NZ Gardener - - CONTENTS - Jo McCar­roll Poet Kahlil Gi­bran

Jo McCar­roll is abuzz about bees… and call­ing on you to be part of our cam­paign to help them out

We love bees here at NZ Gar­dener and I’m go­ing to as­sume that if you are read­ing this mag­a­zine you love them too. I mean, who doesn’t love bees? They pol­li­nate many of the crops we eat and the flow­ers we grow. They work hard – so hard that a cou­ple of years ago the Min­istry of Pri­mary In­dus­tries es­ti­mated bees and other pol­li­na­tors helped de­liver $5 bil­lion a year to the New Zealand bot­tom line. Yet they never ask for a salary. Which is sur­pris­ing be­cause bees are clearly very good at maths. (A hon­ey­comb is con­sid­ered one of the most math­e­mat­i­cally ef­fi­cient ar­chi­tec­tural de­signs in ex­is­tence.)

Bees are not the only pol­li­na­tors out there of course. Na­tive bees, bum­ble­bees, wasps, ants, flies, but­ter­flies, birds, mam­mals, even the wind: they all play an im­por­tant role in the big­ger pol­li­na­tion pic­ture. Here at NZ Gar­dener we find a lot to love about most of them too.

(I es­pe­cially love bum­ble­bees. Bum­ble­bees are so smart that a study this year in the UK found they could learn to ma­noeu­vre a ball to get to sugar wa­ter just by watch­ing some­one else com­plete the task. In another study bum­bles worked out how to pull on a string to ac­cess food; the only in­ver­te­brate that has been able to do so. Admittedly only two of 110 bum­ble­bees in the test fig­ured it out by them­selves, but those two then showed the other 108, and went on to teach the bees back in the hive.)

As I as­sume you know al­ready, bees and pol­li­na­tors are fac­ing some chal­lenges right now. Bee pop­u­la­tions in much of the world have sharply de­clined partly due to the mys­te­ri­ous phe­nom­e­non colony col­lapse dis­or­der, which might be caused by mites, a virus or fun­gus, pes­ti­cides or in­dus­tri­alised agri­cul­ture. Pos­si­bly it’s a com­bi­na­tion of all these.

The sit­u­a­tion in New Zealand is dif­fer­ent – the boom manuka honey in­dus­try means we have more man­aged hives than ever – and while var­roa is here we don’t seem to be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing colony col­lapse. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to help bees. The worst case sce­nario is the prob­lems seen overseas will start to oc­cur, in which case bees need all the help they can get. The best case sce­nario? Noth­ing changes here but we help bees out a bit any­way. Which is fine be­cause like I said, we love bees.

So what can you do? Well one chal­lenge fac­ing bees is a de­cline in their for­ag­ing habi­tat so this is­sue comes with a free pack of nec­tar- and pollen-rich wild­flower seeds to sow in your own gar­den. We’re also run­ning the Great Kiwi Bee Count, a cit­i­zen sci­ence project like a dig­i­tal cen­sus for bees. It takes two min­utes and you’ll learn about dif­fer­ent pol­li­na­tors. Go to www.stuff.co.nz/greatki­wibeecount to take part.

NZ Gar­dener is driv­ing a spot of ac­tivism too. I have launched an on­line pe­ti­tion call­ing on gar­den re­tail­ers to re­move sprays con­tain­ing neon­i­coti­noids from their shelves. Neon­i­coti­noids are chem­i­cals that have been linked to bee de­cline and their use is banned or re­stricted in sev­eral coun­tries. Some re­tail­ers here – The Ware­house and Place­mak­ers – have al­ready stopped sell­ing prod­ucts con­tain­ing these chem­i­cals. I’d like to see other re­tail­ers do that too and I think if enough gar­den­ers agree, those other re­tail­ers might lis­ten. If you feel the same, sign the pe­ti­tion at www.toko.org.nz/p/savethe­bees.

I am not sug­gest­ing this would solve all the prob­lems bees face, it is just one small thing. And I am aware that the sci­ence around neon­i­coti­noids is com­plex and at times con­tro­ver­sial. But I think there is no down­side and a real up­side to re­duc­ing our use of these chem­i­cals. Plus it is some­thing we can do now. And I for one don’t want to end up wish­ing we had done some­thing sooner.

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