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Garden Gleanings - Possible reason for honey bees decline?

Posted Monday, September 15, 2008, at 8:42 AM

For the longest time I blamed the reduction of honey bees on a tiny mite that was killing it from within the bee's airways. That still might be a factor, but here is another chilling possibility. http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/aug2008/...

It seems that a systemic insecticide has strong possibilities of killing 90 Billion bees in France and is used here in the good old U.S.A.

We used to think systemic insecticides only killed the bugs that ate the plant, but it now seems that the insecticide actually makes its way to the pollen and from there the bee.

Science is great, but why not work WITH nature to solve nature's problems. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers may NEVER be worth the collateral damage they cause.


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You should read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. She predicted this mess 50 years ago. It's really eye opening to see all the things she said might come to pass by using pesticides/herbicides with little regard to the side effects. My honors science classes are going to begin a read/discussion after winter break with the book.

-- Posted by Jacks4me on Mon, Sep 15, 2008, at 3:03 PM

Steve,

Haven't you been organic gardening for many years? Isn't it amazing, you harvest without chemicals? The problem with all this is money. Farmers have been as guilty as the chemical companies. When the bottom line is money, 'nuf said.

Most likely, this will be argued in courts until it is too late. If this crap is killing the bees through the pollen, wonder what it is doing to us?

-- Posted by dmcg on Tue, Sep 16, 2008, at 3:11 AM

Rachel Carson's book is great! Glad to hear you put it on the reading list.

We have argued the point of what these chemicals do the humans as well as fish, etc. for MANY years, but the chemicals companies have more money to spin the results.

SOME farmers might be in it for the money and those are the large corporate farmers who's feet rarely touch the soil they are farming. MOST farmers are doing it for the love of farming and love nature as much as most of us do.

They have been convinced that the "magic bullet" is safe and will save their farm. This convincing has come from many educational institutions that should know better, but are they funded by the chemical companies and the government.

The government is made up of politicians who are funded by the chemical companies and therefore "influenced" or convinced that the "minor harm" is for the greater good. They are also convinced that bigger is better and to manage a bigger operation you need more "magic pills" to keep a handle on things.

There are many fallacies to this train of thought. Maybe we will explore that in future posts.

-- Posted by stevemills on Tue, Sep 16, 2008, at 8:17 AM

One that comes to mind quickly is the use of DDT. It was used for the control of mosquitos, to help prevent cases of malaria. It has been banned in the United States, but most other countries still use it freely. It was the major cause of the decline of eagle populations. Eagles consumed fish that had been exposed to DDT mostly by water runoff. The chemical found its way into the egg shells of the eagles and weakened them, preventing the chicks from maturing.

DDT is stored in the fatty tissues of mammals and fish. DDT has been found in fat samples taken from penguins in Antarctica.

Ongoing research is looking to isolate the chemical that kills the mosquitos, but spares the birds...or one that can be metabolized and flushed from the system rather than storing it.

-- Posted by Jacks4me on Tue, Sep 16, 2008, at 11:38 AM

I would think they have looked at this but why could they not liquefy the BT Israelenis that is in Mosquito rings and spray that? The bacteria kills mosquito larvae in ponds without hurting fish.

It would not kill existing mosquitos but should drastically reduce their ability to multiply and the adults would just live their normal lifespan which is 10 to 20 days for the male and 3 to 100 days for the female.

It is like the termite bait that kills the colony over a period of time but does not use the toxic chemicals from the other method.

-- Posted by stevemills on Tue, Sep 16, 2008, at 11:55 AM

Great idea, but if it can't be patented, you can probably forget it.

Our family has been organic gardening for decades, much like yourself, Steve. What has been interesting has been that it seems the more we have abstained from inorganic procedures and products, the less we have needed them. There's a lot to planting times and avoidance rituals. Crop saturation is also a viable way of controlling both insect and disease. We have just in the last few days started enjoying our second crop of pole beans. The first, Mecaslin, were delicious. These second, Rattlesnake, are even more wonderful. This year the late beans have had less rust than the first crop. Our late peas, Cream Zipper, have also been extremly prolific with no top dressing of any kind.

I really believe that the large mega commercial growers are our own worst enemies. By planting saturated acers with one crop they invite every known pathogen and insect into their fields. Is there a really viable, large scale answer?

