The Buzz of Enlightenment

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It’s not what you think…

If you’ve been to this website before you know it’s important to us to keep the environmental impact low as we go about the business of growing and selling flowers. It doesn’t stop there. Several years back with the help of the Natural Resource Conservation Service, an arm of the USDA, a dedicated pollinator habitat was created to provide more habitat and foraging opportunities for our diverse native bee population. The more well-known are wild honey bees, bumble bees, leaf cutters, mining and mason bees; but New England is home to more than 200 species! The guidelines for creating an effective habitat require a wide array of native New England flowers and grasses, and that at least 3 varieties are blooming at any time from early spring through the fall.  It took a few years, but now the native wildflower meadow is thriving. Add to that another acre or so of returning perennials and new annuals every season and the result is an oasis not just for bees, but butterflies and hummingbirds as well.

Along with the success of the pollinator habitat for the native bee population came thoughts of bringing in more bees to help combat the crisis occurring in the general bee population. Delving into the prospect of adding a honey bee hive among the natives uncovered plenty of research suggesting there could be lasting negative effects. The BIG QUESTION was:  “Can managed hives be detrimental to a native bee population?”  With so many facets of species design, habitat, and behavior to consider, it seemed logical to seek more information at a local chapter meeting of beekeepers hosted by the state’s Dept. of Agriculture Resources Apiary Program. Not to dismiss the efforts of well-intentioned folks wanting to do their part to increase the bee population, it was great to see so many local beekeepers with genuine interest in doing something good.

Enjoy your backyard tomatoes? You’re welcome!

The meeting did highlight, though, the temperamental nature of honey bee hives, fraught with mites, bacteria and fungal infestations, not to mention the more familiar but still mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder. Even without a disease presence, the failure rate of hives through winter is remarkably high nationwide and even higher in our state. It also showed that the majority of beekeepers do not understand the foraging behavior of their bees. And without that understanding, the state expert admitted that hive overcrowding exists and can cause food shortages for all the bees in some areas, with greater health effects on the native species.

Having gone in with hopes of finding some answers to the many questions percolating in my head, information taken away from the meeting provided even more reason to be concerned. Some key points that follow are examples of how individual points may seem, on their own, beneficial or at least harmless…but when the points start connecting, a wholly different picture is revealed, and it can be quite prophetic and alarming:

  •      The honey bee managed today is not native to North America.  Apis Mellifera was brought over in 1622 for honey and wax production. Today’s managed honey bee is a general pollinator, which means it pollinates a variety of plants and is therefore useful on factory farms with vast expanses of crops to pollinate.  According to the Virginia Farm Bureau, honey bees now pollinate 80% of US crops.
  •      However, the honey bee also favors the nectar of many invasive species like purple loosestrife, Japanese Knotweed and Russian Olive in our region…and yet is unable to pollinate many beneficial species of Native American plants.
  •      Because it is a social insect with a hive mentality, it is more likely to sting, swarm, and be more aggressive than other bee species when competing for food resources or defending the hive.  Most native bees are solitary and quite docile. Many field studies have shown that the more aggressive honey bee chases other bee species from flowers, even the substantial bumblebee! As a result, native bees can suffer with declined health and reproduction.
  •      Honey bees have very short mouthparts and are not designed for feeding on deeper flowers.  Many native North American plants rely exclusively on native bee species that have evolved ideally for pollination.  Without enough “short” flowers to feed on, honey bees will chew through the base of flowers to get at the nectar they cannot otherwise reach. If food supply is short, the more aggressive honey bee still gets the spoils and the native bee adapted for that plant goes hungry.
  •      Some plants such as blueberries, cranberries, kiwis, potatoes, tomatoes, peas and peppers require “vibration pollination”, a service carried out solely by the specialized bumblebee.
  •      There are 4,000 native North American bee species. Now, that’s diversity!
  •      Honey bees are susceptible to many diseases and parasitic infestations including, but not limited to, Colony Collapse Disorder, varroa mites, nosema fungus, and American and European Foulbrood, a highly infectious and fatal bacterial disease affecting developing larvae that, once detected requires incineration of hives, since spores can remain viable for up to 40 years. Other treatments for different hive disorders include oxalic acid and gamma ray irradiation. While some diseases and infestations are not transferable to native bee species, others are. A healthy bee can be contaminated by visiting the same flower visited by an infected bee.
  • Bees have a foraging range of miles, so even at a some distance they can become competitors.

Countless examples throughout world history show humans attempting to solve a problem by doing something that creates even bigger problems down the road.  We are NOT great at foresight and toss simple answers at complex problems, only to make them worse. We are putting all our eggs in this one, rickety honey bee basket whose handle is nearly ready to break off, getting frighteningly close to being fully reliant on the precarious honey bee for our food crops. Thanks to short-sightedness and selfish destruction of critical habitats like wildflower meadows, grasslands and riparian habitats necessary for native bee populations to thrive, we have further weakened the survivors by exposing generations to toxic pesticides and insecticides. Bringing in honey bee hives is not the solution; in fact, it is exacerbating the problem by displacing the natives already stressed by habitat loss.  We need to focus on bringing back native bees by creating more habitats for these diverse species, for they are uniquely adapted to exist harmoniously with our native plants. Mother Nature wisely favors diversity because diversity increases chances for survival, which begets adaptation and furthers evolution. By continuing to favor the imported honey bee over our own native species, we could be headed towards a world where native plant extinction becomes as real an issue as animal extinction and the bulk of greenery in the future world is found in vast expanses of farmed food crops.

