Save The Bees

Cute little fuzzy buzzy bees darting from flower to flower, devoted to their task. I am an avid bee watcher. They are fascinating creatures to observe, so active and alive.

I wasn’t always like this. For most of my life I never paid much attention to bees, only enough to get out of their way.  As a child I saw them as mysterious and dangerous. Now as an adult knowing their precarious position my heart soars every time I see one.

I no longer take these essential little dynamos for granted.  We owe much to bees and this goes far beyond honey.  It is the by-product of their “busyness” pollinating roughly three-fifths of the food plants in the United States that keeps us in groceries, so to speak.

One full third of our diet depends on bee pollination.

We can thank our helpers; the bees for many of our favorite foods including: strawberries, apples, apricots, blueberries, kiwi, almonds, coconuts, pomegranates, cherries, okra, onions, sunflowers, tangerines, oranges, hazelnuts, soybeans, cauliflower, avocado, cucumber and watermelon just to name a few.(See complete list)

The Disappearing Act

By now many of us have heard of the bees disappearing. Scientists, the media and people in the know have been all abuzz about this phenomena they named Colony Collapse Disorder. (CCD) It seemingly came out of nowhere and since its abrupt appearance in 2005, it has been affecting millions and millions of bees all over the world.  It is characterised by the disappearance of worker bees that leave behind a queen, a few attendants, and maybe a few drones. Basically abandoned, the infected are left to wither and die with a hive full of honey.

There have been many different theories floating around as to the cause of Colony Collapse and there has been much finger pointing.  Many of the fingers point to our reliance on the pesticides and chemical fertilizers essential to our large commercial food production and the increasing use of Genetically Modified crops.

There has been evidence to support tracheal mites and varroa mites, known threats to bees. Some have proposed Nosema; a fungus as the cause, while others suggest it may be a virus such as Israeli acute paralysis.

Some are even blaming the commercial bee industry itself. Saying that the stress the hives undergo during frequent moves on trucks – typical of the way large commercial farms operate are helping to cause CCD. It should be said that smaller bee operations and hobbyists have reported less occurrence of this devastating disorder, this is probably due to the genetic diversity that smaller hives tend to have.

I personally think it’s a combination of many different factors and it’s a sign of modern civilization’s thirst for utter dominance over nature. Our total disharmony with our wild roots is catching up to us. Our disregard is showing and the signs are everywhere, not just in bees. We are being given a rather stern warning that we should heed.

An inspirational Sunflower

Save the Bees

And how do we save the bees? I’m no scientist. I am just a backyard gardener with a yen for the planet. Yes, I care but what can I really do personally? What can we all do?

The best action you can take to benefit honey bees is to not use pesticides and if you must use pesticides try not to use them at mid-day when honey bees are most likely to be out foraging for nectar. Try to use natural fertilizers instead of chemical ones.

Plant a large number of native nectar producing plants particularly in the colors pink, purple, and blue. Some plants to consider are red clover, alfalfa, foxglove, bee balm, and joe-pye weed. ( See complete list of plants)

And put in a good word for our friend the bee. They get bad press. At the very least people just don’t care about bees. Some people hate bees and others are afraid and justifiably so, in some cases. (See Africanized bees) 

But for the most part most of us will never encounter any killer bees. Just the garden variety, the cute fuzzy buzzy bees busy with helping transform our world into a garden; one flower at a time. Leave them to their important task.  They mean no harm to you and will only use their stinger in self-defense.  They are gentle creatures. If you encounter a hive in a natural area, leave it alone. We are meant to coexist with bees and we can as long as we learn to respect them for what they are and what they do.

We must change our attitudes about bees if they are to survive. The facts remain that while the number of bee keepers have been decreasing, the number of companies specializing in the removal of unwanted hives is on the rise.

Love them, hate them or fear them… we need them.

As the world population swells over the coming decades demand for food will surely increase.  We will need not only the bees to help feed us but we will need to rethink our role on the planet. We’ll have to realise that we need to foster a cooperation with nature as well as our neighbors.  We’re all in this together. You, me, the bees… the whole world.  By saving the bees, we are in essence saving ourselves.

