I am on some of the Facebook gardening groups, and there seems to be a buzz across the board about bees! Not about keeping bees, but about how few we are seeing in our gardens, and I see it my garden too. Bees love certain spots in my garden, they LOVE the sage and salvia flowers, bees simply can’t resist clover – which is starting to flower right now, and they go gaga for catmint. But in the last two weeks I have counted just three bees. And it is not just bees, my garden is quiet. I have not seen many bugs at all, especially flying bugs.
Who knows what the reason is, it could be the mild winter, the cool spring, the cold snap, the prolific amounts of pollen everywhere – maybe bees just don’t have to forage. Maybe all they have to do is dust the hive (or they could come dust my house, pollen has been everywhere this spring!) I did call our town to see if they had done any spraying, and they hadn’t – they sent me over to Plymouth County Mosquito control. I have not heard back from them yet, but in the meantime, I did my own research, and what I found, was staggering.
What I looked at was land use, specifically, how many acres in the U.S are committed to agricultural uses (cropland and pasture), and how many acres are committed to urban use. I then looked at average annual spend on herbicides, which includes fertilizers, per acre for each, and I found that the average home owner spends three times per acre more than our farmers for herbicides. Okay, so we are paying retail, and farmers are buying in bulk. But then, this article is not about the weeds, it’s about the bees. Right? So I did the same exercise for pesticides, and guess, what, we are bug-a-phoebes! Here the average spend of homeowners was nearly 15 times higher and although I didn’t give it a graph, when I included commercial and industrial spend, non-farmers spent 21 times more on pesticides than farmers did.
I think we come down on farmers because a) there is much more farmland than urban area – for each acre of urban area, there are 17 acres of farmland and grassland/pasture. That makes farmers the custodians of a large chunk of our land. And b) what farmers are growing, is the food we put in our bodies – so of course we care about what they are doing to it!
Those of you that have been with us a while know how I feel about agricultural monocultures and industrial farming, of course. I am not condoning these practices. But what about our responsibility? As custodians? We raise our children in urban areas, we visit recreational ponds which are the ultimate catchment areas for our garden run off during the rain. In my rational mind, I understand that I cannot dictate what my neighbors do in their homes and gardens, and I understand that mosquitos and ticks spread diseases that are no laughing matter – but the toxic load of our environment is no laughing matter either, and sacrificing one for the other will not prevent us from getting sick, just look at the out of control cancer statistics.
Ultimately, we have to be responsible too. Our communities cannot point fingers for the disappearance of the honey bee, or the large number of butterflies whose numbers are dwindling. We are a part of that problem, and as a community, we need to collaborate, educate, and make better, organic, and healthy choices for our gardens and open spaces.
By Pamela Denholm