Free Trees and Wild Bees

👤Charlynn Toews 🕔May 31, 2016

In the olden days, I used to double-dig my small garden every Victoria Day weekend. The top layer of sod, as deep as my skinny Barbie-doll arms and spade could reach, covered over with crabgrass and dandelions, was set aside. The second layer came out with much effort, and then the top layer was placed weed-down on the bottom of the pit. The second layer was laid on top and broken up with much sweat, some swearing and frequent cold-drink breaks.

Then I saw the light: I found lasagna gardening and I have been a follower and proselytizer ever since. You do not dig or till in the spring because you have added more layers of grass clippings, leaves and so forth the previous fall. These nicely compost in situ.

This is one of the ecosystem services I use regularly. The service of formation of soils and soil fertility that sustains crop and livestock production (and my little vegetable garden) depends on the processes of decomposition and nutrient cycling by soil micro-organisms, such as bacteria and fungi, as well as bugs and worms.

So, I say thank you to the actinomycetes! And these decomposers say to me, “No, thank you—we love digesting tough plant tissues like the cellulose in bark, paper and stems, as well as the hard exoskeletons of insects!”

I have, over the years, added more material to the north so that the garden slopes south and I cover the mulchy top compost with dark organic Sea Soil, and I never knew exactly why until Norma Kerby (“Sunny Slopes,” Northword, April-May 2016) told me in the last issue. It seems I am cleverly using the ecosystem service of our northern sun: It hits us at an angle too low for flat land, but perfect for southern-sloping gardens. Thank you, northern sun!

Another ecosystem service I am offered every spring is free trees—the maple growing against the fence gifted me with me about 87 seedlings this season. That is a kind offer, but thanks to my wormy aerated soil, it is easy to pluck them out of the garden. Mother Maple is herself a free tree, with Grandma in my neighbour’s front yard.

The most important ecosystem service any of us use is wild bees. Lora Morandin from Simon Fraser University did a study of canola pollination in the Peace River areas where canola farmers rely on wild bees; they do not rent domesticated bees for the pollination period. Farmers who planted 100 percent of their fields earned about $27,000 in profit in the study area, whereas those who left 33 percent unmanaged (full of flowering plants—“weeds”—for the wild bees) earned around $65,000—the difference being an increased number of wild bees happily enjoying the weeds while pollinating the canola. Those wild bees do excellent work. Such nice neighbours!

Bees evolved from wasps about 125 million years ago (thank you flowering plants!), co-evolving so that one bee’s bits fit nicely into one or more flower’s bits. The flowering plants that need winged pollinators (30 percent of crops and 90 percent of wild plants) say to the bees, “Thanks for taking our pollen from one flower to another, because, we are, like, totally rooted in the ground here and can’t move.”

And the bees say, “No, thank you for the nectar we make food out of for the children back home and for the pollen that provides us with protein.”

And the humans say, “No, thank you, flowers and bees, because we enjoy eating apples, onions, avocados, beans, beets, buckwheat, cherries, cucumbers, raspberries (and 80 other foods) and we really like a nice cup of coffee.”

My mulchy composted vegetable garden no longer hosts dandelions, but my lawn full of dandelions, then clover, then dandelions is bee heaven.