Tag Archives: neonics

What More Can I Do?

 

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Rosemary

I started to grow neonic-free bee-loved plants to nourish the bees. Because there were few of them, perhaps because the city council sprayed nasty chemicals on the public zigzag outside my gate. The chemicals made me ill, so what were they doing to the bees?

So a lost two years ago I arranged with the city council that I’d care for a big area of the zigzag closest to our place, in return for No Spraying. And I planted lavender and rosemary, alyssum, phacelia, cornflowers, thyme. Nearby, the fruit trees, herbs and bushes flowered in my organic garden as they always did.

This New Zealand summer, the dandelions, calendula, parsley and borage kept right on flourishing and self-seeding in my garden and on the zigzag and I encouraged clover wherever it appeared. Would more bees flourish?

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Autumn: mature lavender above nearby borage, parsley, calendula and silver beet (chard) seedlings, near a primitive shelter for my turmeric plants, growing well in this warmer time

The answer, sadly, is No. At the end of this long hot New Zealand summer there were few bees, in my garden or on the zigzag. After my parsley plantation finished flowering, every so often I saw a bumble bee or honey bee on a rosemary or lavender bush in the garden, or at the edge of the zigzag path on the thyme, growing well. But none on the alyssum, now vigorously self-seeding everywhere and flourishing in spite of little rain. This autumn, still quite warm, I see about one bee a week.

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Alyssum

This is much worse than last year. I don’t know what more I can do.

I also asked ‘Is it possible to maintain a useful garden without water?’ Out on the zigzag, where there’s no tap, I’ve experimented with hugelkultur, raised beds above buried wood, because they’re known to be good for plants and good in drought and flood, both more common than they used to be because of climate change.

And I’ve planted vegetables and small fruits among the the zigzag’s bee-loved flowers and  native plants and trees: ngaio, harakeke (flax), ti kouka (cabbage trees) and grasses.

I’ve found that in some parts of the zigzag and on some of the hugelkultur some plants flourish: tomatoes among the harakeke, bordoloi beans on a hugelkultur (but not the more common scarlet runner beans) hardy silver beet in some places but not others. On one problematic hugelkultur not even the borage and calendula bloomed strongly. There, and elsewhere in the home garden I’ve added more mulches; and  Environmental Fertiliser products. Will let you know how they go!

The best news is, that like friends throughout New Zealand I have a huge quince crop, the best for decades, another result of the dry weather, I believe.

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One of the quince pickings

This year I’ll continue to experiment, maintaining the bee-loved focus while working hard to produce more vegetables. We’re aware of water security here because of the earthquake risk and it’s time to consider future drought risk and food security, too. (I hear passersby on the zigzag discussing these possibilities as they admire – and critique – the trees and plants.)

This week because it’s rained recently I’ll start to clear the noxious weeds, transplant some self-seeded land cress and bury the freesia bulbs I’ve been given, for their scent in the spring.

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Self-sown land cress below some thyme and above the thyme, flourishing hollyhock plants, galangal and calendula, dock and dandelion

I’d love your stories and advice, if you’re engaged in similar projects. And in the meantime, off to the kitchen for the quince paste-making.

 

 

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Niue’s Bee Sanctuary

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Bee sanctuaries interest me more and more, from the 600-year-old hive in a Rosslyn Chapel pinnacle that I wrote about the other day, to the tiny one I’m working to establish in the middle of a city, to Kangaroo Island, a bee sanctuary since 1885 and on Colonsay, a little island off Scotland. So I was excited to hear about another one, on the South Pacific island of Niue, 100 square miles, population 1400 – not too big, not too small. This time, it’s  a sanctuary with an  economic purpose.

The only beekeeper on Niue, Andy Cory, owns and oversees 1000 hives of Italian bees (Apis mellifera  ligustica) brought to Niue many years ago. Thanks to Niue’s relative isolation, its ideal size and its limited ports and tourism, the bees have effectively lived in a sanctuary ever since, in a tropical paradise for bees.

And now Andy wants to formalise his apiary’s status as a Pacific bee sanctuary, so it is internationally recognised. And he needs our help with his crowdfunding campaign, where he provides some lovely details about his beekeeping life on Niue. Like this, which highlights how he doesn’t need to feed his bees supplemental sugar-

Andy nearly lost all the bees in 2004 [in a cyclone]…the French navy …brought him sugar to feed as a supplement until native vegetation recovered. Consequently, to mitigate against the risk of losing all the bees in the aftermath of future cyclones, we now have a sufficient store of organic sugar on Island.

