Save the Bees! post for ecoetsy.com

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When you think about animals vital to human survival, bees and their fellow pollinators are right at the top of the list. Without bees, crops don’t grow, and we don’t get to eat real food. For a few years now, researchers and gardeners alike have been wringing their hands over the mass disappearance of so many bees, known under the collective name Colony Collapse Disorder.

Several culprits were named, including cellphone towers and radio waves, while some organic gardeners quietly began to question the role of pesticides intended to kill harmful insects. Unfortunately, even though the makers of these products promised us they were safe, the evidence is rolling in like a tidal wave, and it’s really no longer possible to believe those assurances. The true killer is looking undoubtedly like a product produced by Bayer Crop Science, called a neonicotinoid, which is a synthetic derivative of nicotine. It works by attacking insects’ nervous systems, and not just the insects you want affected. Tom Phillpot explains how in this Mother Jones article:

Neonicotinoids are what’s known as “systemic,” meaning they suffuse and “express” themselves in the whole plant when it germinates, including nectar and pollen. That’s precisely what makes them so effective at attacking pests—and, unfortunately, “nontarget” species like honeybees and other beneficial insects too.

Now here’s the truly scary news: It’s not just big industrial growers using these harmful products. They’re right in your own lawn and garden center, and quite possibly in your or your neighbor’s yard. Do any of these products look familiar?

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Again, from Mother Jones:

Take a close look at the label, and you’ll find that its one active pesticide ingredient is imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid. “Apply granules to soil around base of plant, sprinkling evenlyin the area under branches,” the instructions state. How does the product work? Bayer provides a helpful explanation right on the label:
This product is absorbed by roots and moves through the entire plant. Even new growth is fed and protected against insects for up to 8 weeks. Rain or watering cannot wash off this internal protection!
That’s great news for your flower garden—and bad news for honeybees and other benign insects that your flowers might be beckoning with pollen and nectar.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, a new report out by the American Bird Conservancy indicates that these pesticides may not only be harming bees, but birds and some amphibious species. The synopsis states that “This report reviews the effects on avian species and concludes that neonicotinoids are lethal to birds as well as to the aquatic systems on which they depend.” You can read that report here (PDF) in it’s entirety.

Environmental Agencies in both the US and EU have been pressured by concerned organizations to ban these products, but have so far caved to industry pressure and not done so. According to HuffPo, in the EU, Syngenta and Bayer have proposed a “Bee Health Plan” to try and avoid government action. The plan consists of “the planting of more flowering margins around fields to provide bee habitats as well as monitoring to detect the neonicotinoid pesticides blamed for their decline and more research into the impact of parasites and viruses.”

Here in the US, according to NBC, a group of “four professional beekeepers and five environmental and consumer groups… filed a lawsuit against the EPA in the Northern District Court of California, demanding that the regulatory agency suspend the use of pesticides clothianidin and thiamethoxam.”
“Beekeepers and environmental and consumer groups have demonstrated time and time again over the last several years that EPA needs to protect bees. The agency has refused, so we’ve been compelled to sue,” said Peter Jenkins, a lawyer for the Center for Food Safety who is representing the coalition of plaintiffs.”

If you’d like to make your voice heard, Care has a petition to the EPA over here. Talk to your local garden stores about the products mentioned above, or help educate your friends and neighbors about their potential dangers. Try your hand at natural pest control (more on that in a future post) and plant more pollinator friendly organic flowers like bee balm and butterfly bush.

The effects of these neonicotinoids is immediate, and irreversible. We need our bees and our pollinators for our very survival, so action must be takes as soon as possible to get these products out of our ecosystem.

(this post was originally written for the ecoetsy team blog, and is saved here for my convenience)

Buying Seeds

I saw this post over the weekend, and pretty much had to link over to it since it’s just about the time to start planting seeds and seedlings.

IF YOU ARE THE KIND OF GARDENER who buys vegetable seeds or seedlings (including tomato plants) from a local garden center, as I sometimes do, beware the varieties you select. Otherwise, you could very well be putting money into the hands of the wretched Monsanto Corporation. Forewarned is forearmed, right? Here is the list of Seminis/Monsanto home-garden vegetable varieties, and yes, it even includes zucchini:

I do buy varieties from a couple local nurseries, and while I try to go to the small ones first, sometimes they are out of what I want, so Lowe’s it is. The list over at AGardenForTheHouse blog will go right into my wallet so I can double check before I buy.

(please note: the list is not implying all those varieties are genetically modified. However, I don’t want to give Monsanto a penny if I can help it, so that’s why this list is important. You’ll probably notice there are some heirloom varieties on this list. Don’t panic. Some varieties can be from multiple sources, so if it’s an heirloom and it’s on this list, just ask your seller where they buy from)

Pecan Pie with Agave Nectar

This year, I made my first ever pecan pie, and it only took 6 months!