-- Posted by dmcg on Tue, Sep 16, 2008, at 8:12 PM

You ask a great question and one that I believe you answered as well. Large acreage devoted to one crop is asking for disaster or un-natural methods to control the resulting bonanza of pathogens, and insects.

Your comment about needing less inorganic each year points out that being organic does not necessarily mean it has to be expensive. Yes, you need to understand more and there are few "magic bullets" that solve everything immediately, but understanding and immersing in the natural side of it is part of the enjoyment. At least to me.

I know you know these things and all others who grow organically, but many out there do not have this experience, YET. Of course, sometimes the bad guys win a battle, but just for a season and there is always next season!

Just as in business where one tries not to sole source or have just one customer, farming should be a study of diversity. Mega farms actually threaten our food source, not make it better. The government has to support it and if there is a crop failure on one of these farms, the country suffers in numerous ways.

Could you explain your "crop saturation" technique? I think I know what you mean, but that could be dangerous, plus there are many out there who might be curious as well.

I have never grown crowder peas before nor had them fresh. Probably a BIG difference from what we buy in the store.

Sounds like you have a good size garden. Any chance you can come to our garden club meeting on Friday? We would love to hear about it.

-- Posted by stevemills on Wed, Sep 17, 2008, at 8:25 AM

Steve,

I'd love to come, but it's about a 250 mile trip, one way. My spouse is a native of Shb'vll. Hence, our interest in the T-G.

Our garden would be large by some standards, but not in the historical context of country gardens. We have approximately 150'x40' in cultivation at any given time.

Something we tried this year which worked great for us was using concrete reinforcing wire cages for growing pole beans. They were built for tomatoes originally. We liked them better than any teepee designs we have tried because it was easier to get to the crop without reaching as much. We scattered them over the garden anywhere we thought a vertical accent would look nice.

Crop saturation as we define it is not putting all our eggs in one basket. By scattering our plantings of a particular variety all over the garden it reduces the ability of pathogens to go from plant to plant. It also seems to deter insect damage. We also think it looks nicer. More like a perennial border and less like a traditional kitchen garden. Of course perennial food plants stay where they are. But otherwise things are rotated annually.

Of course these techniques MIGHT be used by larger scale farming, but they are most likely not very practical for the heavy equipment used in modern agriculture.

There could perhaps however be some balances. Say alternating row crops, so that a field might include multiple food plants that are separated from each other alternately. Or to say it differently, take a fifty acre tract that is currently producing soybeans. By alternating rows of other crops those same fifty acres might produce corn, soybeans, cotton, tomatoes and garlic, ten acres of each, just a thought. But who knows, someone may already be doing this.

-- Posted by dmcg on Wed, Sep 17, 2008, at 12:17 PM

I'll just swing by on the way to the meeting and lick you up, in the club's Lear jet.

Alternating and diversifying is being done, but not by the mega farmer. It is the small market gardener or farmer who does not rely on huge machines to harvest the crop. Community Supported Agriculture has many of their customers pick their own share of the harvest or deliver to a local market so they do not have to have tractor trailers deliver from 500 miles away.

This requires adaptation on the part of customers also. They can not have all the veggies they have become used to having all year around, or they have to can and/or freeze their food for later. What a novel idea? I bet it is second nature to you, but to many it is a distant memory.

I am guilty of this myself, but I know I could adapt and still remember quarts and quarts of tomatoes, etc. each fall. Pressure cookers are sold at all the auctions, but I wonder how many know what it was used for or how to use it?

We never feared our daughter going out to the garden for a cherry tomato or eating sugar snaps straight off the vine. Some have to worry about letting their children play on their grass.

Oh well, enough of my rant. Growing your own, organic produce has many rewards, Maybe we can get more to try it.

-- Posted by stevemills on Wed, Sep 17, 2008, at 1:52 PM

Steve,

I have been studying a little on organic gardening, for a variety of reasons. Mostly because of lack of trust at the store, and a close 2nd is I need the exercise now that I have taken an office job.

My problem is I know next to nothing about gardening. Do you have a book or some other resource to recommend? I also have been looking into keeping bees, but again I am ignorant on that subject also.

