With the switch to virtual learning, the Sussex County Community College campus was quiet this summer. but the agricultural department has continued to work to make campus a more vibrant space for students and pollinators alike.
It’s Agricultural Business and Horticultural Science Supervisor Erin Collins’ mission to turn the campus into a pollinator-friendly space. Starting with milkweed seeds donated by Baker Creek Seeds and growing from there, Collins and her student-employees have been updating landscaping throughout campus to encourage pollinators–and to discourage deer.
Already, the work has begun to pay off.
“We have become a certified monarch way station!” said Collins.
Attained after a suggestion from Associate Vice President Cory Homer, Collins knew it wouldn’t be too difficult to get a certification for the area of campus known as “The Grotto.” Monarchs already love visiting the natural spot during their annual migration to warmer climates and have become an important part of one of her classes.
“I teach pest management in the fall, and the first five weeks are on insect identification and life cycles,” she said. “The monarch illustrates complete metamorphosis right before our students’ eyes. Literally, we watched one emerge from the chrysalis in class one day.”
Way stations provide food and shelter to monarchs as they migrate 3,000 miles or more from northern United States and Canada to southern Mexico. At Sussex, monarch larvae are brought into the classroom for study and protection and then released back into the garden when the butterflies emerge from their chrysalides.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the Way station designation will be held this September when the monarchs pass through.
Other changes students and visitors will notice upon their return this fall will include new raised garden beds next to the greenhouse, which will be the home of a future organic garden. There, demonstrations will be held for Sussex students and the public alike on areas such as composting, rainwater harvesting, and more.
The Department of Agricultural Business and Horticultural Science at Sussex was expanded in 2018, creating a learning space for local gardeners and farmers, degree and certificate students, and more. To learn more about Sussex and its degree and community programs, please visit Sussex.edu.