English: Honeybee (Apis mellifera) landing on ...
English: Honeybee (Apis mellifera) landing on a milk thistle flower (Silybum marianum). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thanks for listening,

Strawberryindigo.

 

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References and Suggested Reading

The Honey Trail by Grace Pundyk. © 2008

A Short History of the Honey Bee by E. Readicker-Hendersen. © 2009

USDA website; page on CCD

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Naturalness

I dug in the dirt today. It was nice to get back into the soil after a long winter. I feel a profound connectedness to the natural world and it is in this sort of work that emphasizes that to me. I feel the pulsating energy of life bursting out in all directions. It is a comforting presence this wild sentience of the natural world.

It is an ancient wisdom this knowledge of the land. Our ancestor’s once relied on this essential knowledge of the earth.  Progress of modern civilization has left most people especially city dwellers unnaturally detached from the natural world.

Exposure to the nature was once so commonplace, but times have changed and we’ve changed with them.

Are we losing our naturalness?

In his book “The Nature Principle’  Richard Louv calls it Nature Deficit Disorder. Louv defines nature deficit disorder as an atrophied awareness and a diminished ability to find meaning in the life that surrounds us.

The author explains and quite passionately that “The traditional ways that humans have experienced nature are vanishing.” which greatly affects our health and well-being. He evokes The Nature Principle which states “that a reconnection to the natural world is fundamental to human health, well-being and survival.”

Louv sites example after example of scientific studies backing up his well thought out claim.  He brings up the validity of green exercise and it’s proven enhancement of mood and self-esteem while reducing feelings of anger and depression.

Louv refers to a study which found that humans living in landscapes that lack trees or other natural features undergo patterns of social, psychological and physical breakdowns that are similar to those observed in animals that have been deprived of their natural habitat.

This should be of no surprise to any animal of the human variety reading this.

I remember growing up in the Seventies and Eighties.  I remember being outside, if the weather was nice, we’d be outside all day. The streets and yards and parks were full of kids running and playing.  These days it seems that all the kids are inside, tapping on one screen or another. With all the good that the digital age has brought, we have paid for it; this pixel existence we call progress.

We are losing our natural intelligence; knowing the signs of nature.  Nature is becoming quite unnatural for many of us, myself included.

Where once our ancestors roamed the wild land, living as one with the planet in an equitable balance with natural world, modern humans set out to conquer and conquer we have.   We control our physical surroundings to the point to where we can bring day to night and water and life to where none exists.

Humans have progressed out beyond the Earth. We can harness the power of the microscopic and the macroscopic.  We have cured diseases and built bridges and dams and power plants….We are a powerful race with much to accomplish, and much to lose.

We have polluted ourselves and our world, always in a constant battle of who will control: humankind or nature.  Now nature is fighting back and I can only wonder and hope for the best.

And I do hope for the best and I do have hope for the future.  I see it in the eyes of a child fascinated with a ladybug in the backyard, a teenager taking water samples at a local restoration project. I see it in the experienced hands of the citizen gardener, the urban naturalist and the amateur botanist. There are success stories, more and more everyday.

We all share this love for nature and it’s up to us, each one of us to get back what we have lost, restore our naturalness and teach our children how to coexist with technology and nature together.  These concepts do not have to be mutually exclusive.

I recommend reading this excellent book “the Nature Principle” by Richard Louv and  then get moving, even if it’s a five-minute walk in the neighborhood, it’s a start and all it takes is that first step to get going…. better yet bring a friend and save our naturalness one step and one friend at a time.

Have a wild day!

Strawberryindigo.

 

The future of humans

I worry about our future.  I wonder if our machines will become more natural to us than our own humanness. I see it time and time again and more and more all the time.  People ignoring one another in public. Turning the other way. Looking right past a person, almost denying someone’s existence.

I see people on their phones. Talking away to some distant person, ignoring the one in front of them. Be it the checker who’s bagging your groceries, the person at the counter of the post office, your dinner companions.

