When we lived on the west coast we rarely had a lawn. Let’s face it – water is next to gold in California, grass is incredibly thirsty, and anyway, I would always opt for vegetables and perennial beds given the choice. Therefore the etiquette of sod is not a familiar practice in my life.
Fast forward to Minnesota, where we now live, and where the Religion of the Lawn seems primal and sacred. We now have grass, almost an acre of it, and learning the rules has been hit and miss. For our first two seasons, we hired Blair to take care of it, and that was that. This year, T.M. decided that he needed the exercise and it would be more economical if he got himself a mower and a weed-wacker and joined the guys in the neighborhood in the weekly pursuit of lawn improvement.
Last year I did worry that adjacent pristine green carpets were being inundated by our dandelions, and being an organic gardener, disdained the usual fix – something called 2-4-D – and ordered the latest hot, organic treatment, corn gluten meal. The only problem was that it was a bit pricey and, it now appears, takes at least three seasons of application to even begin to do the job. So this year, with more dandelions than ever, I proposed that good old-fashioned approach – hand digging!
After two days we had a few barrels full of dandelions, only a fraction of weeded lawn, and two very sore bodies.
It was at that point that I came across another thoughtful article about bees in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune, which sparked a spirited debate online among Minnesota Master Gardeners, and led to the good news and the bad news.
Kim Palmer, writing in “The Trib,” began her piece by stating what we already know – “Pollinators are in peril. Dire reports of colony collapse disorder, an umbrella term for steep population declines, have been making news for several years. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a study finding that 31 percent of honeybee colonies died over the winter.” She went on to explain that a third of the plants in our diet are pollinated by honeybees. So this isn’t just a heart-bust cause for science and bee geeks, but it is a universal food concern for the planet. That’s part of the bad news.
Palmer also stressed the necessity of individuals planting bee-friendly flowering plants in their gardens – monarda (bee balm), purple prairie clover, rudbeckia (black eyed susan), eupatorium (Joe Pye weed), Echinacea (purple coneflower), echinops (globe thistle) – to name a few. And yes, it’s easy to feel that your little garden plot could not possibly save the world and reverse this concerning trend, but I say “Why not try!” And I do. So that’s part of the good news.
The really good news came about when a fellow Master Gardener commented on the fact that the honey bees were blissing out on his dandelions. Thank you Craig! I don’t want to annoy the neighbors, but I hope they understand that this is for a greater cause, a nobler enterprise. Together we can save the planet. Not to mention, possibly keep the bunnies, who love the yellow blossoms, out of the chard and broccoli.
But here’s the really bad news. Kim Palmer, in her article, unleashed a truly horrifying fact. “Plants bought at a garden center also carry the potential of having been exposed to pesticides, including systemic neonicotinoids, which are especially insidious. They get into the tissue of the plant, and it ends up in the pollen and the nectar. People buy pesticide-laced plants and take them home, without realizing they’re introducing something that will kill, not nourish, bees.”
So here I sit, looking at my monarda and asclepias and thistles and coneflower, all ready to plant in my new front garden bed. Wondering if the growing nursery where they originated, inoculated them with neonicotinoids? I “thought” I was helping the cause, doing my little part, planting some yummies for the honey bees. But maybe I’m just feeding their demise with my ill-gotten efforts?
To make the bad news even worse, another Minnesota Master Gardener chimed in with the news that she had attended a workshop last year where two Twin Cities major nurseries admitted they regularly sprayed neonicotinoids on all their greenhouse plants to counter “bad bugs.” So the culprit might come from the initial grower, and only be reinforced by the local nursery.
Now, what’s to be done? I know if I go to Nature’s Garden World and Outdoor Renovations and ask them (politely, of course) if their nursery stock is “high” on nicotine, they will most likely look at me in consternation and alarm, and profess innocence and ignorance. And I’m certain that in reality, they have no idea. I must admit, I’m stumped. I thought I was doing my part by planting all the prescribed bee-friendly plants. I believed I had Big Ag’s back (even if they didn’t know it). And I reveled in the belief that Mom would be proud of my horticultural activism.
Now I’m swinging from the good news to the bad news.
And here’s the latest bad news. I chuckled a few moments ago as the bunny nibbled below on dandelions. “Good gardening choice,” I thought, as I wished him well. But at second glance he was into the perennial bed and decimating a delphinium.
Bee-ware. It’s a war out there.