beneficial insects, beneficial bugs, ladybugs, ladybirds, lacewings, braconid wasps

Beneficial Insects and How to Attract Them to Your Garden

By Catherine Winter

If you’ve already started seeds for this year’s garden, you likely have several different vegetable and herb seeds sprouting merrily. What a lot of people forget to do, however, is include a variety of flowers and herbs that will help attract beneficial insects as well.
There are a number of plant species that can draw specific insects to your space, so if you’ve had particular issues that you’d like to address without the use of harmful insecticides, read on!

Organic Pest Control

Braconid

Braconid Wasps

These creep me right the hell out so I’m going to write about them first to get them out of the way. Members of the Braconidae family, these parasitic wasps lay their eggs into the skin of caterpillars and beetle larvae. Once the eggs hatch, the wasp larvae feed on the host’s internal organs until they reach maturity, at which point they bugger off.
Ew ew ew, but hey, they’ll kill the cabbage moth larvae eating your organic kale.

Which plants do they like?
These wasps love small-flowered flowers and herbs that produce a fair amount of nectar. Yarrow, coriander, dill, fennel, lemon balm, thyme, parsley, Queen Anne’s lace, and sweet alyssum are sure to coax them to your garden.

Lacewings

Lacewings

You’ve probably seen these delicate beauties clinging to your porch or window screen if a porch light has drawn them close. Their larvae look like alligators and are sometimes referred to as “aphid lions” because of how voraciously they devour the wee beasties. They also eat caterpillars, thrips, and whiteflies.

Which plants do they like?
Yarrow, caraway, angelica, cosmos, fennel, coreopsis, mallows, dill, tansy, sunflowers, and dandelions.

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Ladybugs (aka Ladybirds)

Adorable and colourful, these happy-looking little beetles annihilate aphids, spider mites, and various other teensy soft-bodied critters. If you haven’t seen many in your area, you can usually buy them at your local garden centre.

Which plants do they like?
Butterfly weed, coriander, yarrow, dill, tansy, cinquefoil, fennel, vetch, buckwheat, calendula.

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A Good Water Source

Remember that insects need water to wash down all those bad bugs they’ve been eating, so make sure they have a source of clean drinking water handy. If you have a pond or marshy area on your property, they should be okay, but for everyone else, it’s recommended that you make a couple of watering areas.

The easiest way is to pour a layer of pebbles, marbles, or decorative stones in the bottom of a ceramic planter pot, and keep enough water in it to **almost** cover the pebbles. This will give the insects safe places to land while they drink.
Remember, most of these happy bugs have wings, and if they don’t have an easy water source when they’re thirsty, they’ll fly elsewhere.

Please don’t use commercial pesticides!

If you need to use some kind of pesticide, please use methods that are low impact, natural, and/or biodegradable, rather than full of toxic chemicals. You can get repel slugs from the garden with copper strips, use neem for various mites, ants, and beetles, etc. There are many different options that won’t harm the beneficial bugs in your garden, nor seep into the soil to poison plant life.

wildflowers, medicinal flowers, medicinal plants, herbalism, herbal medicine, poppy, poppies

Change is Good.

By Catherine Winter

I love to grow vegetables. Anyone who knows me is well aware of the fact that I pore through seed catalogues every winter, getting all giddy about the different varieties I’ll be able to plant once spring rolls around. Eventually. The snow doesn’t melt completely here until the end of April/early May, so by the time the last frost passes, I’m more than champing at the bit to get my seeds into the ground: I’m pretty much frothing.

The thing is, growing veg on my land is really, really difficult to do.

My home is perched on the side of a mountain, and the only flat, sunny spots on it are the septic field (upon which I can’t grow any food), and the paved driveway. There are a few flat-ish bits here and there which I have taken advantage of, but they have their challenges as well. The 40-foot trees all around my land cast a lot of shade around, the soil is clay and sand atop solid Canadian shield rock, and the unevenness of the ground itself means that raised beds are pretty much out of the question.

Then there’s the weather to contend with. A freak heat wave last May caused all my brassicas to bolt, and a hailstorm in July killed my tender greens, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Literally all that survived last year were potatoes, sorrel, and the peas I had climbing up the shaded north wall.
This will be my sixth summer living on this property, and I can honestly say that the yields I’ve had from my vegetable-growing efforts have been paltry at best.

echinacea, wildflowers, native wildflowers, butterflies, bees, pollinators

Changing Direction

Since I’ve had so little luck growing vegetables, I’m moving in another direction this season. Remember that article we posted last year about working with your land, rather than against it? Well, it may have taken me this long to really learn that lesson myself, but yes. Yes, I’ve finally learned what I needed to and will be taking advantage of what I do have available to me, instead of trying to force plants on an area they’re ill suited to.

