Nature’s early spring blossoms beauty wow factor is a tonic after our dreary, long, muddy and wet winter. It’s time to enjoy the random bursts of blue flowers and bee-friendly plants.
Retirement I’ve discovered is just a word. Life got busier in the two years since we returned to New Zealand in 2011.
In this time Himself and I have pulled out the old swimming pool, planted 100 gum trees for coppicing firewood, felled and cleared a shelter-belt trees, demolished the polyhouse that was storm-damaged during our absence, redecorated our lounge (still more rooms to do), daily care for three grandsons, attacked weeds, tended animals and so it the list goes on, In our tired moments we dream to be our physical 30-year old selves again. Then we wake up.
In 2014 autumn, I want to develop the area we filled in after removing the pool. So far I’ve cleared old plants. It’s quite a large rectangular, sheltered, sunny space bordered by the house and a shed leading to the driveway. I’m dreaming of and researching ways to freshen this area and yet keep it simple. For the first time I’m developing a gardening plan. Much of my approach to gardening over the years has been casual and has evolved to suit whims, soil and available materials. I’ve made lots of mistakes. One thing I know – think first about soil and environment.
And thinking about soil and environment, we planted 100 eucalypts for five reasons. We need shade and shelter for animals, Swamp gums should improve the drainage of the boggy paddock. Provide a carbon soak. Food source for bees and birds. Sustainable firewood. In May, I bought and planted two-year root stocks. Months later these trees are all healthy and shooting up fast.
Bees seem to have vanished from my garden. I’m not getting much of a buzz. My orchard is a feast for the senses. The plum, apple and quince trees are smothered with sweet nectar-filled white blossoms. The calendula, broad beans, borage and lavender and other companion plantings under my fruit trees are gaudy in their their orange, yellow, purple and blue scented array. Spring has well and truly arrived here. In my blog (September 2007), I couldn’t ignore the buzzing in my garden. But now, one year later, I see and hear only a handful of bees working among the blossoms. Where is the rest of the horde? It has been the wettest of winters. And I know the varroa mite has wreaked havoc on the nation’s hives. The silence in my garden scares me.
Transfixed as we are by the seriousness of economic woes and global credit crunch fallout, there’s a serious ecological problem that has just as far-reaching and potentially devastating consequences for people everywhere. We must pay attenion to the chain of events happening in our food producing habitats. Prescient words echo down the decades in a quote (15 April 1964) from Rachel Carson’s obituary published in The New York Times.
“Now, I truly believe, that we in this generation, must come to terms with nature, and I think we’re challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves.”
Earlier this year when Mum was dying of cancer, my brothers, sister and I recalled how when we were kids, DDT was mixed into the fertilizer that was spread by agricultural top-dressing trucks and planes in white billowing dust clouds over the local farms. I can still ‘smell’ the DDT as I write this. There was the economic imperative to develop farms in those days. I’m not exactly sure what made Dad change his farming practice, but he did so by the 1960s. Others in Mum’s age group in the district have succumbed to the same cancer. We haven’t been able to get conclusive answers that may link the cancer to DDT. There seems to be a wall of silence. I have digressed somewhat from the vanished bees. One consequence of the application of this insecticide is that DDT remains in the soil. It may be residual DDT is part of the explanation for the silence of the bees.
The health of honey bees is critical to the well-being of humans. In my blog (September 2007), I mentioned how Mum was buoyed by a book The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton Porter. So I was interested during my web search to read Joe Brewer, (25 August, 2007), Rockridge Institute, Berkeley, CA. Bee Keeper’s Wisdom for Human Flourishing. www.celsias.com/article/bee-keepers-wisdom-for-human-flourishing.
Back to bringing a buzz back into my garden. I’m not alone in my concerns about vanishing bees. An article (October 8, 2008) gives pointers and describes Californian farmers work in re-developing native bee habitats.
“With honeybee populations weakened by disease and the mysterious malady known as Colony Collapse Disorder, farmers place new focus on work to benefit native pollinators. Decisions by farmers and ranchers to replace bare ground along irrigation ditches and roadways with native plants, trees and grasses, in order to encourage beneficial insects and eliminate weeds, have evolved into a movement to bring native bees back to the farming landscape.”
I trawled the net for advice and insights to the nature of my gardening problem with the thought there must be something further I can do in my backyard. There’s any number of websites and blogs about colony collapse disorder and bees.
NZ newspaper item (6 October 2008) Fears that bee colony disease is here.
National Beekeepers’ Association of New Zealand (25 September 2008) posted a Radio NZ report on the declining bee numbers. www.nba.org.nz
Linda Moulton Howe (31 August 2008) wrote about the poor health of honey bees. www.earthfiles.com/news.php?ID=1466&category=Environment