This is what Andy wants to do, with help from Richard Duncan who is organising the crowdfunding, as he further develops healthy and protected stock to draw from in the future-

Phase 1: strengthen and grow the current apiculture operation on Niue and develop export markets in order  to generate revenue, build partnerships and learning. And provide a solid foundation and financial resources sufficient to underwrite the creation and sustain the operation of a Global Bee Sanctuary.

Phase 2: develop the ‘Global Bee Sanctuary’ and begin to export live bee stocks and/or genetic breeding material to other Pacific Island countries, as well as other key food producing countries. This is where the venture shifts to regional and then global in its impact.

Hive numbers will increase to 4000 and local landowners wIll be paid under a hive rental arrangement. According to Richard Duncan, in an interview with Radio New Zealand

People of Niue, they’re custodians of these bees as well and that’s kind of why we’re shifting to this social enterprise model because we want to bring them more into this whole operation and make sure they are benefiting as well. The business grows. They get a return. Therefore they take pride in protecting these bees and being custodians of these bees.

This is a wonderfully ambitious project and I want to support it as well as I can. It would be glorious to have bee sanctuaries all over the world. And even better if they benefit the people who share their environment.

The government of Niue is right behind Andy and has strengthened bio-security measures to ban the import of all bees and bee products. Nosema does exist but, as in parts of Africa, appears to have negligible effect on the health of the thriving bees. There’s been just one case of American foul brood in 8 years. And Andy’s Save the Bee Honey is certified as organic, after passing all the BioGro NZ tests.

But questions and vigilance are necessary. Every time.

For instance, Andy’s bees may struggle to survive in countries he exports too, often because of exposure to disease and pesticides. (Alderney, a European Channel Island, has a similar challenge within a similar project.) How will he be able to help ‘Save The Bee’ in those places?

Andy’s bees may be better able to resist disease than bees who have always lived in another environment. But will they be able to resist the ill-effects of pesticides there? Recent  research shows that ubiquitous glyphosate is probably carcinogenic and that it harms bees. It also shows that when bees forage they are attracted to widely used neonics – neonicotinoids – that will harm them (see the Bibliography tab above for references). Unless those countries’ inherent risks are reduced, it’s likely that pesticide use will compromise the health of any Niuean bees they import, just as nearby glyphosate spraying and flowers grown from neonic-treated seeds and plants may affect the health of the bees I attract to my garden.

And as Monsanto products in particular become outlawed in some places, it’s likely that the organisation is promoting or will promote them more intensively in other markets. Like Niue. Like parts of Africa. So what about glyphosate and neonic use in Niue, which may compromise it as a sanctuary for bees?

Niueans have New Zealand citizenship so Niue has very close relationships with New Zealand, where import and use of neonics is unregulated. It’s also an agricultural nation (taro, organic vanilla and noni, according to one report I found.) A small risk already exists.

I’ve been told, twice, that Niueans do not use pesticides. But they are there. I found a Niuean ground water analysis (2010) that included a list of pesticides imported into Niue. Glyphosate was on that list and was found present in the water at <0.001 mg.L, significantly lower than United States drinking water standards and not considered problematic.

No neonicotinoids I recognised were on the import list perhaps because, as in New Zealand, it is unregulated. Will the Niuean government’s support of ‘Save The Bee’, as well as organic vanilla and noni, extend to outlawing pesticides and investing in alternative agricultural practices, as a world leader? That would make a huge difference.

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BioGro NZ’s practices are also important. It does not yet test for neonics or glysophate, so there’s been no check of their presence in Andy’s honey.

To certify honey as organic, BioGro NZ tests it under the ‘multiresidue suite’ of approximately 200 common pesticides useHd in New Zealand. The organisation told me-

These  suites do not typically cover glyphosate or neonicotinoids… [W]hen we recently requested isolated glyphosate testing for honey, we were advised that this was not yet offered in New Zealand.

It seems that New Zealand laboratories may extend their services to glyphosate and neonic testing soon, which would resolve this issue for the Niuean organic honey, among others.

And another element of BioGro NZ’s process is encouraging because it reduces the risk of pesticide contamination by certifying-

… only operations where we have verifiable landuser statements for land within 3km radius of the hives confirming no prohibited pesticide use.

The ‘prohibited’ pesticides referred to in landuser statements are those listed in BioGro NZ protocols and they DO include glyphosphate and neonicotinoids, though of course bees can forage beyond 3km.