Related: Work With Your Land, Not Against It

This is kind of huge for me, since I’m just a raging perfectionist and am normally the type to keep fighting onwards solely for the sake of not giving up. Maybe I’m mellowing in my middling years or something, but I’m recognising that there are many different ways to approach an issue, and compromise is a gentler and sweet technique that my younger self would have benefitted from immensely.

Two summers ago, I let most of my land go fallow just to see what would grow there. I put the mower and snappywhippy thing away, and just let everything go wild.
You know what happened?
Amazing things.

I discovered that several dozen medicinal herb and flower species grow wild on my property. St. John’s wort, heal-all, mullein, coltsfoot, evening primrose, jewelweed, yarrow, shepherd’s purse, comfrey, echinacea, wintergreen, bee balm… I could go on, but you get the idea.
Having dreamt of studying herbal medicine for years, I saw this bounty as a sign that it was officially time to pursue that interest, which I have been doing so (with the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine) whenever I have a spare moment. It also made me realise that I could add to this treasure trove instead of fighting to grow things that didn’t want to be there, much like forcing an artistically gifted child to pursue a career in accounting.
Bad fit, no-one’s happy.

lavender, herbs, flowers, wildflowers, medicinal herbs, herbal medicine, flowers

Herbs and Flowers

As such, nearly all of my attentions will be put towards growing medicinal herbs, and native pollinator flowers rather than veg. I still have my little culinary herb garden just outside the kitchen door, and I’ll still grow climbing peas up the side of the house because they grow so very well there, but that’s pretty much it.

Since so many medicinal plants already grow here, the ones I’ll be planting and tending are:

  • Black Cohosh
  • Chamomile
  • Marshmallow
  • Horehound
  • Elecampane
  • Calendula
  • Lemon Balm
  • Cleavers
  • Motherwort
  • Anise Hyssop
  • Cayenne
  • Mint (in a pot, else it takes over everywhere)

Related: 7 Healing Herbs to Grow in Your Garden

As for flowers, some of the native species I’ve scattered have medicinal properties as well, whilst others are just great for attracting beneficial pollinators. I have asters and lupines growing pretty much everywhere, but this year I’ll be scattering the following:

  • Bachelor Buttons
  • Coreopsis
  • Black-Eyed Susan
  • Cosmos
  • Scarlet Flax
  • Field Poppies
  • Milkweed
  • Columbines

I’ll be tossing around a few non-native species as well, just because I love them so. Hollyhocks and foxgloves will look gorgeous around the perimeter, and I rather like nasturtiums and pansies in window boxes and planters.

Herbal-Medicine

The Bottom Line:

Why am I blathering about all of this?

Quite frankly, to reassure those of you who are struggling with your growing endeavours that even seasoned gardening veterans get frustrated and need to shift direction now and then.
I’ve been growing vegetables and herbs in my own garden spaces for 30 years now, with varying degrees of success. I’ve had yields so bountiful that I foisted massive baskets of produce on friends, neighbours, even the postal workers, because I had more than I knew what to do with… and I have had epic failures that would have left me starving to death if there weren’t a grocery store nearby.

The point is, we work with what we have, and flow with the current as best we can.
We do what we’re capable of, especially when those capabilities shift over time. I mean, we’re all in a constant state of growth and flux, and our priorities can change from one day to the next. Family responsibilities may cut down on gardening time, health challenges can limit mobility, and hell: we just might change our minds about what’s important to us over the next few months while we reevaluate what we want to do with our lives.
And that’s absolutely okay. All of it.
You’re good.

Considering how much I love flowers, I have a sneaking suspicion that this year’s garden may be the most smile-inspiring I’ve had yet.
I won’t be growing many vegetables, but I can support local farmers by buying their produce, and be far less stressed out about my own efforts.

Instead, I can focus all my attention on growing plants I adore: those I can transform into healing salves, teas, and tinctures, and that will make me very happy indeed.

