A new meta-analysis shows that combinations of pesticides have a significantly higher mortality on bees than when used individually, resulting in an underestimated impact to bees by pesticide makers and regulators.
Take home quote: “In 2019 scientists concluded that nearly half of all insect species worldwide are in decline and a third could disappear altogether by century’s end. One in six species of bees have gone regionally extinct somewhere in the world. The main drivers of pollinator extinction are thought to be habitat loss and pesticide use.”
Thanks to the Center for Biological Diversity (@CenterForBioDiv) this nice bit of reporting ran across my desktofrom the Guardian’s Environmental Editor, Damien Carrington (@dpcarrington article linked below). He presents a great summary of a recent scientific review of pesticide/fungicide/herbicide impacts on soil invertebrates. Sadly there were no surprises, with the vast majority of impact categories studied showing harm.
A healthy soil biome is the pre-requisite to growing healthy food, sequestering carbon, minimizing erosion, increasing rainfall infiltration, nutrient retention and cycling–in short without healthy soil, you can forget about farming long term.
The most surprising thing I learned from this article was that, in the US, the only insect tested for negative impacts by ‘*any*-cides’ was the honey bee. Which means there’s no standards for testing or protection of your soil life.
Is this what you see when you turn over a stump near your garden? It should be.
Checkout the article here, and spread a little compost around today!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the European honey bee, I receive tremendous joy from their tolerance of my time poking around in their hives, watching them on flowers, and swarming across the countryside (or my back yard). Yet I still have to remind myself, this introduced, invasive species was brought to North America for the benefit of humans, not the natural environment, and it’s proliferation on this continent isn’t great for the tens of thousands of other bee species also competing for resources here.
Honey Bees however are extremely valuable beyond their direct economic impact for us humans. Some beekeepers like to say every third bite of food we eat is on our plate because of the honey bee. Somehow though, before the 1600’s when Apis Melifera first arrived on the scene in the ‘new world’, the native population with their massive cities, (significantly larger than most European cities of the time) complex societies, and elaborate art/religion/rituals were able to eat just fine, and with a mostly plant based diet. So what was pollinating those crops? The native insect population of course! This is where the European honey bee, with its easily recognized economic value in honey and pollination services, (something we value, carefully track, and have therefore put a lot of time into studying) can be leveraged for a greater purpose–education about all insects.
When we first started “keeping bees” back in 2014, I quite literally knew nothing about insects and was, like many new farmers or budding gardeners focused on killing the ‘bad bugs’. As it happens the honey bee turned out to be something of a ‘gateway insect’ for me. Through learning about honeybees, I’ve also learned that 98% of insects on the planet are not considered agricultural pests, yet nearly all insects perish when hit by pesticides, and are significantly harmed as well though perhaps with a less obvious direct connection, when herbicides are used on the landscape (through the destruction of habitat, food sources, and critical microbial interactions). Twenty five percent of the known bee species around the world haven’t been seen since 1990. Wanting to learn more about the honey bee brought the plight of all insects into focus for me, and though I still grapple with the fact that every time I increase the size of our apiary, a native pollinator species faces more competition, so far the bees continue to keep themselves in our apiary, and I strive to teach everyone who expresses interest in the honeybee, about the wonders and importance of all insects species. Their activity supports us, and it just makes sense therefore, that I support them.
So What can you do?:
If you want to help ‘save the bees’ think about the 19,999 other species that need help as well, not just the common European Honey Bee, Apis Melifera
Support all of them by planting Native flower gardens–everywhere!
Leave the weeds along your fence row and in your lawn, then let them bloom
Create habitat for solitary bees by leaving the trunks of dead trees standing, and a few out-of-the-way bare patches of ground uncovered by mulch so tree and ground dwelling bees will have a place to raise their young and overwinter
Never use pesticides/herbicides
Make the time to have the awkward conversation with your neighbors when you see them hiring the mosquito spray truck, or squirting a dandelion with herbicide. Let them know that, no matter how much the company pushes the lie that their product doesn’t harm bees, it’s not true, and the most effective way to control mosquitos (or keep your kids from getting cancer) in any area is to have a community wide effort to eliminate standing water (and eliminate the use of anything ending in ‘-cide’…pesticide, herbicide, fungicide).