I see these space cadets walking down the street, in the street, eyes cast down on their little box of insanity. Ignoring the real world of real people, real streets with real cars on them. Engrossed in some distraction on the screen, some vitally important game or text that cannot wait. People endlessly texting or tapping or something or another. Thumbs flipping away, eyes glazed over, mind placid and unchallenged.

star trek borg race Star Trek Exhibit at Queen...
star trek borg race Star Trek Exhibit at Queen Mary Spruce Goose Dome, Long Beach Ca, Feb 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are an instant generation. Our ancestors were forced to have patience. Life generally works that way. But we humans have perverted the system. What used to take time and hard work, now takes an instant.  The minute itself stretches and contracts depending on the situation. We are a race that can spend hours upon hours, slack-jawed staring at a screen and still have a hard time waiting 60 seconds for a convenience store burrito.

A sprawling clearcut of old-growth forest stre...
A sprawling clearcut of old-growth forest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How much have we lost already?   We of the quick and convenient.  That human knowledge passed down from generation to generation. Homespun talents. Hardscrabble necessities.  How to grow your own food, how to darn a sock, make a quilt, pluck a chicken.

And knowledge of a more ancient wisdom: The healing power of plants, the power of belief and living at one with the earth instead of against it; as if it were some sort of adversary. The power to walk in the woods without making a sound or leaving a trace.The wild arts. How to make a fire, how to live off the land.

I know its easy for me to say; to judge. Do I have any of these practical talents? Not really. Beyond my urbanized knowledge of plants and animals through books and gardening in my backyard, I am pretty much useless in the real woods. If I were stranded alone in the true wilderness, the odds would be against me.

A young boy living on an East Cipinang garbage...
A young boy living on an East Cipinang garbage dump, Jakarta Indonesia. Picture taken by Jonathan McIntosh, 2004. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our human civilization, our very existence is dependant on  “progress”. Always upward and onward. Always a new hill or people to conquer. A mountain to climb, a resource to be exploited. We have colonised, revolutionised and lost our sights and priorities, maybe even our collective minds as we rape and pillage and steal from the future generations, who will have no choice but to try to live in the mess we’ll leave behind.

We have lost our way. We are losing our humanity. We are losing our collective soul, we are losing ourselves.  And it is ourselves who we need to conquer not nature.

This reckless attitude we humans have taken toward nature. This need to be dominant over nature, this very human need to conquer no longer serves us as it once had. Nature is fighting back.  All the lies and ad campaigns can no longer hide this from us.  We are “progressing” ourselves right down the road to extinction. Is this our future? Many believe it is.

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.
The Earth seen from Apollo 17. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seems the one’s in charge on this planet are in race to use up what is left and get it all before everyone else can.  Our beautiful Planet Earth has become a commodity, for sale to the highest bidder.  But our planet, our mother, belongs to us all.

We are being sold out and generations upon generations will hate us for it. They will ask why.  Why did we just sit back and let this all happen? What will our answer be?

  Strawberryindigo.

“America was once a paradise of timberland and stream but it is dying because of the greed and money lust of a thousand little kings who slashed the timber all to hell and would not be controlled and changed the climate and stole the rainfall from posterity.”       **Don Marquis (1935)**

Wild Sanctuary

Ruby-throated hummingbird public domain USFWAImage via Wikipedia

This morning I was rewarded with a moment lovely in its simplicity and rich in the beauty of life.  I watched for several minutes a Ruby throated hummingbird darting in and out of the pineapple sage. It’s tiny wings flapping at amazing speed, visiting each colorful stalk, drinking in the nectar of the brilliant scarlet flowers.  Hummingbirds are some of my favorite garden visitors.  These last days of October are a flurry of activity by humans as well as our animal friends in the wild and the not so wild.

I spent much of this beautiful day in the garden.  I find peace here working with Mother Nature.  I feel part of a greater whole that fills me with a calm serenity that is electric and full of life.

That is my garden to me.  I call it my sanctuary and it truly is.  I share my sanctuary with a few humans but mostly I share it with a cornucopia of lifeforms, from the smallest microbe in the soil to the squirrels and the birds and butterflies.  This place is truly alive.

