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Feeding the Bees

Road to Resilience

Last week, Mary Shackelford wrote a great article about how pesticides and herbicides are poisoning our bees. One more caveat, which I think is mentioned on many products, is that even organic poisons must not be applied to plants when in flower, and that, of course, is because bees will be visiting those flowers.

Maintaining a healthy population of bees also requires a steady food supply. What I would like to talk about is what you should grow if you want a healthy and vigorous bee population and a lot of local honey. Bees need forage from February until October. There are plenty of flowering plants with nectar from April through July, but there are often gaps before and after, which can mean the difference between a healthy hive and a dead one.

Bees forage over a 2-3 mile radius around their hive. That means they require millions of flowers. A small patch in one person’s garden or another isn’t going to make the difference by itself. It is important that we all plant to fill those gaps.

Our native chickweed gets special mention as an almost year round source of high quality nectar and pollen, so leave the chickweed in your garden. The bees don’t get out much in February, but for the occasional nice day, natives such as willow, hazelnut, and miner’s lettuce are also important sources of nectar and/or pollen. You should consider planting heather and crocus, both great early sources of nectar, heather being one of the highest in sugar content. March is not too bad as alder provides a huge source of pollen and big leaf maple provides both nectar and pollen.

During the main growing season, three of the most nutritious sources of nectar are also often unwanted species by humans, blackberry, clover, and dandelion. You might give them a reprieve, but if you must remove them, be sure to do it manually, not with chemicals! The same goes for buttercup, ivy, holly, and Scotch broom (no reprieve recommended there).

For the fall, one of the most prolific and nutritious sources you can plant is asters. Borage and poppies are good also, and your chickweed, clover and dandelions will still be providing.

My main recommendation would be to plant more flowers, but, in particular, to plant heather, crocus, and asters in your garden and sow clover in your lawn. The bees will love it and will provide us with pollinated fruit and "nectar of the gods".

I want to thank Toby Nichols for his respectful and articulate response to my article on ferries. I think he mischaracterizes my position on our current easy access to good jobs and the best of big city culture and entertainment. What’s not to like? My position is that there is a very good probability that we will have a low energy future whether we like it or not. As I stated, and Toby did as well, there would be serious consequences for us here without our ferries. We are utterly dependent on our ferries, and that is precisely why we need to consider how we can be more resilient as a community should such a thing occur. We have accepted Vashon Be Prepared’s warning that we need to be prepared for short term ferry interruptions; we need to build systemic resilience into our community that would greatly facilitate our response in an emergency situation. It’s just common sense.

I admit that I do like the idea of being more self reliant and producing more of what we need right here on Vashon, and I would like to see us do that just because it’s the right thing to do regardless of the energy supply in the future. I also feel that regardless of whether resource scarcity forces us to cut back, we still need to do it to try to keep climate change 40 years down the road from making our planet uninhabitable for our grandchildren. In any case, choosing to make changes now will be far less traumatic and may turn out to be an engaging challenge that produces many benefits that we don’t currently foresee. Again, I thank Toby for opening the dialogue; let’s keep talking about this!

Speaking of climate change, Transition Vashon will be presenting a skype (interactive teleconference via the internet) presentation on the latest on climate change on Saturday, May 19, at 1pm at the Land Trust Building. The Climate Awareness Project, the organization that Al Gore started, is bringing the presentation to us. We are excited about learning to use this technology! The possibility of accessing speakers from all over the world for interactive sessions with a live audience is really promising. Come see how it works and bring your tough climate change questions.