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Organic and Heirloom Seed Companies

One of the most common questions we get asked is where we order our seeds from. Our main writers are mostly based in Canada and the USA, so the following companies are based in these two countries. If you’d like to add your favourite company to our list, especially if you’re from another country, please let us know in the comments section!

BakerCreek

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

www.rareseeds.com

Based in Mansfield, MO. USA Ships to Canada and USA.

Botanical-Interests

Botanical Interests

www.botanicalinterests.com

From Broomfield, CO, USA Only ships seeds within USA

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Greta’s Organic Gardens

www.seeds-organic.com

Based in Gloucester, ON, Canada Ships to Canada and USA. Being in Ontario, the seeds are well-suited to growing zones in Eastern Canada and NE USA.

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Hawthorn Farm Organic Seeds

www.hawthornfarm.ca

Based in Palmerston, ON, Canada.

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Heritage Harvest Seeds

www.heritageharvestseed.com

Carman, Manitoba, CA. Ships to Canada and USA. Since they’re in Manitoba, you know the seeds will do well in cooler growing zones.

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High Mowing Seeds

www.highmowingseeds.com

Based in Vermont, USA. Ships to USA and Canada. Ideal seeds for cooler regions.

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Salt Spring Seeds

www.saltspringseeds.com

From Salt Spring Island, BC, CA. Ships to Canada and USA.

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Seed Savers Exchange

www.saltspringseeds.com

Decorah, Iowa, USA Ships to Canada and USA

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West Coast Seeds

www.westcoastseeds.com

Delta, BC, Canada Ships to Canada and USA

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Urban Harvest

uharvest.ca

From Toronto, ON, Canada. Only ships seeds and plants within Canada.

 

7 Healing Herbs to Grow in Your Garden

If you’re cultivating edible plants this summer, you might also like to add some medicinal herbs in amongst your vegetables. Having the ingredients at hand to treat minor health issues is of the utmost importance when it comes to self sufficiency, and these plants tend to pull double duty as pollinator attractors to your garden as well.

Calendula

Calendula

The bright, sunny heads of calendula flowers are well known to most people, but few realise just how healing Calendula officinalis really is. Most people just grow these marigolds as decorative plants, but they’re actually invaluable as a medicinal herb. Calendula-infused oil or salve is ideal for burns and various skin irritations like rashes, cuts, scrapes, and insect bites/stings.

Echinacea

Echinacea

I prefer Echinacea purpurea to angustifolia because the former can be taken once illness has set it, whereas the latter is better as a preventative. Wild patches of echinacea have been over-harvested by people, so planting your own is preferable to wildcrafting it. As an added bonus, it attracts pollinators like bees and butterflies like you wouldn’t believe.

Milk-thistle

Milk Thistle

Milk thistle seed powder is excellent for cleansing the liver, kidneys, and gallbladder, and is exceptionally effective at treating gallstones and kidney stones. The powder can be taken in tincture or decoction form, or can even be added to smoothies, but it takes a lot of seeds to make even a small amount of powder: although you can gather the seed heads in autumn after they’ve dried out and stopped flowering, it might be better to purchase the powder or extract from a retailer instead.

Mullein

Mullein

Although this grows wild around my area, I’ve also sown patches of it in the sandy areas on the edge of my property. It’s a biennial plant, so it only flowers every other year, but both its leaves and flowers have very healing properties. Steep the flowers in honey to make a potent
A tea made from the leaves is excellent as an expectorant, and brings great relief from wheezing, hacking coughs. Smoking dried mullein leaf can also alleviate asthma, and oil in which the flowers have been steeped is ideal for treating ear infections. The entire plant is anti-inflammatory, and a tincture of the leaves and flowers can bring great relief from joint pain, arthritis, and even lymphatic congestion.

Stinging-nettle

Stinging Nettle

Although it’s difficult to harvest because its hairlike stingy bits hurt like the nine hells if they touch you, this plant’s medicinal properties are well worth the effort. It’s an anti-inflammatory and diuretic, does wonders for urinary issues, can alleviate rheumatoid arthritis and other joint pain, and can ease allergy symptoms. It’s also quite delicious when cooked and used like spinach,

Just suit up, wear heavy gloves when harvesting it, and blanch the plant with boiling water to neutralize the stingers before using it.

Thyme

Thyme

Not just a delicious aromatic herb, Thymus vulgaris is a wonderful herb that has countless medicinal uses. Its antispasmodic properties help to alleviate stomach cramping and colic, while its antiseptic properties are incredibly helpful for topical applications. The crushed leaves can also be used as an impromptu insect repellent to keep mosquitoes and black flies away, especially behind the ears and along the hairline.

