Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Plant Intelligence

Thursday, April 6th, 2017

Plants have between 15 and 20 senses, including smelling, tasting, and sensing light and sounds. The root tips are especially ‘intelligent’: sensing gravity, water, light, pressure, hardness, volume, nutrients, toxins, microbes, and messages from other plants. Here are some remarkable examples of plant behaviour:

  • Some corn plants emit a scent when caterpillars attack them, and the scent attracts parasitic wasps which then eat the caterpillars.
  • Many plants produce caffeine, a drug which encourages bees to remember the plants and return to pollinate them.
  • Forest trees use a ‘wood-wide-web’ of underground fungi through which they deliver food and water to other trees in need, and also signal others about insect attack.
  • Plants eat sunlight!

Read more about intelligent plants in this excellent essay by Michael Pollan.

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What Has Nature Ever Done For Us?

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

Tony Juniper’s book What Has Nature Ever Done For Us? brilliantly proves that money really does grow on trees. Nature is the basis of our economic lives and is worth $100 trillion/year to the global economy. But we use up our yearly budget of resources in about 8 months and after that we destroy our natural capital. Juniper lists the huge benefits we get from healthy soil, plants, light, water and animals, and shows it makes economic sense to care for them. Pollinators, for example, are vital for our food supply: of the 100 most important food crop plants, 71 are pollinated by bees. He says the most likely causes of the bee decline are loss of habitat and pesticides (especially neonicotinoids):

Of all the unintended consequences that arise from how we treat nature, the loss of pollinators caused by pesticides is one of the more ironic. Chemical that were designed to protect agriculture are undermining its viability.

But he’s hopeful we can protect the bees, for example, by planting ‘bee roads’ of flowering plants between crops.

Everyone who has even a small garden can help with this.

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Game Of Drones

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

Male bees (drones) have a decadent life inside the hive but it ends gruesomely. In spring and summer drones spend their days eating and sleeping – the female bees even clean up their droppings for them. In autumn the females push most of the drones out of the beehive to die in the cold air. Why have drones at all? To mate with a new queen, but it only happens once every few years. Several drones will mate with her and die in the act. Drones themselves have no father; they hatch from unfertilised eggs. It was once thought all bees came from virgin births, until in 1788 a blind Swiss naturalist, Francois Huber, proved that queens mated.

What big eyes the drones have; all the better to find the queen.

A Love Story – Pollination

Sunday, November 16th, 2014

It’s the most important relationship on Earth – everything in Nature depends on pollinators and flowers getting together.

Pollination is ‘a love story that feeds the Earth.’ – Louie Schwartzberg.

For a flower to make fruit and seeds, its pollen (male) must get to an egg (female), usually in another flower – and bees do 80% of the moving. The result is a cornucopia of foods from cherries to cashews, courgettes to coffee. Our relationship with the pollinators is equally vital so let’s provide bees with a variety of flowers, clean water and spray-free gardens.

Scenes from Louie Schwatzberg’s dazzling movie, Wings Of Life:

Deadly Pesticide

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

The threat to nature is the same as that once posed by the notorious chemical DDT.– BBC News

A new study on ‘neonicotinoid’ pesticides says that they are a key factor in the decline of bees. The study combined 800 research papers from 20 years and concluded these nicotine-based nerve poisons are also damaging the wider environment. The pesticides are systemic – the whole plant remains toxic right through to flowering – so bees (and other critters) are poisoned by pollen, nectar, and drinking water. These pesticides are widely used in NZ and even sold in garden centres. The government has not yet responded to the new study, so meanwhile, avoid these products: Confidor, Advantage, Merit and Admire (what shameless names). And remember that there are ways to deal with pests without harming bees, including organic gardening and IPM:

It is high time we returned to Integrated Pest Management (IPM) – an approach focussed on minimising pesticide use, maximising the number of biological control agents, using cultural controls such as crop rotations, and monitoring pest numbers so that chemical controls only need be applied when there is a problem.– Prof David Goulson

Love Bees

Friday, April 11th, 2014

Pollination: ‘a love story that feeds the Earth.’ – Louie Schwartzberg

We can’t survive without bees and bees won’t survive unless we love them. It’s the most unique partnership between ‘wild’ creatures and humans. Honey bee pollination gives us fruit, vegetables, and pastures – let’s respect them by providing a variety of flowering plants and clean habitats (avoid pesticides, especially neonicotinoids).

Human beings have fabricated the illusion that they have the technological prowess to be independent of nature. Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less, dependent on nature’s services. – Achim Steiner

 Watch a sweet little film, Dance of the Honey Bee’ (Vimeo).

