The berms and the bees and other facts of life
The deterioration of our most important habitats
I’ve been thinking about this letter’s opening lines for days. So passionate am I about my topic I want it to grab you instantly. Finally, instead of gripping lines I offer three words: Bombus terrestris threatened.
Bombus terrestis is a bumble-bee. But, if I’d begun my letter with a bumble-bee sentence you would have sighed and thought, ‘Hmm, I think Virginia wrote about those last spring.’ I did, but I know so much more about bumble-bees now. I’ve just finished A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson, a book about the ecological significance of bumblebees and how threatened they’ve become. Without them some trees and plants would bear little fruit. In bumble-bee-free countries, tomatoes and fruit trees are hand-pollinated with paintbrushes. Sadly, we are contributing to the loss of bee habitat with our trend towards flowerless gardens, our current farming practices and the drive to impose order on nature’s untidiness.
We like tidy roadsides. Understandable in the city; but in the country? Do we really need to shear the berms while the hay mower is on the back of the tractor? The roadside looks neat and cared for, but the satisfaction is all ours. For the birds and bees and lizards, it’s a desert providing neither food nor shelter. Note to self: must talk with husband Harry before next hay season. He will smile because I am the guilty one who requests the roadside be tidied for Christmas.
In the garden, however, I plead not guilty. Spring, summer and autumn the air is abuzz with worker bees patrolling the vegetable and flower beds. In late autumn these workers will slowly perish as the queens crawl away to hibernate in solitary holes in the ground until the following spring. The most important thing we gardeners can do is grow early-flowering plants to provide the emerging queens with pollen and nectar so they can begin the bumble-bee life cycle all over again.
I agree about planting plenty of bee-attracting flowers, but not about the berms. Any Aucklander reading your letter will use it as an opportunity to revisit the impassioned debate about berms. We used to have a berm-cutter who mowed all the berms from his seat atop a machine with flashing lights and a siren. Oh how my grandson Tane loved it! Now the berms are left to individual homeowners to maintain, so in our street we have some people who do mow and some who don’t. Neighbourly relations have been wrecked by this. The mowing homeowners are the house-proud ones. From their freshly painted houses they glare over their white picket fences at the non-mowers. Tane doesn’t like doggy dos, glass or, dare I say, bees hidden in unmown berms but he does his share of berm destruction, excavating around our street tree with his diggers. We mow.
Auckland berms are being dug up by Chorus to give us highspeed internet. After they’ve finished laying fibre, council workers lay and rake new soil so it’s as pristine as a Japanese sand garden. Then they sprinkle lawn seeds. Pigeons arrive and peck all the seeds out. Cars park on the beds, gouging muddy grooves into the newly levelled ground. Old mattresses and chests of drawers are flung on the would-be berms. They rot there, waiting for someone, anyone, to solve the disposal problem. Cats scratch large holes – the sort that turn your ankle when you are dragging out the overfull wheelie bin late at night. Estate agents in suits hammer timber posts into whatever’s left of the berms to hang their for sale signs.
We should treasure and care for our berms. When you travel, you realise so many places don’t have them. I ventured as far afield as Ponsonby today where there are whole streets without them. And of course we should treasure and care for our bees. It’s easy to remember: plant flowers, and make sure they are singles not doubles. Bees don’t like hybridised double blooms.