Yarrow

Yarrow

Also known as “soldier’s woundwort”, Achillea millefolium has been used medicinally for thousands of years and is invaluable for any healer’s garden. Yarrow flowers and frilly leaves have many medicinal properties, and are worth delving into if you’re interested in building up an apothecary’s cabinet of your own. Additionally, this lovely plant attracts all manner of pollinators, and is an ideal landing pad for migrating butterflies.

 

NOTE: Please remember that herbs are medicines, and their effects can vary from person to person. A remedy that works well for you might not work for your child, partner, or neighbour, and some people may have allergies to certain plants. For example, people with ragweed allergies may react badly to chamomile, and those who are allergic to latex should stay away from birch. No herbal remedy is guaranteed to cure a complaint, and it’s important to do your research properly before brewing up and drinking an infusion. It’s usually a good idea to speak to your healthcare provider to make sure that the herbs you’re interested in taking don’t have contraindications with any medicines you’re on, especially if you’re pregnant or nursing.

In addition, if you’re gathering herbs from the wild, it’s extremely important that you learn to recognise them properly. A lot of plant allies have toxic lookalikes, so if there’s any doubt about what you may be harvesting, don’t do it. Just buy a tea, tincture, or dried herb in bulk from an apothecary company like Mountain Rose Herbs instead.

spring, spring flowers, spring flower, spring gardening, zone 5a, Ontario gardening, spring garden canada, bee, pollinators

Spring.

By MK Martin

I have yet to perfect Hygge. For those of you who didn’t see the ubiquitous feed post concerning this ‘art’, it is all about enjoying winter. Enjoying the books by cozy fires, the spiced drinks, the rich food, the cheer and the togetherness. I love books, but reading by the fire makes me overheat. Hot drinks for me are coffee or Earl Grey. Do not offer me other things, I am not interested in a spice cabinet-filled wine cup. Rich food is lovely, for the feast days, the days after the harvest and in the middle of lining up food for winter. Cheer is something that wanes after a day or so, and togetherness becomes cloying once all the baubles of holiday have been packed away. I will take some turns tromping through the deepening snow, to capture rare moments of crystalline rainbow refraction through the ice, to feel the far away sun on my face and to clean my lungs with deep, hidden breaths.

Pink-flower

After a few turns, though, give me spring. Give me melting snow and ephemeral ice on the trails, turning into puddly poo ponds: the stuff that will give us trout lily, ramps, and morels in what seems like the blink of an eye. Give me blustery, moorish mornings with ruffled robin feathers and lost umbrellas. Give me birdsong. The cacophonous cackle of the grackle, the invisible staccato of the chickadee, the crooning cry or startled whinny of the mourning dove all blending together into beauty, even though the songs themselves are territorial. Give me rain. Fat bullet drops hurtling toward the earth and spitting in my eye, or fine, hazy mist, covering the awakening green with eye catching droplets, curling my hair and surrounding my skin with negative ions. Paint me in dirt and line my pockets with seeds.

Ants

For me, getting through winter isn’t about enjoying it for what it is. It’s all about The Dream. Every year at Imbolc (St. Brigid’s, February 1st), for the past 8 years, I begin The Dream for the gardening season. This year’s dream is the most photogenic yet, with lovingly put together brown paper Jardiniere journals (no lines!) and handmade ceramic receptacles filled with pens, pre-season clay pot sales and piles of heirloom seed catalogues.

Planting-seeds

Arranged, just so, I feel that Martha glow. If you didn’t know, Martha has her garden planning calendar available for all to see, where we can discover there is no time off when it comes to gardening. As soon as your dirt is frozen and slumbering, you should be scouring your resources, planning your rotation, and penciling in your sow by dates.

Lily-of-the-valley

We began in zone 4b eight years ago and had three, charmed, food-filled years, free of pesticides and glorious weather. And then, things began to change. We are now considered zone 5a, and the weather has been confused for awhile. We are still trying to clean our groundwater from the two years neighbours poured roundup onto their ancient chestnut tree, so, this year will see pots of salad and steaming greens, herbs and carrots, while I work toward making our main beds home to flowers. The initial journey was about food security, but over the years, one’s eye begins to focus closer upon the intricacies and smallness of garden workings.

