Lasha Morningstar

February 3, 2014

Growling snow blowers. Squealing grader blades. Screaming tires trying to rock and roll their way out of ice ruts. Blasting horns as some poor sod slides over an ice patch. Snarling wind.

Time to zone out. Think summertime. Give a blessing of gratitude to Mother Nature for the four seasons.

Even if you have to go down to the Muttart Conservatory to stretch your imagination, it's worth it.

Summertime. Cheeping from new nests. Squeaking stroller wheels as babies ride by. Woofing and barking as dog owners take their pets for their evening stroll.

A sound I sorely miss is the soothing buzz of the honey bees. And so do millions of others. The story is hitting the news pages, not just the garden sections.

Headline – honey bees are disappearing. Some countries put it at 50 per cent loss.

These friendly fuzzy yellow and black insects fascinated me as a child. Watching them burrow into the faces of flowers, tree and vegetable blossoms mesmerized me for hours. Sometimes a roly-poly bee would land on my arm and crawl up to my elbow. It felt like bee kisses.

Papal beekeeper Marco Tullio Cicero shows off the honeycomb covered with worker bees making honey for Pope Francis at the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo, outside Rome.


Papal beekeeper Marco Tullio Cicero shows off the honeycomb covered with worker bees making honey for Pope Francis at the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo, outside Rome.

But my buzzing friends have disappeared. Indeed they have.

Fields, forests, gardens around the world have lost their vital pollinators. Reasons for the deaths of these insects abound. Climate change is one. But most fingers point at pesticides. The names of the poisons vary. But their toxic vapours, sprays, granules kill not only the intended harmful insects but also the farmers' and gardeners' best friend.

Even the pope's beekeeper Marco Tullio Cicero standing by a hive in the gardens at the papal villa of Castel Gandolfo says he has noticed a "drastic dip in last summer's honey production."

In an interview with Catholic News Live, the beekeeper said, "Maybe we will get three or four kilos, not even. As long as there is a jar for him (the pope), it will be enough. It's a limited edition," he added with a smile.

Those in the know of just what this devastation means with the death of the bees are finally speaking out, demanding the banning of specific pesticides.


When what-do-I-care consumers won't listen, producers hit them with the impact it will have on their pocketbooks. All of the items in their grocery cart start tripling, maybe even higher in price, because of food scarcity. Maybe then they will give their heads a shake, read the stories and articles about pesticides, and take action.

Yes, we too can take action. Mosey down to the farmers' markets and have a talk with the growers. How do they feed their animals? How do they treat their animals? What pesticides do they use in the fields, gardens?

Winter is a grand time to sit down and plot out what is going to happen in your back and front yards. No yard? No patio? Ask around for a community garden and get on the list for a plot.

Now you can practise the organic way. Fellow gardeners and the growers at the farmers markets are more than happy to share the natural potions and strategies such as companion planting to protect the various vegetables and victuals.


At home you can sit on the lawn with that big long fork and dig out the tap root of the dandelions. Weeding can be satisfying . . . as long as you stay on top of it.

So why all this chit chat about spring and summer when it is blooming cold, the neighbour has piled his snow right up against your house and your basement is leaking, snow ruts are scraping the bottom of the car and the roaring wind is finding secret cracks in the walls?

The seeds are in!

Those ardent gardeners are already making their way through the doors of greenhouse nurseries such as Apache Seeds and Hole's Greenhouses Enjoy Centre to search out their favourite seeds and find out what is new. The staff are knowledgeable and if they don't know, they'll find someone who does.

For the ardent green thumb, click on Seed Savers Exchange for a catalogue. Locally, we have an engaging newsletter called Wildflower News that keeps the reader up to date on events, plus information on various plants and flowers.


In your garden too, you can plant bee-friendly plants – lavender, poppy, zinnia, thyme, borage, fennel, aster. Ask your greenhouse folk for suggestions.

Heed the words of Vincenzo Scaccioni, head of agricultural operations at Castel Gandolfo, who says Pope Francis has called on people to be guardians of creation "in a world that's increasingly harder to protect."

(Lasha Morningstar lasha@wcr.ab.ca)