I have spent the better part of a decade planting and shaping this place.  I have made my share of mistakes but I have learned from them. It is much easier in the long run to work with nature than against it.  Some believe that when a gardener welcomes wildlife into the garden, he or she is asking for troublesome pests as well as pretty butterflies. This couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Nature exists in balance, Mother Nature provides to all; predator and prey.  A garden in balance is in harmony with all.  By working with nature we reap many benefits and so do the wild lifeforms that visit our yards.  There is much we can do and every little bit helps.

My garden is teeming with life and it is by no accident.  My obsession with plants is deep and true. I must have hundreds upon hundreds of types and kinds that spring up throughout the year.  Many are native plants to my region which is the Pacific Northwest. Many are flowers that are appealing to bees and insects and nectar rich providing food for hummingbirds and others.

I see it as my mission as a gardener, as a lover of the land and nature to do my small part in helping the flora and fauna of our fantastic planet.  In this I feel that my garden is not only a sanctuary to me but to many.  Urban gardens can provide a refuge for many species that have been forced out of their natural habitats.  Our wild areas are vanishing  and we gardeners have a huge role to play.  Our urban and not so urban gardens link up making a larger habitat for wildlife.

No space is too small.  A potted plant on a back patio or a window box planted with the right plant can provide food all year.

No effort is too small.  There are many ways to help. It can be as easy or as complicated as you choose.  Typically wildlife have three basic needs, the essentials;  shelter, water and food.

Three Essentials For Wildlife

Shelter

   A large Evergreen shrub can provide shelter for many species as can other types of plant life such as climbers.  A pile of logs or rocks can serve as shelter to many ground dwelling species. Leave a bit of leaf litter on the ground to protect overwintering insects.  Simply leaving a wild corner of the yard can help.

Water

Water is essential for all life but it can become a scarce commodity for wildlife in the city. A pond or bird bath can spell welcome relief for the thirsty. A plastic plant saucer with a few stones on the bottom filled with clean water could be a lifeline for many.

Food

Use plants native to your particular region.  Create biodiversity with as many varieties as possible. There are a number of plant species that provide food for wildlife.  From nectar to pollen to seeds and berries.  Once a flower has bloomed, typically gardeners remove the spent seedhead.  This also removes a valuable winter food source for birds. A bit of untidiness in the garden is no crime, in fact a more natural appearance can be quite comely and you will be rewarded time and time again with the wonder of nature beckoning at your back door.

Butterfly
Image by Travelling Steve via Flickr

Happy Gardening!

Strawberryindigo.

                

References and suggested reading

  • Planthropology: The myth, mysteries, and miracles of my garden favorites.  Ken Druse ©2008.
  • Create a wildlife garden. Christine and Michael Lavelle ©2007
  • Attracting birds, butterflies and other winged wonders to your backyard. Kris Wetherbee ©2004

Behind the Tide

Earlier this summer, M.M. and I packed up the two teenagers and headed to the beach, to one of our favorite coastal towns.

We had been there before.  It’s the perfect place for family fun in the day and other kinds at night.  There prevails an old school carny atmosphere and brassy charm.   This town reminds me of a big-mouthed quickly aging carnival queen with a great right-hook and a heart of gold.

Needless to say, I love it there and my family does too.  The last time we went there, it rained the entire time.  We had a good time, but not a great one and this time, we vowed would be the best time ever.

I like to play travel agent so I did some research and found us a nice place with two extra bedrooms, an indoor pool, room service, and all the extras (free coffee!) at a price that we could afford; in other words, I did the impossible for that town at that time. And while I’m patting myself on the back for being so utterly brilliant,( save your applause for the end)   Take a look-see at the beauty which is part of our Great United States

Those are some of the reasons why we like it here so much.  I have a fondness for the Ocean that is almost instinctive.   The sound of the surf is like no other sound, it feels so comforting..so natural..the sound pulls me in and embraces me in tranquility.  The warm sand below my feet, the cerulean sky above and the yellow sun shining down .. I could almost stay there forever….. 

We have just arrived and I am eager to get to the sand.  Our suite is just what we expected and I hastily unpack and then, with my 16-year-old in tow…head to the sand and surf.

My need to be in the center of everything left us with a three block walk to the beach, this I did not mind since we passed by several shops and the cutest little mall…..There I taught my son a valuable lesson in patience and bought myself a new hat!  