On balance, after this little bit of research I feel confident that, for now, Niue’s close to a true bee sanctuary for honey-producing bees in the Pacific. And deserves our strong support. It may be one of the few bee-related initiatives that can make a long term difference.

And I wonder what you  think, because I may have missed something essential. Or made an error. Please let me know if so.

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Save the Bee on Facebook

Celebration & Sadness

‘Our’ bits of the public zigzag get better and better. The man downstairs has built a second hugelkultur and some steps that make it safer to garden. (I’ve had a few near misses, slipping and tumbling.)

Our neighbour has employed a new gardener who will not spray. He’s planted the native grasses you can see in the background, beneath her (spring-flowering) kowhai tree.

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from front: steps, second hugelultur, sorrel patch, cape gooseberries and sundry herbs and then the neighbour’s place
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love that red rake!

Here are the grasses in closeup, in their cosy pea-straw mulch.

closeup of new grass & mulch

Below the first hugelkultur, parsley, thyme, bergamot, galangal and nasturtiums flourish.

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O yay to all of this. I’m very happy that our garden, the neighbour’s garden and other bits of the zigzag are all safer than they were, more welcoming for bees. And for other insects, some of them also pollinators.

But I’m also sad.

I know now that research shows that even organic honey contains glyphosate and that bees are attracted to flowers that contain neonics (obvious really, humans too are attracted to substances that affect their neurons). And when I see no bees around, I think ‘Did Wellington City Council’s glyphosate spray affect them?’.

One still and sunny bee-filled morning, not long ago, the council used the spray on patches of old man’s beard, within 100 metres of where these photos were taken. How many bees were harmed, as they flew past on the way to our flowers?

This is what the dying old man’s beard looks like.

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It could have been removed by hand. It’s tough going but I’ve done it.

And yesterday, on the far side of some dying old man’s beard, I saw lots of bees on winter kowhai.

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And I wondered, was that kowhai bought from a plant shop that sells neonic-treated  trees? Do the bees prefer these blooms to ours because they provide a neonic buzz?

That’s when I began to feel sad. Providing a sanctuary for bees is complicated.

Squashing Bugs. Longing For A Spray.

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haven’t been able to capture a clear image of the adult bug, gets lost in the greens

A couple of times a day, most days, I’m out there in my kitchen garden with a rubber glove on one hand, to collect the stink bugs with my ungloved hand and squash them with my rubber gloved hand, or sometimes within a nearby leaf.  I’m pretty certain the bugs are nezara viridula. I hate the squashing process. That little POP the bigger bugs make when I kill them. I long for a spray. Soapy water, someone suggested. In the past I’ve tried neem oil.

On the public zigzag, the tomato plants are bug-free. They’ve grown without water and I’ve wondered if this is because they’re surrounded by harakeke/flax. Are they also bug-free because of the flax?

going well on zigzag
volunteer plants from the neighbour’s compost heap ripen on the zigzag,  for passersby to eat

Some tomato plants in my kitchen garden are also bug-free. I can tell because the fruit doesn’t have the bug-sucked characteristics, the soggy-sh, woddy-ish outer layers. Perhaps because bergamot grows nearby, or they’re in better quality soil. But in a central patch the stink bugs in their various forms of development suck the juice from the outer layers of the tomatoes.

The bugs reproduce vigorously – the shiny black babies congregate around the tomato stems – and stay in ones or two until they become the mature plain green bug, viewed (by me) as a pair only when mating.

All the bugs seem to like the calendula seed heads where they’re easy-ish to pick off. But they also sense my intent, I think. Often, even when I carefully position myself to throw no shadow, they leap off before my hand arrives. Except when they’re babies, they’re especially sneaky on the tomatoes, skitter away from nearest point, often over the top of the tomato and around the back. or round the side to the back. Sometimes, if they’re on a leaf, they swing underneath it. And by the time I’ve repositioned myself they’re GONE.

A friend suggests these bugs reproduce according to the moon’s cycle. But I’m not waiting around to observe that closely. The tomatoes ripen within that one cycle and my focus is on them right now. And on my longing to spray, to machine gun those nezara viridula OUT OF THE GARDEN.

I’m going to build up the soil where the afflicted plants grow and see if there are fewer stink bugs in a year’s time, because the plants are stronger. (Or because I’ve killed so many bugs.) I don’t have to sell my tomatoes – or my beans, which the stink bugs destroyed last year – but I now have much more sympathy for those who grow plants for a living and use sprays, including neonics. I know more about the tensions between loving bees and ensuring the best productivity of plants that don’t need bees to fruit. As well as my own ability to kill, to protect  my food sources.

