If you drive through California’s central valley in the next month, you will see and smell the incredible expanses of almond blooms. Carson & Bees is pollinating orchards in Williams, which helps the business and also helps the hives bulk up for the coming spring and summer honey-making season.
Cascadian Farms is the organic branch of General Mills, which represents 3% of the company’s total sales. Although as a major food producer General Mills uses a lot of pesticide – which has been directly linked to declining pollinator populations – a new campaign started by the Cascadian Farm branch called “Bee Friendlier” is an encouraging step in the right direction.
Although the #1 thing you can do to help pollinators is plant flowers, they have to be organic! These days most everything is treated – often at the seed level – with pesticide. The pollen the bees gather is poisoned by the pesticide the plant’s seed was rolled in (or sprayed in the large warehouse nursery where it was born). The only surefire way to help and not further hinder pollinators is to plant seeds whose packaging clearly states that zero treatment has been applied.
It’s easy to demonize companies like General Mills for being huge food conglomerates that use pesticides, pay low wages, and destroy the land. But GM and companies like it are products of society, and they directly reflect consumer’s demands: Americans want abundant and cheap food, so the current food system is built accordingly. Now, however, we’re taking a collective pause to reexamine the implications of valuing cost over everything else, and there’s a slow but steady sea change happening.
This “bee friendlier” campaign is a part of that sea change. And so are we! Each of us decides what the system looks like based on where we spend our money. In Ukiah we’re blessed with a year-round farmers’ market, a socially conscious co-op, and a Friedman’s that carries organic seeds. If you could spend 10% of your food budget on local producers, plus a few dollars a year to plant organic flower seeds, you’ll make a bigger impact than you realize on the food system AND the health of your friendly backyard pollinators.
It’s no secret that bees are in trouble. All around the world, people are mobilizing to try to do something about it: hundreds of studies and thousands of people are focusing on how to help alleviate the stresses that are causing native and commercial bees alike to die off in alarming numbers. Europe has taken an important step in banning neonicotinoid pesticides, but here in the U.S. we aren’t doing as well. To wit:
Pesticide giant Syngenta just asked the EPA to raise the “acceptable” level for neonic residues by 40,000%. Say what??
Syngenta is arguing that they need the increase so they can spray it rather than coat the seed in it, which might actually be good for bees – seed treatments affect the entire plant, whereas sprays “should” stick to the leaf. The big caveat here is that, for this to actually work for bees, it couldn’t be administered when the crop was flowering, nor while any other plant was flowering nearby. I personally have zero confidence in that scenario playing out – what does a Big Ag farmer care about some weeds flowering in his ditches? (Not to mention these crops are often sprayed while flowering anyway, despite very clear labels prohibiting it.)
So, what can we do? Three things.
1) Submit a public comment to the EPA. Go here: http://www.regulations.gov, and in the search field enter the docket number EPA–HQ–OPP–2014–0008. Several seemingly identical search results are returned; click “comment now” on the uppermost one. The comment period closes on October 6.
3) Buy organic seeds and plants. These days, even plants marked “bee friendly” are likely to have been treated with a pesticide, which creates toxic pollen. The only surefire way to provide SAFE forage is to buy organic.
Thanks for everything you do to help our pollinators!
Did you know that June 16-22 is National Pollinator Week? It began seven years ago by a proclamation from the U.S. Congress, and is organized by the Pollinator Partnership. It is used as a time to bring awareness to bees, birds, butterflies, and bats.
Here’s a fun fact: there are over 25,000 species of bees in the world. Most of them are solitary and live in the ground, making the honey bee’s “superorganism” style of living collectively rather rare. Here’s a sad fact: pretty much all of them are threatened.
In honor of pollinator week, we invite you to find a moment this weekend to stop and watch a bee at work. Find a flowery area and look closely at all the activity; you might be surprised by how many different types of bees you’ll see on the same bush.
Also, Carson & Bees will be giving out free sunflower seed packets – pollinated by our bees last year! – at the Redwood Valley Farmers Market this Sunday, June 22, from 9:30-12:30 at Lion’s Park. Come say hello.
On this gorgeous mother’s day, we here at Carson & Bees are moved by the flowers in bloom. With spring in full force there’s no time like the present to think about what bees and other pollinators eat, and that it’s all of our jobs to feed them.
There’s a wonderful blog called Honey Bee Suite. Blogmaster/beekeeper Rusty frequently posts about attracting pollinators to your yard, and I’m reposting one of those here. She disseminates her impressive knowledge in easy-to-digest and often humorous posts, so if you enjoy reading about bees I highly recommend you mosey on over to her side of the web.
Here are fifteen easy ways to assure you will have a plentiful supply of pollinators all season long.
Plant clover in your lawn. White Dutch clover planted in your lawn will attract dozens of pollinators. In addition, it fixes atmospheric nitrogen into a form the grass can use, resulting in a beautiful green lawn without the use of chemical fertilizers.
Plant at least some native species. Native plants attract native pollinators. Check with your local extension office if you are unsure of what is native.
Plant herbs. Herbs, especially those in the mint family, are very attractive to pollinators. This family includes thyme, oregano, sage, basil, peppermint, lavender, catnip and rosemary. As an added bonus, you get to use the herbs yourself.
Select plants with a wide range of bloom times. Native bees need food from spring until fall so plan to have something in bloom all season long.
Plant larval host plants. Some plants are not considered especially attractive in the garden but are necessary to certain species of pollinators. Milkweed, for instance, is vital to the larval stages of Monarch butterflies. Plant them in an inconspicuous place if you prefer, but have them available for the pollinators.
Avoid hybrid varieties. Many flowers that have been bread for beauty have lost the nectar or pollen that made them valuable to pollinators. Plants with double or triple rings of petals, or plants with unusual colors or variegated patterns are probably over-hybridized.
Leave open patches of mud. Many ground-nesting bees need open patches of mud for their homes or for building materials.
Provide a water source. It doesn’t need to be large or fancy. Just a wet spot under the end of a hose can help the insects.
Avoid excessive mulch. Too much mulch blocks entry to the ground. Ground-burrowing insects often cannot penetrate a heavy layer of mulch.
Add sea salt or wood ash to a bare patch of earth. Pollinators are often seen collecting minerals from salty or ashy areas. Your patch needn’t be large and it shouldn’t be overworked. If the insects need it, they will find it.
Provide nesting sites. Collections of reeds or holes drilled in blocks of wood provide great nesting sites. Tubes or blocks should be replaced periodically to limit disease build-up.
Leave dead trees and reeds standing. If a dead tree can safely be allowed to stand, it should be left as habit for bees, birds, and small rodents. Dead and standing reeds are a favorite of wild bees.
Leave an unmowed patch of grass and weeds in a protected spot. Tall grass provides protection, shade, and hunting grounds for many species of pollinators. Some pollinators—such as hover flies—feed on insects as well as nectar, so they do best in a place that provides an alternate food source.
Put a flower pot on every porch . . . and encourage your friends to do the same. The more plants that are available, the healthier our pollinators will be.
Use no pesticides. Until we reduce dependence on pesticides, items 1-14 are all for naught.