Hummingbird

As the collective mind shifts, and access to quality CSA produce increases, the food security that becomes most important right now is that of the bee, the bird, the bat, insects of all kinds and the worm. We’ve even attracted a fox this far up, to set after the bunchy bunnies that have moved in. Our ‘sleepy’ town has begun to burst at the seams in the name of progress, destroying long standing habitats, flushing creatures out. The community complains a fox can be see in plain sight during the day, rather than all stopping together, to admire it and send it on its way. These are creatures for whom time has no
meaning, as life is the clearest meaning of all, and they never question their purpose. Freedom is in their function.

Frog

My hope is to create a symbiotic space, more than just feeding out of hand. To be a haven for plants long slandered as weeds, brush the native seeds of wildflower-lined trails from my clothes into the grass, and see what else we can invite.

Green-plant

death bee, bee, Detroit, bees, pollinators, declining bee populations, resin bee, giant resin bee

Death Bee

By C.E. Young

I’d never seen a bee as big as Death Bee, a bee so large I noticed him by his shadow first, a disc out of the corner of my eye that had to be either a fairy or—hope against hope—an honest-to-goodness hummingbird. I live in Detroit. I’ve seen a hummingbird once in my 50 years here. A half-century missing the simple magic of that. Except fairies and hummers didn’t buzz, and when I say “buzz” I mean vibrate, and when I say “vibrate” I mean Rodan. In the span of 5 seconds I went from guy sitting in his backyard trying to read a book over the noise of the neighborhood, to facing head-on the truth that here there be monsters. Death Bee.

Fat but agile as a guided missile. Black and yellow war bands. Wings that likely cut flesh. Six hairy trunks that served as legs. ‘Roids or insane workout sessions, who knows? I only knew I’d never seen a bee that large. He might have been one of the mutated Africanized killer bees whose coming was part of city-lore since the 70s. (It was hard enough as a Black kid to find positive reflections in the United States, now I had to worry about African bees adding to the false threat narrative too?) Would an Africanized killer bee respect diasporic brotherhood? No, it would impale me on the 8 inch switchblade it hid in its ass. I’m a big man. 6’2”. Couple hundred pounds.

Which is to say that I ran.

big-bee

Death Bee didn’t follow. It staked out a position near the section of my privacy fence closest to the back porch (1: my reading spot; 2: of damn course) and patrolled. If I came near that spot it advanced. I backed away, he resumed normal military stance. There were no flowers there. Nothing of obvious value to Death Bee or any other bee. I had to assume this was a show of force as a prelude to invasion.

My backyard was the only peace I had in this hellish neighborhood, and that only when most of the neighbors remained indoors. I was not giving that up. I recall thinking—as I dashed up the porch steps, threw myself at the door, and hoped to all gods that anyone bumbling into my yard didn’t suffer too much—This far, no further. Research elevated Man from bee. I didn’t want to do a whole scorched-Earth campaign of the backyard. There were tomato plants and zucchini growing back there, for gods’ sakes.

I looked out the window and I saw Death Bee patrolling and I knew that, as frightened as I was, I would not kill. It’d be too much like watching Godzilla die, and nobody…nobody needed to see that.

Non-lethal measures it was, then. I consulted the greatest source of life I knew: Catherine Winter, writer, artist, grower, high priestess of Whee. I truly didn’t want to kill anything in the yard (collateral damage to centipedes and mosquitos: acceptable); regular bees and crickets and spiders—they all had their places. A Death Bee, though, was an affront to gods and civilization. Especially one with so much attitude (I swear I saw it watching the back door, waiting for me to come out, Rambo face paint across its fuzzy face, red bandana ready to slowly tie across its forehead). I knew there were a billion chemicals I could use, but I also knew that when I used those chemicals (and yes, I have) and the wind blew any of their spray back toward me I ran like mad from caustic cancer fleshburn hell.

“I only want to scare it,” I said. “What makes bees go away?”

“Neem oil,” she said. I found out where I could get it. I bought it. I bought a sprayer. A good one. The ‘Nuke It From Orbit’ variety. But I waited. I didn’t spray immediately. A day had passed between spotting Death Bee and getting the Neem. Side note: Death Bee and the Neem is a helluva band name. Maybe Death Bee was gone, rejoined its fellow mutant bees or been captured by aliens for anal probing. He was big enough for that.