Topped with my new hat we headed to the beach proper where we were greeted with a wall of humanity 10 feet thick.  I had never seen so many bodies pushed up together in one area, they reminded of seals or walrus packed up together like that.

There was music playing, little girls with fat stomachs in tiny bikinis gyrated to a Gaga tune, old furry men sat and drank beer while their too brown wives tanned their hides in the sun, the sweet smells of marijuana and coco butter mixed with the late afternoon heat, producing a pungent but intriguing aroma.

I had to get to that sand!  I ran ahead and ditched my shoes on the way, soon I’d be there… and then I was there,, I almost cut myself on brown beer bottle glass!  What? My eyes scanned the sand; It looked all used up.. a million footprints, cigarette butts and trash all over.  I almost felt like crying……..

We had been to this very same spot 18 months earlier and now it seemed so different, it was loud and raunchy, the aging carnival queen with the heart of gold, had been replaced by a mean old barfly with bad teeth and even worse breath. 

And then I saw “The Bitch”, she was new on the scene but I could tell that she would be a major player soon.  She wore the name of a famous chain hotel, utilitarian looking and gigantic, it was like Nazi’s had designed her.  What a monstrosity.  

She dwarfed the other hotels. They looked old and cheap in her shadow, I had no trouble imaging what would happen to these old gals in the near future..The fact that one already sported a “for sale” sign was just more handwriting on the wall.

The older I get, the more history in the making I get to witness, some of it is exciting, some of it is sad or scary, some of it is quiet and slow and steady and before you know it has already happened. 

No matter what happens, something is always happening and change is inevitable, especially with us humans.  Building bigger and higher and newer. In our race to keep up, do we ever notice if this race is one we should be running?  

I watch the poor patrons of this hotel trying to make the best of their vacation by swimming in a pool while construction workers with power tools hammer and drill above them, I can’t believe this…one drops his tool; he yells down to us, asking if we can see it in the tall beach grass.   We shake our heads “no”  and get the hell out of there.

The sun is setting as we start walking back and I can’t help but feeling that this will be our last time here… and I am reminded of a quote

“The earth we abuse and the living things we kill will, in the end, take their revenge; for in exploiting their presence we are diminishing our future”

**Marya Mannes (1904-1990)

Happy Labor Day–Strawberryindigo.

The grass is always greener…A letter to my neighbor

The lawn of a garden taken from a low level.
Image via Wikipedia

I don’t have an alias for you so I will call you: The man who messes with his lawn too much.  I used to call you the poisoner but I thought that was a little harsh, maybe you are just ignorant.  Keeping that in mind I decided to write this open letter to you. 

I see you often since we are neighbors.  I see you water at all times and rather frequently, almost everyday in the summer.  You’d think that because of this your lawn would be lush and green.   It’s not.  You know what it looks like….It looks sick and patchy.  It’s hard to take.  Even my shriveled up tree looks better.

You are constantly at work on your lawn; mowing very short so that it resembles a brown golf course.  You re-seed it at least twice a year and you are spraying pesticides around like there is no tomorrow.  It’s a bit ridiculous to tell the truth.  There you are, wearing goggles with a giant container of poison on your back.  You spray and spray.  Everywhere.  I’m tempted to run out and scold you.  I want to scream “Stop the insanity, you are poisoning our planet with your damned pesticides!”

I need peace in the neighborhood so I grin and bear it.  It still bothers me. It’s all so unnecessary. 

I must say that I might be partially to blame for your obsession with your lawn, that and retirement.  Where I come in is that my lawn is the one that is lush and green.  Everyday my greenness stares you in the face.  It never used to be that way and neither did my lawn.  Once we were like you,  I didn’t use poison but I made more work for myself by how I treated my lawn.  I have learned a few things since then.  Maybe my neighbor, you can too…

 
watering in the morning

I have read many books and have at least a decade of first hand knowledge on the subject of lawn care.   Especially organic lawn care which I highly recommend.  Mother Nature really knows best.  I work with nature instead of trying to conquer it. You are fighting a losing battle there.

