About those bees . . .

I had a wonderful time at Seedy Sunday at The Local last month, and I’m just getting around to writing it up. I got variety of really interesting seeds that I’ll soon be starting on the front porch, but the best part of Seedy Sunday for me is always the presentations.

I loved the one on beekeeping, presented by Stuart Arkett. I’m quite fond of bees, and like to see them in my garden, but I’m a little overwhelmed at the idea of being responsible for a hive. But  I needn’t have worried. It was illegal to keep bees in Stratford until last year, when Stuart presented a petition to allow it within city limits. After all, the city coat of arms features a beehive. Why not live up to our history? The city agreed, but followed provincial regulations, which require a hive to be 30 meters from a property line. That puts my beehive smack-dab in the middle of my living room coffee table, right next to my husband’s beer when he’s watching sports. So it’s progress of a kind, but, short of a divorce, it’s not going to work for me. I hope Stuart continues his work to promote urban beekeeping.

 

Notice the beehive

I really got a lot out of Stuart’s presentation. He told us a great deal about neonicotinoid pesticides and how they work. These are the ones that cause all the problems for bees. Some crops around here just can’t be grown without this pesticide, or a more expensive alternative. It gets put on some seeds, and when dirt is blown in the wind it’s breathable. The good news is that neonics are on their way out, due to increased government regulation, and also because after an insecticide has been used over a period of time, the insects just become immune to it. You do have to question an agricultural practice that has the end result of breeding resistant bugs, but let’s save that for another day. (More about neonicotinoids here)

We also discussed colony collapse disorder, which I’m sure you’ve heard about. Surprisingly, only three crops depend completely on bees for pollination: blueberries, cranberries, and almonds. These crops use trucked-in hives, a method that stresses the bees and weakens their resistance to mites and disease.

I have always wondered why the almond farmers don’t just raise bees within their groves. That would save time and trouble in transportation, and minimize the risk of infection to the hives. And you get honey. So I put my hand up to find out. Stewart answered that almond groves do not provide a complete diet for bees, as almonds are the only thing allowed to grow there. “But…” I said, “Why not allow a little extra vegetation, so the bees can thrive?” He smiled patiently, and explained that water is very scarce where the almonds grow, and no farmer would risk the expense of watering weeds. “But… “I persisted, “Why not reduce the ratio of trees to vegetation, just a little, to allow for bees?”

His answer was accompanied by the steely-eyed look farmers reserve for city-folk who want to give them advice. I could tell he’d been asked these kinds of questions before, presumably by people with a slightly vacant stare and flowers in their hair. He said that it is the obligation of farmers to produce the maximum from their farms. Farm families aren’t charitable organizations, and farm life is hard enough without creating extra, unprofitable work.

Well, it’s pretty hard to answer back to a statement like that. But then — and this is the interesting part — I asked him another question and got an answer I didn’t expect. I wanted to know why the bees produce more than the hive can use. Turns out they just do, it’s a bee thing. They keep working until there’s no more room for honey. Many beekeepers take all the honey from the hive and leave the bees with cheaper sugar water to last them over the winter. This is not as nutritious, and some hives die, but it works out in the long run. On his farm, Stuart doesn’t do this. He tries to calculate how much honey the bees will need to keep healthy over the winter, and he takes the rest as his share.

So in other words, he’s taking a reduced profit on his hives, hives he’s bought or built — to make things more comfortable for a bunch of bugs. He is not maximizing his farm profit. Seems to me there’s a contradiction. And I find that really interesting.

There’s a kind of a way we’re taught to think about how society relates to nature. We’re tough, we’re practical, we’re in control, and nature is a product. If you watch the news these days, particularly the weather news, maybe we’re not so much in control as we think we are. And I notice a kind of vague unease; it’s like we have a conflict between our heads and our hearts, and we try to resolve it by not really thinking about it very much. But avoiding it doesn’t make it go away.

I’m certainly no expert, but maybe the bees need more thinking about. Maybe agriculture needs more thinking about. Just because we’ve always done something a certain way doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way.

Tea and sympathy

teatime

 

 

A little while ago I wrote a post about Red Rose Tea. I was suspicious of the fact that their tea bags don’t degrade in my compost, and I e-mailed them about it. Well, the good news is that they wrote me back. Here’s what they said:

 

 

Thank you for contacting Red Rose.

 The new Red Rose tea bag material is poly lactic acid, or PLA. The new tea bag is an organic polymer made from plants sources. The tea bags are composed of 100% renewable plant materials. The new Red Rose tea bag material is tested by independent laboratories and has been shown to be completely safe.