I opened the back door. It was early. It was quiet. Won’t say “too quiet” because, y’know, effing city life, but the air was still on that summer day. It was as if the Earth wanted me to listen.

Then I heard it.

The buzzing.

bee, death bee, big bee, huge bee, resin bee, giant resin bee

Death Bee didn’t merely buzz. Death Bee was a running chainsaw perched on the edge of the bathroom sink and about to fall onto a baby, and you knew you had to catch it in your bare hands no matter what. That’s the flavor of dread that sudden abundance of zzzzzs elicited. The inevitability of doom. The reminder of mortality.

I ran outside to take its measure, curiously emboldened by my fear. Death Bee hovered into view, darted at me (by then I was already halfway across the lawn. Yes, I waved my arms and hands spastically aloft. Why do you ask?), then resumed stealth mode by the fence. What about that section of fence made it so appealing? It was an old, rickety wooden fence. Death Bee was no borer bee, no. Death Bee was munitions. He’d be the first one pushing the plunger down to blow the fence so neither of us could have it. So I began to wonder was there something on the other side he was protecting? Some huge Kalahari Death Bee mound in my neighbor’s yard behind the vines and weeds he never got around to attending abutting the fence?

I tuck-n-rolled back into the house and considered things. The neighbor had dogs, so I didn’t want to spray over the fence. I would be precise with my nuclear-option sprayer. I would wait until very early the next day, attach the sprayer to the hose, and begin.

The neighborhood would learn to love the smell of Neem in the morning.

Neem actually smells quite good. An oily, minty, brown mouthwashy goodness. If I were Death Bee I’d stand in the stream of the spray with my mouth open and thank me for the service. But I trusted Cate’s wealth of knowledge. If there’s one person I’d follow into purgatory to plant a small patch of seeds, it’s Catherine Winter. So I sprayed. I sprayed the entire length of the fence. I sprayed the porch. No sign of Death Bee, so I sprayed again. I went inside, let it dry, and came back out. There was no Death Bee.

Until there was.

He rotored quickly into view and he was pissed. In my mind I countered with I pay the ridiculous mortgage on this house! anger for anger. The Neem was supposed to have worked! I didn’t have a baseball bat or a sword but I did have a flyswatter. If Death Bee wanted a piece of me he was going to have to come get some.

But then I remembered that my brother was deathly allergic to bee stings; that I’d never been stung; that I did not want to learn by field study if I was deathly allergic, and that I’d once had a bee fly up my shirt sleeve and terrorize me for either 5 hours or 8 seconds—who can tell?—by pretending it wanted nothing more than to get out. My mother told me to be still and it would fly out, but, as Lou Reed sang in Last Great American Whale, you can’t always trust your mother. I whipped my arm around and flung it out like a sling. I also ran like hell when it came out. Past is future.

Memory exists to keep us from killing ourselves repeatedly.

I ran again.

Godzilla, Godzilla nope, Godzilla Oatmeal, Godzilla nope meme, Oatmeal Godzilla

Day 3.

More research was needed. I knew that bees were endangered but I didn’t think they were endangered in my city. I knew bees weren’t wasps (assholes) or yellow jackets (assholes). I knew the old saw that if you left bees alone they’d leave you alone. But Death Bee behaved as if he were the Amun-Ra of bees: he had no fear, brooked no trespass. And he apparently snorted Neem like cocaine because he’d gotten increasingly Tony Montana-ish.

What I did not know, however, was that bees weren’t a no-have option. Bees were dying. Everywhere. It seemed unimportant…until you researched it. You realized not only were they important, they were crucial to every benefit we receive from agriculture. Bees were frikkin’ life. A butterfly’s wings might cause a tsunami but a bee’s butt gave us string beans and yams. One way or another, they gave us string beans and yams.

Was there a way to live with Death Bee? Of course not, he was maniacal. But I will admit to respecting him a wee bit more. Also, I neemed the hell out of that space for the rest of the week. An absolutely unbelievably minty fresh yard. Some days Death Bee was there, some days not.

death bee, resin bee, giant bee, giant resin bee

Until one day he wasn’t. And the next. And one more. Understand, I’d never seen a single other huge bee besides Death Bee this entire time. Or let’s say I never saw more than one Death Bee at a time, one huge bee that would register on a scale and grin an evil grin about it. I never found out what kind of bee it was. Never knew where it came from, why it picked my yard, where it went. I knew, however, that I’d never buy a commercial insecticide again. Regular bees flitted among the flowers of my zucchini plants. I was cool with them. I had no desire to harm anything outside, really (except centipedes and mosquitos. Maybe flies). I could live on this planet; they could live on this planet. I could read; they could pollinate. And if ever there was contention, it could be handled without loss of life. That’s a small epiphany but it’s huge.