Minimize your carbon footprint. Climate change is wreaking havoc on nature–the very systems we, insects, all life on Earth rely on for survival are in peril. The difference is, not only did we cause climate change, we have the power to reverse it–unlike the whales, turtles, insects we share this glorious planet with–we can. Every time we start our car, use the clothes dryer, ride an elevator, get on an airplane, or even leave the tap running while we brush our teeth, we contribute to the unfolding climate crisis that is happening right now. While these decisions may seem better at the time, we have to ask the question, ‘better for who’? Just us, or the planet…Every single one of us can make a significant impact by reducing our energy consumption, and contributing to sustainable, renewable, energy programs.
We’re in for a rough ride, but at the time of this writing at least, experts agree it’s not too late to make a difference and minimize the most serious consequences of our wanton and unrestrained use of fossil fuels. What are you waiting for? Get that native plant pollinator garden started today!
From Soil to Stomach, and the contents therein… Updated August 2022.
While working at the farm, I’ve listened to a handful of books that link up well together and wanted to share here.
It may seem a little curious to have the first book on a recommended list for farmers to be about systems thinking, but once you read this book, it won’t seem curious, however, you will likely be more curious about the world (and farming). You will discover some hidden, basic truths about life which we don’t always keep in mind, but when brought up to us, we say ‘of course’! The complex ‘ecosystem services’ which make it possible for us to survive on this beautiful planet are interdependent, complex systems with multiple types of feedback loops. Most of them rarely respond to stimuli in a linear manner. Tickling those systems with minuscule manipulations can cause large changes, sometimes beneficial, sometimes unintentional. Once we realize that we are part of the complex, interdependent systems of life on this planet, and that our intentional manipulation of some of these systems to grow food are better done with the larger planetary systems in mind, we start to head down the path of regenerative agriculture. We can utilize regenerative agriculture as a means to undo the unintentional damage done by our previous, narrowly focused quest for higher productivity from farms by implementing a greater focus on holistic management and especially, energetic efficiency. If you enjoy this book half as much as I have (I’m re-reading it now) you won’t go wrong putting it before any of the others on this list. Learn better how to be part of the system before attempting to manipulate it to grow food.
Hands down, the best book on growing under cover I’ve read, “The winter harvest” comes from the man who pioneered, small, intensive agriculture in America with great historical context of how growers around Paris in the 19th century created one of the most productive, intensive, urban agriculture systems in the world. Incredibly detailed with everything you need to have on your radar from techniques to philosophy. It’s a fantastic, concise, well written book.
Natural Ecosystems have multiple feedback loops and in most cases, are self-supporting. Figuring out how to incorporate farming into a natural system, instead of against it, can result in productive agricultural systems where a great deal of the work is taken care of for us by the natural system. “Teaming with Microbes” reminds us that a vast portion of that ecosystem, with billions of organisms per teaspoon we can’t even see, are there to aid the gardener by closing the loop and finding balance between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ critters, from the microscopic to insects and by extension in my practical experience, all the way up to the interaction between voles and snakes/bobcats. If you don’t have enough voles, you won’t have predators around to control them for you. The same thing is true on the microscopic level. Everything has a place, and finding our place in nature is critical for a balanced, productive, sustainable, farm.
The most salient image from “One Size Fits None” is that of dead cattle on the side of the road after a cattle truck highway accident which no wild animals would eat, as they came from feedlots… Just down the road, the grass fed animals who die on the range are reduced to bones by scavengers in under two weeks.
“The Hidden Half of Nature” takes us into the soil and into our guts and ties together/reveals many of the political wranglings that have contributed to the massively broken and unhealthy food system in the USA, as well as a fantastic review of the science and scientists who discovered microbes. This really got my science nerd side going.
Nicole Masters, with her fantastic New Zealand Accent, takes us on her own personal journey to health after pesticide poisoning as a child (which took a decade to diagnose) but primarily talks about soil, and the remarkable neglect of the life that it can sustain. She lays out, as plane as day, that biocides (any chemical intended to destroy life, I. E. pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and even/especially chemical fertilizers) do just that–destroy life, perpetuating a dependent, downward spiral of costly chemical inputs that deplete the natural landscape and farmer’s bank accounts. Why exactly would we choose this path when we now have the science to prove, which she expertly explains in no-nonsense language, that farms and ranches are healthier and more productive when we work with nature instead of against it? A fantastic read (I listened to it twice!). UPDATE 2022. Since this addition to my book list, I’ve had the privilidge to call Nicole my mentor and friend after being accepted into, and graduating from her first CREATE training course. See integrity-soils.com for more on her programs.
