Sunday, 9 March 2014

Seedy Saturday Rolls Around Again

Seedy Saturday is the gateway to planting season.  We gather in a church or community hall and wander the tables, labeling our envelopes, laying them out and scanning the ones left by others, intrigued by names like Purple Peacock pole beans.  A woman breastfeeds on the couch off to the side of the row of booths set up by groups like USC and Seeds of Diversity.  Lunch in the kitchen upstairs is an assortment of soups by donation.  The morning has gone by quickly, I meet many people who are interested in what I am doing.  "We are calling it Long Road Eco Farm" I tell one lady who is listening keenly, "because our laneway is the distinguishing feature of our property, and many people tell us how sorry they are to see us out shoveling."  I sometimes elaborate further on the metaphor of ecological farming as a long road with no shortcuts, just a long road with hard-earned rewards.  Of course, It has been a short road for me thus far, the metaphor will only work for me once I've been at it a few decades.

We humans are used to the idea that hard work brings richer rewards.  The afternoon lecture was given by a beekeeper who discussed the decline of the honey bee.  It is a weak creature to begin with and the combinations of neonicotinoids and loss of habitat due to sprawl, among other variables, many of which may never be know, have threatened its survival as a species of late.  Honey bees are one of many varieties of bees, and each, I learned, has different interests, plants-wise.  Tomatoes are one of my favourite crops, and are a good crop for a market gardener, especially when a greenhouse is at hand.  Bumble bees have a preference for tomatoes.  I am learning to appreciate bumble bees, to watch them and to feel my racing heart slow a bit when I can tell they are absorbed in the flower, oblivious to my presence.

I have a pathological fear of bees, and I have to remind myself that they work incredibly hard.  They have good character, they only sting as a last resort.  They are not cranky scavengers like wasps and yellow jackets, who sting on a whim.  I seize up when I see them, my tendency is to cover my head with my hands and whimper or wail.  When I learned about the dances and the waggles in elementary, I got nervous.  It's not an adaptive fear.  Bees, I learned at Seedy Saturday, do that dance to tell their mates how far away and in which direction their food source is, and then they fly.  One fact that I made a point of remembering was this: A pound of honey is the product of some 2 million  flower visits, and 50,000 miles traveled.  Unlike most other insects or animals of any kind, bees operate on a substantial surplus of nutrients in their hives, which we take for ourselves because it is so delicious. What goes through their little insect minds? Or are they too busy working to be bitter?  It seems a shame that they haven't been more richly rewarded for their hard work.

The list of interesting bee facts goes on for pages, but the one other bee fact that I learned Saturday that affects humans is how their extinction would affect what foods are available to us.  We would have about half of what we find in today's produce section. Unless we could get people to go around and dust pollen onto fields of flowers.  This, apparently, is currently happening in parts of China where bees are no longer.

Talking about seeds, pollination and pollinators can be heavy, a bit overwhelming.  It's sordid, and seedy - opportunistic pests prey on the plants and animals we like, so we find ways to kill them off, we eliminate mites and weeds, and then we find that killing milkweed because we didn't like it was in turn killing the monarchs or driving them away to places where there was still milkweed.   And we find that the neurotoxins killing the very little bugs are disorientation and weakening insects like bees.  In the thick of all of these things happening, we made a good social gathering.  I look forward to seeing how my Purple Peacock pole beans turn out.