Sealing Red Rose like our previous Red Rose tea bags and other single chambered (or pillow) tea bags on the market, Red Rose uses a heat sealable material. However, unlike most other single chambered tea bags in the market Red Rose is now 100% compostable and made from 100% plant material.

We truly appreciate your loyalty to our brand and products. Should you have any questions in the future, please do not hesitate to contact us again.

Sincerely,
Red Rose Consumer Services

I like Red Rose Tea, and I like getting polite letters like this. Unfortunately, I am also cynical, and I still haven’t forgotten what they did to those chimpanzees all those years ago. So I did some research on poly lactic acid.

I found out that Poly lactic acid (PLA) is a biodegradable polymer made out of renewable resources like sugar, corn starch or cassava. It’s used for 3D printing, short term packaging, and even for medical uses (implants, sutures, drug capsules), among other things, and is classed as an environmentally friendly material. It will break down, but takes a long time to degrade, which is why it haunts my compost.

So there you have it: not toxic or harmful to the environment. I still like the old bags better, because they made better compost, but I’m back to drinking Red Rose.

But just to be clear: no more chimp tea parties, OK?

 

 

 

Alas, Poor Periwinkle . . .

 

Since I’ve made the decision to become a Greener and Completely Better Person I’ve had a lot of tough decisions to make. One of the hardest has been the problem of my old friend, the periwinkle.  Now, I just love periwinkle.  I love the cheerful blue flowers at the beginning of summer, I love the dark shiny leaves, and I love the fact that you just can’t kill it, no matter how neglectful you are. It just trudges along, rain or shine, spreading out gracefully and replacing that nasty grass. And the name—I mean, how cute is that?

But periwinkle, you may be surprised to learn, is an invasive species, and as I’ve made a vow never to buy invasive species, I could never get it for my garden. Unfortunately, my periwinkle is inherited. It was here when we moved, and the first spring in Stratford, it was about the only thing in the garden to greet me with a cheery smile. I didn’t have the heart to kill it. Besides, it has sneaked into my garden under the neighbour’s fence, so I know it’s up to no good over there as well. I think I will take the advice from this website, and just contain it as much as possible.

Berberis_thunbergii_(3)

Barberry leaves and berries

I feel guilty about this, but its not as if I had planted Japanese Barberry. Now THERE’S a plant that will keep you awake at night. Japanese Barberry is an extremely attractive plant, with bright red berries, easy to prune, and because it has spiny leaves, deer don’t eat it. This all sounds great, until you learn that because the deer eat other plants instead, Japanese Barberry is spreading rapidly, blanketing the forest floor. But even worse, the thick leaves of the barberry are an ideal home for ticks. I read an article a little while ago that said these plants can carry more than ten times as many Lyme-infected ticks! Just thinking about kids playing around those bushes makes me shudder.

Berberis_thunbergii_`Atropurpureum`

Japanese barberry                        (Berberis thunbergii)

If you, too, are trying to be a Greener and Completely Better Person, here’s a list of invasive species to keep out of your garden. And if you were surprised about any of this information, it’s probably because you have seen these plants at local nurseries—Klomp’s and Cozyn’s both carry them, and I’m sure they’re not the only ones. You wouldn’t think that a nursery would sell plants that were bad for public health and the environment. I guess there are no government regulations to guide them.

Crazy world, eh?

 

Further reading:

Japanese Barberry: A Threat to Public Health

Barberry, Bambi and bugs: The link between Japanese barberry and Lyme disease

Images: Wikipedia

 

What is the half life of a Red Rose tea bag?

What is the half life of a Red Rose tea bag?

Rose_OsakaI turned my compost today, and there, right at the bottom, just as I suspected, is a massive clump of Red Rose tea bags. Again. Everything else has rotted away, but these little bags are completely unfazed by the workings of Nature. They just don’t seem to decompose. After a year in the compost! What are these things made of?

Now, I love Red Rose tea, and up until now I believed it to be an environmentally sound product, but enough is enough. I have dragged out my brown betty teapot, and I’m doing it the old fashioned way, and not with Red Rose. I don’t want to wind up like Jacob Marley, dragging long chains of tea bags after me as I wail my way into eternity.

In the meantime, I have written  to the Red Rose people (see below), to find out if their bags are part of a plan to carpet the world in Canadian tea. I’ll let you know what develops.

To Red Rose Customer Service
https://www.redrosetea.ca/contact-us

I am writing to ask why your tea bags do not decompose. Mine have been in the compost for nearly two years. I am beginning to suspect that I am drinking tea from bags made of plastic, so I am switching brands, and that’s a pity, because I love Red Rose tea.

I would be very happy to learn that Red Rose is an ecologically sound product, and that your company is concerned about our environment. Please contact me at the above address.

image source