So was Death Bee some guide sent to teach me a lesson? The lesson being neem oil is addictive to humans. Could be. Maybe I’d forgotten to appreciate the bio part of life as I’d sat there that summer day with the guts of a dead tree dipped in magic in my hand (if you want to know what I was reading, it’s called There Is No Lovely End by Patty Templeton; writer love 4 ever yo). That’s very likely. We all know bees are dying everywhere. We know lots of things are. And we know pretty much we’re the ones killing them. Conglomo-murder. We’ll kill anything if it lands on our plastic fork at a picnic.

But a lot of us aren’t interested in killing. We just want to read good books in the summer air and chill.

While keeping watchful eyes out for any Death Bees we might find.

If Not, Flowers

By MK Martin

Our little corner of the earth sits atop one of the highest elevations of the Province. This is where wind is born. Zeus sometimes hangs out here, in the winter, zapping a few trees here and there, while the winds swirl and gust through hidden crawlspaces, resulting in sounds best left to Halloween.

As such, it can be pretty tough to grow food here. Alternating years of heavy rains, lost from some other continent, and drawn out drought have compacted most of the dirt into a stubborn, grey clay in which sturdy, local potatoes grow and not much else. Our yard seemed at first, an abyss. A grand stretch of land we’d run across fields and fallen into rivers and rolled over our hems for. One season of too many tomato plants told us otherwise.

We planted seed after seed in little peat pot after egg carton, grinning at the tadpole tails and embryonic leaves that emerged after a few days’ simmering in humidity and moisture. But then, they all become seedlings, and I could not bear to just ‘thin’ them out. So I planted them, green beans and another mistaken monster, oregano, in the same place and watched as the tomato jungle took hold. I knew nothing of pruning, or pinching. I knew nothing at all. And we drowned in tomatoes, were drunk on the scent of tomatoes in the air and giving away tomatoes with pleading croaks, ‘Surely you can trade us a zucchini!’

When I had the first, shiny green eyes of garden planning, every scene was a Monet before me: the idle buzzing of insect wings around plentiful flowers, trailing bean tendrils looping through a lattice, fat little squashlings basking in a not too hot sun, for exactly seven hours. What bucolic, Antoinette bliss it would be, as I pop myself into the picture, dressed in linens, harvesting crops in a fine wicker basket. The reality looks more like the yoga pants I wore during the early stages of labor, covered in dirt as I tried to hack enough organic materials into unrelenting clay, hair in my eyes, itching my nostrils, black flies biting my ears, picking rocks, just so I can get seedlings in the ground. No matter how much we amend our soil, it insists its true makeup is clay.

bachelorbutton

Each year, for the past eight years, something goes wrong. One neighbour started using Roundup. The other neighbour mercilessly cut down every tree in his yard, ripped up every plant and installed a chemically fed lawn, which he cuts every other day for one hour. Both yards run right into ours because we are strangely situated lower. The year after the Tomato Jungle, we wanted to grow kale, and were besieged by flea beetles. No natural remedy worked, and the consensus was clear: unless we took care of it in the early stages of spring, we were out of luck. Our early tomato jungle became wilted, pale and blossom rotted, no matter where we planted them.

This year, I planted flowers. Flowers upon flowers, fragrant flowering herbs and let the weeds grow where they may. Our garden was bursting with poppies, bachelor buttons, clovers, melilot, calendula, zinnias, marjoram, sage, thyme, rosemary, nasturtium, morning glories, yarrow and borage. The dream of hovering bees was realized, and we were not plagued by insect destruction.We had very little rain for most of the spring and summer, a possible monsoon season is our future reality. Our zone has changed from 4b to 5b in the time we’ve lived here, so each food plant needs babying to survive. Where a cultivated species fails, a wild bloom flourishes, sending its encoded roots down to heal what it can. We may not see the the fruits of letting our ‘field’ lie fallow in flowers, but we know the possibility is there. Putting my ear up against the ground, I inhale quietly, hold a breath and listen to them work.

bee_on_borage-pollinator