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Gardeners Delight, Black From Tula and one Cherokee Purple (top right), all perhaps with squashed bug residue.

Tomatoes Beloved, Bee-Loved Flowers Not!

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People visit to choose plants to take home.  Two have taken  a clump of sunflowers and the interplanted alyssum. But most people want tomatoes. And basil.

What about some alyssum I say. What about some sunflowers? We’ve got sunflowers, they say. Got alyssum.

sunflowers & alyssum with holes where there used to be more--
Sunflowers & alyssum with holes where there used to be more–

Look! I say then. Look at these tiny bee-loved plants.

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Anonymous, could be bergamot. Or hyssop (with stray alyssum at far left)

I don’t know what they’re called because their label sticks blew away in a Kapiti wind. But they’ll be safe for the bees at your place. Better than anything you can buy at most garden centres, where they may be affected by neonics.

But no. They want tomatoes. Which don’t need bees. Which bees don’t care about. They want basil, because it’s hard to grow and it goes with the tomatoes. We’ve got plenty of flowering plants, they say.

So, a bit of advice about tomatoes out in the open–

  • They will flourish only if they’re in a plot with at least six hours of sun on a sunny day.
  • You can split open a bag of compost and put a tomato plant directly in it – no need for more!
  • You can fill a bucket with compost, put a hole in the bottom of the bucket and hang the tomato plant downward – then feed liquid seaweed/comfrey etc from the top.
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Great trick, huh? (thanks, Fiona Lovatt!)
  • If you want tomato-flavour-to-die-for, establish around 50 plants and severely limit the number of branches and fruit (via the sterling Alex Mackay, whose tomatoes are legendary).

Gardeners Delight (no apostrophe!) is the visitors’ fave tomato, so far. I have lots of Black From Tula and the ones that – this year – interest me most, Cherokee Purple .

Here are small Cherokee Purples in among the strawberries a month ago with tiny bee-loved borage plants top right–

Cherokees in garden 12 October 2014
Cherokee Purples 12 October 2014

From egg cartons inside, then to the outside, then to bigger containers outside. Some Cherokees now await new owners, with basil and – in one pot – a sneaky alyssum. These are rescue plants, coming right near the rosemary, the lemon balm and the evening primrose.

Waiting for a new home

And I’ve planted a few Cherokee Purples myself. The biodegradable pots are meant to be below the soil, but I haven’t got that quite right yet. So I tore the top of the pot and pushed it down towards the earth.

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Cherokee Purple with organic basil, both from Kings Seeds

And – fantastic news – that top-and-bottom-less tin to protect the Florence courgettes from slug-and-snail invasion seems to be working–

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Florence courgette in tin, with cornflowers (& teeny borage and calendula seedlings).

Apart from the Purple Cherokees and the Florence-courgette-in-the-tin success, I’m excited about my phacellia. This bowlful and a couple of smaller containers – only one of them given away, to a special gardener. Can’t decide where in the garden to provide this new-to-me-bee-loved treat.

Phacellia
Phacellia

The big question at the mo though is, HOW am I going to persuade visitors to welcome healthy bee-loved flower plants into their gardens?

Heartbreak

1.

When I woke up the other morning the bee box was gone.

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A couple of bees remained nearby. I wondered, ‘Will they fly across town to find the others’?

The garden was a little quieter, all day. But it was more than sound. For a few days the bee box and its occupants had added a very special feeling.

That evening, half a dozen bees flew into the kitchen, its door near where I’d stood to watch them move around their box. I helped them to leave the kitchen. Gently. One was very feisty. The others were more passive. One seemed dazed.

Then, as night fell, I looked up. And saw a tiny bee huddle, near where the base of the box used to be.

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I texted the neighbour. Who collected them to take to the rest of the hive, in the morning (with a dose of honey).

That was my little heartbreak for this week. I miss those bees.

But there’s a much larger heartbreak. The neonics story.

2.

It’s taking me longer than I imagined it would to research the nasty chemicals that harm bees– neonicotinoids, or neonics, which I find easier to pronounce and to spell. But it’s almost Labour Weekend  in New Zealand, that big holiday weekend when we all PLANT. So here’s some brief neonics info, for Australasians who visit plant shops this weekend.

Dave Goulson, the scientist who wrote A Sting in The Tale about bumblebees, tweeted this the other day–

A single seed

And this, a wider view of how neonics affect the environment around them–

Into soil etc

Neonics harm bees in various ways, when they go into soil and last for ages and when they go into crops. That little 1% in the dust, I’ve read, kills heaps of bees.

