitzhugh, the creation of VBB has been a family affair. Her husband, Ed, and two adult sons, Gavin and Keaton, are actively involved and readily participate with the booth setup and breakdown at events, marketing aspects of social media and the VBB website, and ongoing work involved with the greenhouse.

“I had this thought [to create VBB] and started going on it,” she said, noting how quickly things evolved. “I needed brain and muscle…I don’t have to ask them for help.” She is grateful for the ability to stay “connected with my entire family throughout the Covid time,” and defines the opportunity to work together as priceless.

Fitzhugh finds joy in pursuing her passion and delights in her interactions with customers. She loves every aspect, from helping new gardeners “gain confidence to grow in this area,” to conversing with seasoned gardeners who recognize different pollinators and know the plants that help them thrive.

“You hear about people’s [stories] at the market. They’ll say, ‘This plant reminds me of…’ The purchase can be sentimental…it’s just wonderful to hear people’s different experiences,” she said.

The VBB website, vitalbeebuds.com launches this week. For more information about VBB and upcoming events, you can also check their Facebook page. Email inquiries can be sent to info@vitalbeebuds.com.