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5 Ways To Save The Bees

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

beekeeper1. Plant flowering things – bees love them
2. Avoid pesticides – especially the new systemic ones
3. Let the lawn grow long – it encourages diversity
4. Buy local honey – it’s better for you

5. Get to know bees – they aren’t aggressive if you aren’t

Bringing Bees To The People

Monday, October 7th, 2013

childsuitCity life can distance people from nature and from the consequences of environmental damage. One solution is to bring nature to people’s door-steps, such as bringing beehives into the city. Murray and Heidi Rixon rent beehives into home gardens. They visit the hives regularly and teach their clients how to manage the bees and provide protective bee suits for the whole family. People can choose their degree of involvement with the hives and most are very keen to learn.
They say the Rentahive business has a ”massive feel-good factor” and people are driven by the urge to do something positive and proactive about the bee crisis. Customers are also excited to get a share of the honey. Murray and Heidi have just launched a schools’ project to teach children about bees. The children can partake in beehive construction, help with care of the hive and honey extraction.
There are many benefits having hives in an urban setting: bees get a longer flowering season and a wider variety of pollen/nectar sources; gardens are well-pollinated; honey flavours are unique; and best of all, people more fully engage with the environment.

Bee Pesticide Ban

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

This is a victory for the precautionary principle, which is supposed to underlie environmental regulation.– Dr Lynn Dicks

Bee PhotoThe EU has banned the nerve agent that has been contributing to honey bee decline around the world. The scientific evidence against these extremely toxic nicotine-based pesticides has grown steadily. Honey bees have contributed to our survival for the past 20,000 years and it’s time we showed them similar courtesy. These banned pesticides are still widely used on NZ crops (eg.corn) and sold to the public in garden centres (eg. the Confidor brand). Bee photo by Sophie Huber.

There are other way to deal with pests without harming bees:

It is high time we returned to Integrated Pest Management (IPM) – an approach focussed on minimising pesticide use, maximising the number of biological control agents, using cultural controls such as crop rotations, and monitoring pest numbers so that chemical controls only need be applied when there is a problem.– Prof David Goulson

Simple Pleasures

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Digging new potatoes, eating fresh bread and honey, walking on the beach, smelling sweet peas … in truth, almost anything but moving house.

Simple pleasures act as nodes of amplification of the astonishing in our everyday lives. – James Le Fanu

Photo: Rose hips on Skippers Walkway

5 Ways to Save the Bees

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

The latest on the pesticide threat to bees (see Nicotine Bees) is a small victory: a garden supplier has removed the words ‘low toxic to beneficial insects’ from an advertisement for  Confidor. This pesticide is extremely toxic to the world’s most beneficial insect, the honey bee. These nicotine-based pesticides are banned in Europe because of links to bee deaths. They stay in the plant right through to flowering – so bees are poisoned by pollen, nectar, dust, and water. Latest research shows how the pesticides contribute to the bee crisis by exposing bees from multiple sources. Photo: Sarah Anderson.

5 Ways to Save the Bees:

  1. Avoid chemicals such as Confidor,  Poncho, Advantage, Marathon, Merit and Admire (grotesque names).
  2. Buy local honey.
  3. Grow bee-friendly plants, such as lavender.
  4. Let there be weeds; let the broccoli go to seed.
  5. Put out clean water in a shallow dish.

Nicotine Bees

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

The home garden supplier, Yates, advertises a handy spray-can of pesticide as ‘low toxic to beneficial insects’ and ‘soft on beneficial insects’. Lies. The pesticide is extremely toxic to the world’s most beneficial insect, the honey bee – a nerve poison 7000 times more lethal than DDT. The pesticide (Confidor) contains nicotine-based poisons which are now banned in France, Italy, Germany, and Slovenia, because of links to massive bee deaths.

These nicotine pesticides (‘neonicotinoids’) are widely used on NZ crops and are now available to the public. Labelling them ‘soft’ on pollinators is biting the hand the feeds us. Bees have been our partners for ages– our important foods need bee pollination. Neonicotinoid pesticides are systemic – the whole plant remains toxic right through to flowering. If spray drift doesn’t kill them, bees could be poisoned by pollen, nectar, and drinking water. Even sub-lethal doses weaken bees’ reproduction, immune systems, navigation, and memory.

Government agencies are not restricting neonicotinoids, so we all need to act: suppliers can label honestly; garden shops can warn customers; and gardeners can avoid ‘handy’ poisons.  Neonicotinoids are in these products: Confidor, Advantage, Merit and Admire (what shameless names).

Evidence: Scientific studies/reports; Nicotine Bees (movie); UN Bee Report; EPA Memostudent journalist challenges Yates.