-- Posted by greasemonkey on Wed, Sep 17, 2008, at 2:04 PM

First the bees. There are a number of bee enthusiasts in the area that would probably enjoy talking bees. I believe there is a bee club as well.

For books, I would check out the local Goodwill store. A neat thing about organics and even bee keeping is that what was good years ago is still good now. In fact, many of the NEW developments are really just old ideas coming back to life. I have some of the original Organic Farming and Gardening magazines and those tips are good for today.

Ever since the birth of agriculture until the late 1940's, we survived using organic methods. (Not me, but our ancestors) It was not until after WWII that the chemical companies and government got into the business big time.

Many organic books are published by the Rodale Publishing out of Emaus, PA. If you can make it to our Weed'em and Reap meeting on Friday, I will bring some with me.

As you might guess, I like talking organic too!

-- Posted by stevemills on Wed, Sep 17, 2008, at 4:36 PM

Steve,

I am really enjoying this dialog and I can't wait for a ride in the jet. Ha! Wish I could come, really.

Yes, we freeze and can and love the produce in the winter. We also buy organic produce, but I'm not convinced it is all actually organic.

It occurred to me a few minutes ago that I remember reading months ago that almost all the bees in the United States are shipped to a small parcel in California every spring to pollinate the almond crop. It seems almost all the domestic almond trees are planted in one area. Talk about concentrated agriculture and an accident waiting to happen. Almonds are closely related to peaches, nectarines and apricots; therefore, they are part of the rose family. As you are probably aware this is a group of plants notorious for disease issues. Anyway, I digress, I believe what I read speculated that part of the bee demise could be because of the exposure of the multitudes to each other. It would make sense that the lice problem is exacerbated by putting all them together. Have you heard any of this before?

We've never had an apiary because I am extremely allergic to bee and wasp venom. My knowledge about bees is therefore very limited. I do notice there are not nearly as many as there once were in the garden. One year we grew tomatoes in a small greenhouse and had to pollinate them with an electric toothbrush. We would hold the toothbrush against the wooden stakes and the vibration would pollinate the blossoms quite well. I hope we do not have to do that outdoors. Yikes!

-- Posted by dmcg on Wed, Sep 17, 2008, at 6:39 PM

Well, I went searching for the information on the almond crop and I couldn't find it. From what I read, it seems that most of them are grown in New England. I'm beginning to think this could have all been a dream, maybe, maybe not.

In my short search I did find an interesting site. It's pretty and informative.

http://helpthehoneybees.com/#/home/home/

We need our bees.

-- Posted by dmcg on Wed, Sep 17, 2008, at 7:01 PM

It makes sense that any infection or mite could spread easily when these bees are transported and share space. I would hope they do hive inspections, but mistakes can happen. Those same hives are transported to many other areas as the spring season progresses.

I have had several seasons where poor pollination resulted in reduced yields. Our wild honey bees disappeared one year, then came back another, only to disappear half way through the season. Our wood bees used to be annoying, but I now wish we still had them.

-- Posted by stevemills on Wed, Sep 17, 2008, at 7:20 PM

I have plenty of wood bees. Please give them a new home!!

I remember reading about a species of Australian bees that were resistant to the trachea mite and that our bees successfully reproduced with them. I'll try to find time today to look that up. I had several honey bees in my yard this year, more than last anyway.

There's also a fellow in Lynchburg that keeps bees. A friend of mine buys honey from him.

-- Posted by Jacks4me on Thu, Sep 18, 2008, at 6:54 AM

Are these Australian bees honey bees?

The strawberry farm in Wartrace used to raise bees. They still may. I've had some of their honey trying to work on allergies that my allergists says I don't have.

-- Posted by stevemills on Thu, Sep 18, 2008, at 8:42 AM

http://www.cnn.com/2007/TECH/science/09/...

Here's a quick reference to give you something to go for more research.

-- Posted by Jacks4me on Thu, Sep 18, 2008, at 11:14 AM


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Steve Mills and his wife have one daughter and live on a farm outside of Bell Buckle. They previously owned two coffee/ice cream shops, currently operate an internet sales company and teach classes, but his primary job involves the paper industry worldwide. Hobbies and interests lie in gardening, photography, recorded music and of course, their pets.