So…forget the honey and plant a wildflower garden!

*There is a wealth of information on the effect of honey bees on the environment, and the link below is a good place to start.*

https://blog.education.nationalgeographic.org/2018/01/29/honey bees-help-farmers-but-they-dont-help-the-environment/

 

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Balancing a Business

Our Earth is in trouble.

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Since the industrial revolution we have been creating products with little to no regard for the limits of our natural resources, the environmental impact of production, practicality, or actual needs of consumers, and then carelessly disposing of these products at the end of their use. Conservation measures are increasingly important to combat the growing environmental threat of capitalism and the relentless grind of commerce that marries greed, convenience and inherent waste in an irresistible package.

In our small, niche business, which is growing and selling cut flowers, growing green means planting our flowers in our own soil from seeds, bulbs and dry roots. With lots of help from Mother Nature we are able to offer flowers grown without herbicides, pesticides, and strong chemical fertilizers and sold on the same premises with no transportation, storage or marketing costs.  We are passionate about conservation and being environmentally responsible as we conduct the business of growing and selling flowers; after all, the reason we began growing so many flower varieties was to increase the health of the the land and provide more food and habitat for the creatures that live among us.  Our cut flower business evolved as a means to share the abundance of flowers with area residents.  Although the fresh flower market is said to appeal to less than 10% of the general population, it’s a safe bet to say that folks who love flowers are generally eco-minded as well. We’d like to appeal to that frame of mind by offering a quick overview of the challenges a business like ours can face.

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Sunflower at sunset

I grow flowers using environmentally responsible practices and market them to my local customers by way of a Google Maps and Search presence, an informative website and blog, and by appealing to potential customers with signage, but word-of–mouth is my best salesman and I meet my customers face-to-face, ready to talk with anyone who has questions about what we do and how we can provide flowers for their needs.

Growing crops from the ground up is hard enough work for even the casual gardener puttering away hours in a backyard garden from spring until fall, hoping to wrangle some usable fruits, vegetable and flowers from the earth when all is said and done. Add to that toil the eccentricities of a changing climate and a grower can find herself at odds, rather than in harmony, with Mother Nature and whether she decides to be cruel, kind, or indifferent, she wins every season of every year.

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The best a small farmer like me can hope for is to find that balance.  Every year we learn more about what our customers want and the best way for us to meet those needs and keep our little flower business viable.

Moving the farm stand away from the street and further up the driveway last summer was a culture shock to many folks who had gotten used to seeing our flower bouquets from the street but many more ventured into the new space, pleasantly surprised at the array of hand-made gifts from local artisans that complemented our flower sales.  Still others visited for the first time after finding us online using Google Search or Google Maps. However customers happened by Zawadzki Farm, we’ve heard only good things about our flowers, our prices, and our efforts in supporting increasingly at-risk pollinators and keeping the land natural and healthy.

After much thought in how best to find greater balance in managing the flowers, keeping costs and waste to a minimum, AND providing our customers with the most beautiful, reasonably priced, responsibly grown cut flowers, the farm store will be open weekends for sales of ready-made bouquets.  SPECIAL ORDERS and REQUESTS will be made to order by calling at least 24 hours in advance OR by using the new online ordering page on this website.  You can pay by PayPal or major credit card.

We’ll post what’s blooming with pictures throughout the season so you can see what’s new to help you decide what to order…think Spring!

 

 

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The End of an Era for a Grand-Stander

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The enormous poplar tree that has majestically stood overlooking our farm for the better part of a century saw its last sunrise today. My mother recalled recently that this tree was already huge when she was a child.  After decades of enduring ice storms, hurricanes, regular high winds, at least two lightning strikes we know of, and eventual disease, signs were mounting that this tree had more years standing behind it than in front of it. Many large limbs fell off over the years, but thanks to Divine Providence no real damage or injury occurred.  Even with salvage pruning by Brother Mike in spikes to try to stave off the eventual sadness, this grand 95-foot-tall monument, today, lost its limbs, safely, thanks to the skilled two-man crew of Lamoreaux Landscaping. It’s impressive (as well as alarming ) how quickly a few hands can make short work of such a big job (and decades of life…think Amazon Rain Forest and try not to cry).



Such a magnificent presence should be remembered and honored for all the life it supported, the shade it gave, and the beauty of its mere existence.  I’ll admit to shedding a tear as the tree was pared down.  After all it was here before us (and our parents) and was part of our lives every day.  Rather than having it cut down fully and the stump ground out, leaving no trace of its place in this world, we had the crew leave a good portion of the trunk standing to support new life–not only will the local woodpeckers have a field day for years to come, but also a flowering vine will be planted at the tree’s base to eventually encompass the deeply grooved bark and reach the top of the standing trunk. Even in its abbreviated state the beauty and purpose of the poplar can endure.

Eventually, the massive trunk will crumble beneath the vine over the years, but at over six feet in diameter, that should take quite awhile. If the former glory of this beautiful tree ends up still retaining a presence on the farm long after we’re gone,  that would be just fine and more than fair. Such a rich existence shouldn’t be so easily erased. And in the meantime, while we are still around, we don’t fully have to say goodbye.

 

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