Squash and bees

I am still enjoying my last summer’s bumper crop of squash. Hubbards, spaghetti,and buttercups are still regular parts our menu. I have found wonderful new recipes for squash soup, stuffed squash, squash pie, squash gratin. I have invented my own recipes and borrowed from recipes for pumpkins. I gave away boxes and baskets full of the fruits and still I have some in storage.

Squash’s big leaves and rampant vines are amazing. In just a couple of short summer months, the little two leaved plants that I start in my greenhouse grow into a mass of prickly vines and leaves. The big yellow flowers are filled with bees and ants and all sorts of friendly bugs. I have picked some of the male blossoms for stuffing. I checked each one to be sure I wasn’t in danger of deep frying a bumble bee along with the cheese and breading.

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Honey bees love wildflowers that bloom after the clover and canola is finished.   Photo © Copyright 2016 Janet Jacobson

I love squash and I also love bees. An abundance of squash is dependent on those honey bees, bumble bees and other pollinating insects. Without them, I would have to crawl around in my prickly squash vines every morning, moving pollen from the male blossoms to the female ones. Pollinating by human hands is a time-consuming job. Squash blossoms only last a day or so and the opportunity for fertilization is short.

Bees provide similar services to many crops including fruits, nuts, canola, alfalfa, cucumbers, tomatoes, squash. Without bees and other insects, we would have a very limited diet.

I have raised bees and enjoy watching them. I love the big fat bumble bees that I find squeezed into the throat of squash flowers, busily filling their leg pouches with pollen and drinking the nectar.

I have watched the news about bees with interest. Scientists continue to search for the cause of what is called “Colony Collapse Disorder.” A few years ago a researcher from Montana reported that almost all of the hives experiencing die-off of their bees were infected with both a virus and a fungus. Other researchers pointed out that it is possible that insecticide exposure in non-lethal doses may cause the bees to be susceptible to the viral and fungal diseases. Even the EPA has raised questions about the adequacy of research provided them on some commonly used seed treatments’ toxicity to bees. Of course the companies which produce the possibly guilty chemicals are quick to point out that there is no proof that their chemicals are responsible. Others just as quickly asserted that the Montana scientist who pointed the finger at the virus and fungus and away from insecticides had a substantial research grant funded by chemical companies.

Most recently, a widespread study of bumble bees indicated that there is a significant decline in the populations of many kinds of fat, yellow striped bees. Some varieties which were common not too long ago, have seen drastic population declines in recent years. Disease and loss of habitat and genetic diversity are suggested as the cause. In early 2017, the rusty patched bumblebee was placed on the Endangered Species List, the first bee to be listed, because of a dramatic population decline over the past 20 years. Since the late 1990s, the population of the species has plummeted 87%.

All of these stories are cause for concern. They point to our lack of understanding of how our environment works. We clean up our yards and field edges, removing cover for bumble bee nests. We eliminate flowering weeds which provide food for native and domestic bees. Our war on dandelions removes an early and important source of food for pollinators. We use chemicals to fix one problem and while our solution seems to work for a while, we often create new problems. Protecting crops with insecticides has become an essential part of food production. It is possible that the same chemicals that keep crops from being eaten up by pests may be contributing to the loss of pollinators.  Those losses may result in even greater crop losses.

It continues to become more and more obvious that our lawns, our crops, our squash vines and bees are all connected. We ourselves are not separate from the environment around us. We are part of it.

Copyright © 2017 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains

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