By Renee Brincks
It's no secret that nature anchors the 1440 Multiversity experience. The campus is rich with century-old redwoods, ferns, wildflowers and pretty, productive gardens. In fact, 1440 co-creator Joanie Kriens found inspiration for the 1440 name —chosen for the number of minutes available in each day — while harvesting vegetables in her own home garden.
1440 Campus Gardener Mike MacDonald tends to herbs, vegetables, fruit trees and edible flowers across the Santa Cruz Mountains grounds. He's helped the culinary team source local produce since 1440 opened, and his background in sustainable food systems and agriculture influences every aspect of his work. In addition to steering the garden's focus from ornamental to edible plants, MacDonald's goal is to produce campus-grown ingredients for every guest meal. He's also outlining new garden tours, along with classes on composting, biodiversity, flower arranging and related topics.
MacDonald especially enjoys showcasing the creatures that help campus gardens thrive.
"I'm always happy to walk guests through the garden, answer questions, and chat about bugs," he says.
MacDonald recently sat down to do just that, sharing fun facts about five important critters on the 1440 campus and recommending easy ways to strengthen habitats in our own backyards and garden beds.
More than 50 bee species live in central California, including native bees that nurture local ecosystems and European honeybees that pollinate our favorite foods and flowers. A diverse bee population benefits garden plants, just as diverse gardens benefit the bees themselves.
"If possible, avoid long periods with no open flowers in your garden because insects may die off or move," MacDonald says. "Try to maintain a natural balance and a seasonal flow of different nectar and pollen."
Three honeybee colonies populate the 1440 campus, including one in Joanie's Garden. You'll likely spot these bees as you explore the grounds; their honey is used in special desserts and amenities, as well.
Agapostemon sightings are another treat. Commonly known as the green sweat bee, this native pollinator is a solitary bee that's a brilliant blend of metallic turquoise and green. Occasionally, MacDonald also spots Halictus bees.
"They're so small that people might not realize they are bees," he says. "They're great for pollinating small flowers, like sweet alyssum, coriander, parsley and carrot."
As you view bees, remember that they only sting when threatened. If bees get tangled in hair or clothing, for example, or they're protecting their hive from creatures trying to collect honey, they may buzz more aggressively. Though the natural response might be to swat, MacDonald suggests simply walking away.
"When bees sting, they sacrifice their life. That really only happens as a last resort. If you're not posing a threat, they're not committed to giving up their life just to put you in 15 minutes of pain," he says.
Unlike bees, wasps continue to live after they sting. They also eat meat, which is why they often buzz around summer barbecues.
"Bees eat pollen and nectar, so they're not usually interested in your food. People have reason to be more wary of yellow jackets, but they're also important pest predators. Even though I keep my distance, I do like to see them in my garden," MacDonald says.
Yellow jackets feast on cabbage looper larvae, for example, which keeps the caterpillars from harming kale, collard greens, cabbage and other plants in the brassica family. Parasitoid wasps protect gardens by laying their own eggs inside the abdomen of certain aphids, caterpillars and other insects. As the eggs hatch and new wasps mature, they destroy the host insect.
While tiny parasitoid wasps are tough to spot, they typically hang around the same small flowers that attract Halictus bees—including coriander, sweet alyssum and yarrow.
"There are tens of thousands of parasitoid wasp species that specialize in different host insects. Most of these wasps are less than two millimeters long. Unless you view them under a microscope or magnifying glass, you'll probably think they are gnats," says MacDonald.
Spiders, like wasps, help control common pests and support dynamic garden ecosystems. MacDonald welcomes species such as wolf spiders, which feed on grubs and caterpillars.
"I think of spiders and wasps and bees and birds as part of my garden crew," MacDonald says. "The more time they spend in my garden, the less work I have to do and the healthier that garden will be."
He aims to strengthen spider populations by maintaining plant and habitat diversity. Nurturing various flowers near shrubs and trees of different heights attracts a wider variety of birds and insects. At 1440, you might spot spiders scaling the sides of raised garden beds or spinning webs on fences and trellises. MacDonald also points guests toward the fire pit, where there are fig and kumquat trees, bushes, several types of sage, and clusters of flowers.
"There's a lot of diversity in that little pocket, plus it's a bit more accessible to anything that's just creeping around. Spiders there don't have to cross over gravel trails to get to the beds," he says.
Ladybugs also like diverse habitats. These petite predators love to eat, too, whether it's mildew, mites or common garden pests such as scale and aphids.
"Ladybug larvae are really, really voracious aphid eaters. Aphid infestations are common on brassicas and other plants, so if ladybugs come in and breed, you'll be rescued. Once you see ladybug larvae, your infestation is about to be handled," MacDonald says.
Ladybug larvae might not be considered as cute as their adult counterparts, but they're year-round pest fighters in central California. At least 15 ladybug species live here, including the familiar seven-spotted ladybug. Others are yellow with black spots, cream with tan and black spots, and, in the case of the western blood-red lady beetle, bright red with no spots.
If you peek closely at squash or cucumber plants, which are prone to powdery mildew, you might see tiny black specks. Those, too, are ladybugs.
"You can see them moving, but you might mistake them for dirt if you don't stop to look closely. It's a very round black dot, about the size of a pinhead, with a domed back. That's the giveaway. Ladybugs tend to be very round with a domed back," says MacDonald.
The redwoods, gardens and fruit trees of the 1440 campus house an impressive array of birds. Northern mockingbirds and Bewick's wrens hunt for flies and caterpillars. Red-shouldered hawks soar through the sky, scaring rodents away with their simple presence. At night, the distinctive calls of great horned owls pierce the quiet. By day, black phoebes perch on fenceposts and dive to catch moths.
"Here in Joanie's Garden, we have some trellises made of cattle panels bent over individual beds. I often see birds hanging out on those, flirting and watching for insects. There's a whole community scene," says MacDonald.
To attract beneficial birds to your yard or garden, he suggests planting trees, anchoring posts, installing trellises or hanging birdhouses. Birdbaths will also draw some species, and birds like to snack on sunflower seeds straight off the flower.
"Gardens provide habitat, food and nesting materials for birds. Birds, in turn, will control pest populations in your garden. Also, they're just pleasant to watch. It's nice to offer them something that keeps them in your local area," MacDonald says.