And neoniced flowers also harm bees, even flowers of otherwise beneficial bee plants, flowers that they love. Here’s a view of how neonics move into a single plant with a flower that feeds bees, from a recently released Friends of the Earth report

poster neonics

In the words of the report, this is how the neonics work–

Nurseries commonly apply systemic pesticides as soil injections, granular or liquid soil treatments, foliar sprays (applied to leaves), and seed treatments. Water-soluble pesticides are readily absorbed by plant roots and transported systemically in the plant’s vascular system to other portions of the plant, including roots, pollen and nectar, leaves, stems, and fruit.This systemic action results in the exposure of beneficial, non-target insects such as bees to potentially lethal doses of these pesticides.

Neonics aren’t regulated in New Zealand and I haven’t so far found research about their use here. But when I learned that many seeds are coated with neonics, I thought my garden was safe because I save and exchange seeds and buy them from the Koanga Institute and Kings Seeds and don’t use sprays. I don’t know about other branded seeds on sale at garden centres though. I don’t know about the plants and other products on sale, either.

But the Friends of the Earth research found that 51% of plants sold to consumers at a range of garden centres across the United States Canada were contaminated with neonics–

The high percentage of contaminated plants…and their neonicotinoid concentrations suggest that this problem is widespread, and that many home gardens have likely become a source of exposure for bees. The results indicate that neonicotinoids occur in both flowers and in stems and leaves, with some samples having higher concentrations in flowers than greenery and other samples showing the reverse.

So what can we do this weekend to protect bees? It’s obvious of course. We can ask at our garden centres if their plants or the soil they’ve been raised in have been treated with–

acetamiprid

clothiandin

dinotefuran

imidacloprid (Consumer* names Yates’ Confidor as a product that includes imidacloprid )

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thiacloprid

thiamethoxam

We can look on the labels of the other garden and domestic products we buy (some might be non-garden products like ant killer), for –

acetamiprid

clothiandin

dinotefuran

imidacloprid

thiacloprid

thiamethoxam

(I’m repeating here, planning to make a little song to help me remember the words.)

And we can refuse to buy any seed plant or product that may place our bees at risk.

If you live in Wellington and want some safe bee-loved plants, let me know in the comments and I can provide you with some from my garden, where I’m raising quantities to give away this year, to explore growing them as a business.

And here’s another poster from Friends of the Earth, in case you’d like to print it out for your fridge–

 

Bee safe gardening tips

 

*GARDEN CENTRE BUYERS PLEASE BE AWARE OF THESE TOXIC-TO-BEES PRODUCTS

The Consumer article also refers to some other products. Checking them one by one, in case neonics in New Zealand had different names than I was familiar with, I found these toxic-to-bees products, which may or may not be neonic–

Diazinon

Diazinon, according to the New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research, is highly toxic to bees. It is in these products–

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Carbaryl

Carbaryl, according to the University of California at Davis, is also toxic to bees. Consumer names this product as containing Carbaryl (it is also toxic to humans and in New Zealand only ‘approved handlers’ will be able to apply it after July 2015)–

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Acephate

Cornell University research shows that Acephate is toxic to bees. Consumer lists these products as containing Acephate–
14sep-pesticides-acephate_medium

 

More toxic-to-bees info to come, I’m sure. Please let me know if you have any additions! That’s going to be a multi-verse song, I reckon!

More Magic

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bee box on back fence

A neighbour brought some bees home from work. From urban bee hives. They’re in and out of a little box, up on our back fence, exactly the week that our fruit trees blossom, in a garden filled with borage and calendula and lavender flowers.

And I’m in love. Can watch those bees for hours. Pop out to visit when I want to smile. And I can smell an entrancing honey-ish aroma. The beeswax perhaps?

So far, they’re not much interested in our place. This calm and sunny morning we have the same number of bees and bumble bees we’ve had here for weeks, making a pleasant hum. Are the visiting bees more interested in the neighbour’s own wisteria?

But I put out some water for them, anyway. And thought about the water. With chlorine and other chemicals. Hormones even. Have I missed an essential element in bee well-being? Should I collect rainwater? Should I worry about more than flowers grown from seeds coated with neonics (writing about them in my next post)?

heritage apple blossom, calendula, lavender, borage.
heritage apple blossom, calendula, lavender, borage. waiting for those bees.

PS That aroma. Reminds me of Dani Ehrig’s pure beeswax candles. I found a tea candle and a little heart candle in Commonsense Organics and then Dani’s catalogue with an amazing range.