And so Mr. neighbor, the guy who messes with his lawn too much:

This one’s for you… Here are some tips I’d like to share to help you in your quest for a green lawn.

Watering  Do it infrequently and do it deeply.  This forces the roots of the grass to grow longer in order to get a drink.  This makes the grass stronger and better able to withstand longer periods without water.  Also do it in the middle of the night or early in the morning. Watering in the heat of the day causes the water to evaporate before it can sink into the soil. 

Mowing  Mowing height is an important element to consider.  Giving your lawn a super short cut may look nice to you but your lawn hates it. Keeping the mower blade 3 to 4 inches off the ground  is the best  during the summer months.  The shade the taller blades of grass provide enable the grass to hold on to moisture longer.  Thus you water less. In addition, the more you mow the grass the harder it works to re grow itself.  In my opinion, it feels softer and is more lush when it’s allowed to be longer.

 Poisoning  There is a better way.  You don’t need that.  Look around, it’s a dead zone over there. No birds, no butterflies or cute little insects, no weeds, nothing but dying grass. It’s depressing. It gets into our ground water.  It’s even found in breast milk.  Please stop it! 

Your lawn would healthier without all that.  Nature provides.  In the coming months, I will be writing more on the subject of organic gardening.  Perhaps we can whip that lawn of yours into shape so that by next summer, you will have a lush green lawn and more free time to spent with your wife, who I happen to know, is a nice person.

Happy Gardening,

Signed your neighbor,  Strawberryindigo.

Good Tree Bad Tree

I must confess something to you.  I have been known on occasion to brag up my green thumb, yes, its shocking but true.  Most of the time I can back that statement up but not now…

Now at this very moment a reddish-brown shriveled husk of a tree sits in my front yard, a testimony to my ignorance and arrogance. I know enough about trees to know better.  It is a foolhardy and risky endeavor to plant a tree where one once stood, especially an old sick one. I am guilty of such an offense.

It all started innocently enough.  I was at one of my favorite nurseries. I was wandering around like I do when I spied a beautiful tree, it was smallish and covered with tiny white flowers.  It was a dwarf Yoshino Ornamental Cherry tree and it had a twin!  I get excited by stuff such as that.  I almost let out a squeal and start to jump up and down but I contained myself long enough to purchase the trees and arrange for their delivery.

Now I had to figure out where to plant them.  I have a habit of falling in love at the nursery and bringing home plants I have no room for.  So far it has all worked out, I’ve always found a home for them, but trees are special.  You can’t just stick them anywhere and expect them to thrive.  But that’s what I did. Right where an old sick one once stood about a year ago.

I guess I thought the tree and I where above such practical nonsense as compaction and nutrient depletion and for a while it seemed that we were.

I was so proud of the trees, they were the first in the neighborhood to bloom.  People would stop and gaze appreciatively at them as the passed by.  I too, would gaze appreciatively  at them and that is what I was doing when I noticed the first brownish leaf.  It was just one.  I didn’t worry.  Then more brown leaves started to appear. I scoured gardening books like I do and found the answer.  It was a harmless fungus and it would be O.K. in time.  We’d had an unusually wet spring so that made sense to me.

The other healthier tree grew and produced green glossy leaves, While its ugly twin stood there looking sick and depressed.  I tried to fed it, I tried some old gardening tricks, to no avail.  In the back of my mind, I knew what was wrong, I hoped that everything would turn around.

Now I would avoid the tree like the plague, I couldn’t stand the sight of it.  The sight of my failure, for all to see.  Where once the tree invoked pleasure in the people walking by.  Now people shook their heads and made faces of disgust as they walked by.

Does having a dying tree in my yard make me a bad person?   I know people want to ask what I did to the poor thing?  I feel so embarrassed.  I”ve almost cut it down several times, it small enough for me to do by myself.  Something in me won’t let me do it.  Maybe I’m holding out hope for the underdog, which I have a habit of doing.

I just can’t give up on this poor wretched tree.  So I’m babying it and watering it and even talking to it.  It is probably a lost cause but I’m crossing my fingers and hoping for the best.  Please, wish us luck…

Strawberryindigo.