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.

My New Year’s Resolution

Twenty seven pelicans saved from impalement

Sometimes the most effective change starts really small.

Today I went through the entire house and collected all the pens that no longer work. Twenty seven of them, in fact. These have been accumulating because of my fear that any pen I throw out will eventually wind up skewering some innocent pelican somewhere. So I have been keeping them in odd places around the house. This has been going on too long, and I am worried about becoming one of those hoarder ladies you read about in the paper.

I took all the dry Sharpies, and promised myself never to buy another one. I took all those nice pens I got from the bank. I took all the pens I get in the mail from charities (shame on you, charities!). I even took that really cool chunky silver pen I got at a conference years ago, and had been keeping in case I could figure out how to refill it. I put them all in a nice recyclable can, and when the can is full I will put them in a paper bag, write “recycle” on it, and take it to Staples on Ontario Street, which has an excellent writing tools recycling programme.

I cannot tell you how much better I feel after this 15-minute activity. I don’t know if it’s my feng shui, my chi, or my karma, but it feels very good.

I did keep the mechanical pencils, though. I know it’s unrealistic, but I do believe that someday, somehow, I will learn how to make them work.

Happy New Year, everybody!

 

Crows and cats

In my last blog post I talked about finding employment for feral cats. I was kind of joking around, but I do think that we should be considering ALL living things when we think about how our community works.

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 3.36.37 PMSo I was interested in this post, which describes a project in Amsterdam that trains crows to pick up and dispose of cigarette butts. At first reading, it sounded like a great idea — the crows learn fast, they pick up the trash, and they get paid a peanut. What’s not to like?

However, a commentator brought up a point I hadn’t thought about. John Marzluff, a professor of forest sciences at the University of Washington, argued that ” it is unethical to ask a wild animal to do our dirty work. Crows have other things to do, being highly social animals and intelligent, and it doesn’t seem right to me to enslave them to work for us. Why not just pay people a good wage to do the work?”

Now, you’re probably thinking that we are getting into Philosophy 101 territory when we start worrying about making wage slaves out of crows. But I don’t think this is a silly argument. It seems to me to be a highly moral argument that we should be applying to the wildlife that lives around us. Perhaps when we start seeing nature as valuable in itself, rather than something that has been set up for us to use, we will learn to inhabit our communities in a way that promotes a healthy environment for humans and animals.

So what’s the difference between crows and cats? Basically, cats aren’t part of the ecosystem. We domesticated them and brought them here. So I think we owe them a free lunch or two. Or maybe even a career in rodent removal.

 

Cranky cats find gainful employment

I love to go into Watson’s downtown. It’s such a cool store, and there’s a cat there who is soft as dandelion fluff. Sometimes you have to wait in line to pet her. I’ll bet that cat has made a few sales in her time.

Screen Shot 2017-10-18 at 1.33.23 PM

Not all cats are as skilled in customer relations as the Watson’s cat. Some have attitude. Others are terrified, and will bite and scratch.  A select few will even pee in your shoes, just for the fun of it. It’s difficult to place cats like this in customer service positions.

The good news is that some shelters in the U.S. have come up with an ideal solution to the cat placement problem. They provide neutered, microchipped, vaccinated animals free of charge to businesses with rodent control problems. This means that no poisons or traps are needed. Sometimes just the scent of a cat sends rodents running for the hills, but if not, more drastic measures are taken by the cats.

And it’s not just warehouses that provide jobs for cats. Barns and stables are, of course, the traditional place to find a working cat, but they are also using them in condos and suburban areas. In California they’re even using them to patrol dumpsters. However, not much seems to be said about what those cats are doing to the bird population.

In any case, outside patrol isn’t really a year-round solution for unemployed cats in Ontario. I wondered if there were any programs here that provided year-round indoor work. I checked around: The Stratford Perth Humane Society has two programs for unsociable felines; one is the “Barn Buddy” programme, where you can pick up a neutered/chipped/vaccinated cat with no adoption fee (though they would like a donation). The other programme, one you’ve probably heard of, is called “Return to Field:” they clip one ear, vaccinate/neuter, and have the person who brought the cat in return it to the same place. The cat is identifiable, and because cats are territorial, it not only hunts vermin but also keeps other feral cats away. However, I don’t think they last long in an Ontario winter.

So it seems to me there’s a place in our business community for a whole army of unemployed cats, who would not only reduce the rodent population, but would also reduce the need for adding  poisons to our environment. Indoor work also avoids the bird problem. The “Barn Buddy” programme would work for this. All it needs is a little rethinking, and an advertising push to present it as a solution for businesses as well as for farms.

Wouldn’t take much. Wouldn’t cost much.

 

Source: http://www.dispatch.com/entertainmentlife/20171018/for-ornery-shelter-cats-2nd-chance-is-job-chasing-mice