pollinator

Year in Review

We can learn a lot from the bees.

In the summer, a female worker bee only lives for about 40 days and she'll spend each day diligently gathering nectar from flowers to turn into honey - her food source.

With around 40,000 - 60,000 bees in a hive, you can imagine how many bees literally work themselves to death to prepare for a winter they will never see. That kind of altruism, a sacrifice made for the greater good of society, seems all to rare in the human world these days.

2016. What a year it's been. For many of us, beekeepers included, it's been a challenging year and it can be hard to maintain a positive impression of the whole 365 days when a few may have left a sour taste in your mouth. 

I can't speak for everyone who follows this project, but I can guess that if you're reading this, you care deeply about bees, sustainable farming, healthy food, mother nature's complex systems and the ways in which these (and we) are all inexorably linked. 

And so, we're going to focus on the positive. 

In 2016, we helped pass pollinator-friendly legislation in Indianapolis and we waggle-danced with the mayor. We spread our message to many young faces (more than 2,000!), and young voices were heard. Students and teachers got hands-on with their very own hives, made bee art and counted pollinators

It's been a good year. In 2017, let's resolve to leave things even better than we found them.

Don't Spray it.

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A few weeks ago, I was working outside with volunteers on my urban farm, which happens to be located on a high school campus. A man approached us as we ladled wood chips into a wheelbarrow, his shoulders weighted with a Ghost Busters-like backpack sprayer full of God-knows-what. I couldn’t take my eyes off the contraption as I greeted him, propping my shovel against my hip and wiping my hands on my bandana.

“How’s it going? Can I help you?” I asked. 

He cut right to the chase. “Can I spray that?”

I squinted and looked to where he was pointing. A small patch of white clover bubbled up from the grass at the edge of the farm. “That?” I asked, a little too incredulous. “No way,” I said, realizing that he probably had already sprayed here a hundred times before. I got a little steamed.

I gave him half an earful about organic farming, how pollination works, and the dying bees before he finally walked off. Once he was out of earshot, I let out a frustrated groan. “Whyyyyyy!?” I nearly shouted. “I just don’t get it, why does he need to kill every little weed? It’s clover for God’s sake; it’s a flower.”

“You’re asking the wrong guy,” said the volunteer next to me. I had forgotten he just happened to work for a local lawn care company, the kind that uses chemicals to make obsessively green, manicured, weed-free lawns. Maybe volunteering with a young, generally pleasant urban farmer/beekeeper would have a positive influence on him and he would rush home to build a rain barrel and read Silent Spring. 

“Please, tell me. I need your perspective,” I said. 

“To tell you the truth,” he said, “that clover was bugging me from the second I got here. It just bugs me.” I continued shoveling in silence. He didn’t come back after that. 

Every time I speak about bees, I emphasize that one of the most important (and simple) things you can do to help honeybees (birds, too) is to plant flowers. Flowers = bee food. Even more importantly, don’t contaminate that food. This means synthetic fertilizers (Miracle Gro), pesticides and even herbicides and fungicides are harmful to honeybees and other pollinators. Honeybees that consume pollen that contains amounts of commonly used fungicides at levels too low to cause the bee’s death still may leave them more susceptible to infection by a gut parasite (according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and University of Maryland).

Last week, while visiting a friend who farms in a city park, I learned that DPW had sprayed Round Up around his hives, wiping out 10,000 bees and two queens. He called the city and complained. They told him it wouldn’t happen again, but he sounded just as dubious and defeated as I had the day Ghost Buster man asked if he could kill my clover. The folks who were spraying weren’t evil. They were just doing their jobs, right? 

“Man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself,“ wrote Rachel Carson. How do we shift the cultural mindset, so at war with nature, so obsessed with eradicating weeds and pests with quick-fix chemicals? Mosquitos in the backyard? Douse yourself in bug spray. Yellow Jackets make a home in your shed? Raid ‘em. Dandelions an eyesore? The perfect lawn is just a spray away.

"A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows,” said Doug Larson. I’m still looking for that inspirational quote about mosquitos.