Heh, just kidding, but it did start in June with a visit by a hrududu:

Under all that insanely overgrown wisteria, were three glorious old pecan trees. We’ve been here 5 years though, and never gotten any edible pecans. Well, apparently the largest of the three trees was sending us a thank-you for rescuing it from the vines’ stranglehold, because I must have picked up close to 15 pounds of pecans in the last month:

So, of course there had to be pie.

However, I couldn’t find any corn syrup I felt good about using, so I decided to see what would happen if I subbed agave nectar for it. The answer? Well, it tasted fantastic, but in the next round I think I might add another egg or chop the pecans up smaller, as the ability of it to maintain a “slice” shape was a little pathetic. Yes, we had pecan cobbler =D

(which is why you only get a photo before it was sliced into, lol)

However, here’s what I put into it, if you bake and have suggestions, I’m all ears for a consistency helper!

1 1/3 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup agave nectar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp grand marnier
2 1/2 cups pecans

and on this note, I think I’m going to go get another slice! Merry Christmas y’all!

take THAT Monsanto!

While I’m sure this decision is going to go back and forth in the courts for a while, this little bit of good news is certainly worth celebrating:

Purveyors of conventional and genetically-modified (GM) crops — and the pesticides and herbicides that accompany them — are finally getting a taste of their own legal medicine. Minnesota’s Star Tribune has reported that the Minnesota Court of Appeals recently ruled that a large organic farm surrounded by chemical-laden conventional farms can seek damages for lost crops, as well as lost profits, caused by the illegal trespassing of pesticides and herbicides on its property.

You can read the rest over on Natural News. and also in the local Star Tribune

Garden 2011

The garden’s been a little slow this year. Things got planted late, and then we realized nothing was getting enough sun, because trees keep growing. Who knew? *cough* Now that the wisteria has been demolished, however, we’re getting back to some awesome growth. Yay.

berries are on the other side and out front, plus there’s an herb garden and more beans up by the patio. so far so good!

mosquito repellent, V2.0

You may remember last year I posted this recipe from Re-Nest for home-made mosquito repellent using rosemary and catnip.
Well, I never was able to thoroughly test that stuff because every time I put some on, I got mobbed by several furry beasties. They also made sure my catnip plants never really produced much of an end product.

However, after reading an article about grapefruit and mosquitos, I decided to try a slightly different approach. So far so good, although it’s still early in the season. I didn’t get bitten once shoveling mulch yesterday, which is quite an improvement.

Here’s the recipe, altho it’s so super simple and adaptable you hardly even need one.

rubbing alcohol or cheap vodka
grapefruit oil (not extract… oil)
lavender oil
rosemary oil
tangerine oil

Put about 4 oz. of the alcohol into a mister bottle, then add about 60 drops of grapefruit oil and about 40 drops of lavender and rosemary. The tangerine was just for added scent, you could swap that out for anything you find pleasing.
Shake it up and spray it on! I like to keep the bottle in the fridge or cooler because you’ll need to re-apply up to every half hour depending on how much you’re sweating and how vicious your mosquitos are. Keeping it cold means it’s just that much more of a treat to re-spray on a hot day.

If you prefer to use an all over oil, use the same proportions in a 4 oz bottle of grapeseed or almond oil. You can either rub or spray this on as well.

die, Wisteria, die!

This is what we did last weekend. The photo doesn’t look that impressive without perspective, but let’s just say that pile is almost as tall as I am. We’re determined to finally clear the lot of our rental of these awful wisteria vines that previous owners let grow unchecked for decades. It’s terrible, terrible stuff and killed off most of the trees in the lot already, but it looks like we’ll be able to save two of the pecan trees. I hope.
So much more to go!!!!

A little reminder about that dozen roses you might be sending next week

This was originally written last year, but I thought it was a good time to link back to it, and I’ve got an update on sustainable sources for you coming tomorrow!

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With Valentine’s Day coming up, you might be thinking about buying someone you love a bouquet of flowers. Or, maybe you’re just tired of these cold, dreary days and want to brighten up a corner of your room. Then again, maybe you did the Apartment Therapy Fall Cure and a weekly floral splurge has made it to your permanent shopping list.
Whatever the reason, flowers are one of the fastest ways to bring a smile to someone’s face, especially mine!

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Unfortunately, there can be a downside to flower buying, and it’s one that rarely gets discussed, even in circles where local food and organic produce is the norm. Since I don’t want to give up that little vase of happiness, I decided to figure out the most responsible way that I could enjoy this little treat.

Before we get there, however, let’s take a hard look at why there’s a problem in the first place. I have to warn you, this is a real downer, but once you know, you can take steps to change your behavior. In turn, if enough of us change our behavior, we can change the system. But first, buckle up, this is a bumpy ride.
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Here’s part ONE of the discussion: I want to buy you Flowers, Pt 1

and here’s part TWO: I want to buy you flowers, Pt 2

stay tuned tomorrow for an update on the most sustainable sources for flower delivery tomorrow!