Though I read this next book at least a year ago now, it’s ease of reading (well listening as I used an audio book version while hoeing at the farm) and scientific referenced examples still sticks with me. A book to eliminate the ‘germophobe’ in you.
Though not quite as much of a delight to listen to as Nicole Master’s book above, Gabe Brown’s determination, practical approach, and no-nonsense revelatory process as he discovered, then transitioned from ‘conventional’ to regenerative agriculture is nothing short of inspirational. Gabe’s documentation of the operational processes on his farm, including the hardships and the blessings, is something every farmer can appreciate and learn from, regardless of your context.
Discovery of inter-species plant support systems took a long time to get on the radar, and it took a female perspective to get it through our heads–inspite of a great deal of mysognystic resistance, but Simard made it happen. This book, a journey into the masculine world of dominance and control in the forest industry in Canada, and one womans recognition of a new perspective is a breath of fresh air.
Kimmerer brings together new perspectives, reflection on language, breaking down the scientific, reductionist paradigm, and acknowledgement of how a colonial mindset has left us with a legacy of degrations rife with opportunities for regeneration–both personally and in the material world. This book is a ‘must read’.
Dr. Anika Molesworth had done a pretty incredible job laying out the cold hard facts facing humanity as we face the devastating consequences of climate change and how that directly impacts farmers as well as society. Thankfully, she also presents a wide range of both realistic and imaginative ways we can come together to mitigate the consequences of our abuse of fossil fuels, now and in the future. She reads the book herself if you chose the audiobook, and her generous, positive spirit shines through. I find myself ever grateful for this book and am looking forward to listening to it again.
Didi Pershouse has written a delightful book, integrating life, health, healthcare, agriculture, and environmental stewardship into one intriguing, incredibly well referenced, page turning work of non-fiction. Getting to know Didi personally as an educator and coach of the 2021 class of Nicole Master’s CREATE course by Integrity Soils was a highlight of the program. Always insightful, and willing to do the hard work to get to the root of social challenges to affect transformative change–I’m ever grateful for her guidance and commitment to ecological and societal improvement on both a personal and global level.
If you thought you knew just how dangerous glyphosate (Roundup) is…think again. Not only has the chemical industry done a great job with propaganda, their mega profits have allowed a lobbying effort that has been incredibly effective at creating legislation preventing local communities from limiting their own pesticide exposure, as well as publishing junk science that creates doubt about the toxicity of their products. After watching a slick, monsanto produced video at a future farmers of america breakfast years ago, even I was half convinced that it’s not only ok, but maybe a good idea to pour poison into the well…New research, however, produced by true researchers, not industry shills, shows glyphosate as a root cause of so many debilitating diseases, exponentially increasing in the global North, that its fair to ask what ailments of modern society aren’t caused or exacerbated by exposure to this herbicide. Thankfully, Dr. Stephanie Seneff has done a remarkable job of breaking down the very complex interactions, now understood in molecular detail, between glyphosate and biological systems. She maes a convincing case for the global ban of this herbicide, and a shift to regenerative agriculture. The introduction and first two chapters are worth the price of the book alone.
A historical synopsis pacted with information, Dirt wasn’t my favorite book to listen to, but I found myself bringing up, over and over again, things I had learned from listening to it in conversations with friends and colleagues. A bit of a slow start, but with significant pay off as you get deeper into the book–there’s a lot to take in and learn from this author’s work.
And finally, a non-judgmental, non-dogmatic, fact based book on nutrition that ties into the related themes mentioned in all three books above regarding the detrimental consequences of politics and greed on our food system and how we can make choices to combat that systems negative grip on our health. Dr Greger’s sometimes over-enthusiastic delivery of his own work in audio format leaves no doubt in my mind that we can radically improve our health through our own food choices (spoiler alert: eat plants–brightly colored and spicy ones–fresh, organic , whole, un-refined plants, lots of them!).