Monthly Archives: January 2016

Are monofloral honeys bad for bees?

Very few studies have been done on which diets benefit bee health the most, although this is becoming of critical concern given continuing bee losses worldwide. A 2010 study looked at whether an increase in dietary protein strengthened bees’ immune system. It didn’t. But the same study found that what did produce a more robust immune system among the bees studied was access to greater diversity of food plants, i.e. polyfloral food sources were much better for the general health of the bees than monofloral sources.

We love our monofloral honeys, but maybe more thought needs to be given to ensuring that bees have an adequate access to diverse additional food sources? Should we even be buying monofloral honeys unless they have been ethically and sustainably produced?

On this note, wild bees have been found to have evolved resistance to the varroa mite that has devastated domesticated bees worldwide. While the causes appear complex, it’s worth noting that as well as being free from the coddling and additional feeding that domesticated bees receive, wild bees are free from manipulation of their diets.

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Bee sipping on parsley flowers

 

 

 

What do bumblebees do when they’re burnt out?

Sometimes bumblebees are just so bone tired they haven’t got the energy to return to the nest at night. You probably know the feeling.

What do these exhausted bumblebees do to recharge? They bury their faces in a flower.

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If you go out in the early evening you may see one, clinging motionless to a flower. In the early morning it’ll still be there but as the sun’s rays slowly warms it, the bumblebee gradually comes to life again. I’ve gone out after a hard frost and breathed gently on a frozen bumblebee to be rewarded by seeing it gradually regain consciousness.

It’s also how some bumblebees choose to go, when they’ve reached the end of their lifespan: face buried in a flower, breathing in the sweet scents of nectar and pollen and slipping off gently to sleep.

 

“You Are Where You Eat”

“You Are Where You Eat”

-Alexandra Carmichael, uBiome

As a result of the Human Microbiome Project and the plethora of studies it has spawned we now know that our health, resilience to disease, and even weight, is intimately linked to the health of the microbial communities we host. (Although one might fairly ask who hosts whom, given that 90% of the cells in the human body aren’t human; they are microbial.)

For a fascinating article about how radically different human microbiomes can be, depending on geographic location and diet, see here.

Biodiversity boosts plant and animal health. The same applies, it seems, to our own health.

If the human body is a partnership between us and diverse microbial communities, how do we ensure the health of these communities – and thereby ourselves? Some answers seem to be-

  • Eat as diverse a range of unprocessed foods as possible for a start.
  • Ensure we have enough fibre (soluble and – very important – insoluble, which nourishes benign gut bacteria) in our diets.
  • Avoid broad spectrum antibiotics if at all possible. (Meat and poultry often carry antibiotic residues so if you are a meat eater, a switch to organic might be advisable.)
  • Garden or spend more time rolling in dirt, lol.
  • Don’t be quite as assiduous about lathering the body with soap…
  • Throw out all antibacterial products. (Vinegar and baking soda work just as well and don’t have such a devastating effect on benign bacteria.)

 

 

Are multi-floral honeys healthier?

I was going to write about bumblebees because they are everywhere at present. Yet what came to mind was honey bees. Why honey bees? I thought. So I went for a stroll in the garden, just letting my body lead the way, rather than my mind. And listened. What is it you want me to hear?

Well, firstly, I couldn’t see any honey bees. There were bumblebees and all manner of other insects, but they were mostly among the poppies. Even the parsley flowers (I generally let at least one or two plants go to seed), which had been crawling with honey bees yesterday, were populated by only one solitary ladybird

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Hmm. Where were the honey bees??? I know they are not such early risers as bumblebees but this was mid-morning! Finally I DID see one. It was systematically visiting each of the broccolini flowers. (The plants had bolted before I’d noticed, lol.) But none of the other flowers beloved of bees, such as yarrow, disclosed even a single solitary bee.

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And then, as I was leaving the small enclosed garden (fenced to keep the rabbits out) I saw another honey bee. I watched to see where it would go, but it didn’t settle, instead tracing lazy circles near my feet. And then it shot off. Where had it gone?

Ah, the mystery was solved. The bees were in the cotoneasters.

That got me thinking. I have the impression that different flowers must release nectar at different times. For example, the hypericums are full of bees in the morning once the sun has warmed them slightly, but later in the day there is only the occasional visitor. The same with New Zealand flax flowers – there are certain times of day when they are highly attractive to bees. It seems that, given a chance, Nature offers up a sort of revolving buffet.

It occurred to me that for full health, bees probably need nectar and pollen from as diverse a range of sources as possible, just as human health depends on eating as diverse a range of plant foods as possible because each plant has its own unique combination of antioxidants. Does that mean that different honeys might carry different health benefits?

We know that certain types of manuka honey have antimicrobial properties. What about the health benefits of other honeys? I did a bit of research and found the following, with regard to an evaluation of honey from 14 different floral sources:

“…The highest concentration of antioxidants measured was 20.3 times that of the lowest, showing that great variation exists in the chemical nature of honey from different floral sources. Antioxidant content was positively correlated with both water content and honey colour. Because of the health benefits of dietary antioxidants, floral source should be a factor in evaluating the potential of honey as an antioxidant-containing food supplement.”

One complicating factor in pinning down health benefits is that antioxidant levels in honeys with similar or identical botanical composition can nevertheless differ widely. You might say that terroir is everything, lol. As a general rule however, the darker the honey, the higher the antioxidant levels. (Darker honeys also tend to taste more bitter so may be more suited to be used other than as a spread – or perhaps mix in some paler coloured honey to taste?) How the honey is processed can have an effect too.

My own guess is that like with plant foods, the greater the diversity the better. Acacia honey one day, and a multi-floral mountain honey the next?

As far as gardens and the health of bees are concerned, diversity rules here too. It’s pure speculation on my part but it’s possible that a sprinkling of flowering wild plants (a.k.a. weeds) in the garden will also contribute immeasurably to bee health. We know that wild edible plants tend to have far higher antioxidant values than the same species when domesticated. When plants are coddled – protected from insects and the elements – their antioxidant values drop. What’s good for humans is probably good for bees too. And vice versa!

ps Later: NOW (midday) the bees (honey and bumble) are all over the parsley flowers!

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Do you get the impression the bee is looking over its shoulder?

 

Care for Nature & it will care for you?

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Accelerating climate change casts an increasingly dark shadow over humanity – and the rest of the planet – as well as a wonderful opportunity for each of us to deepen our conscious connection with the Earth.

Quantum physics tells us that everything is interconnected – and that includes us humans, although our tendency to blind exceptionalism usually obscures this fact from our conscious awareness.

This interconnectedness exists on multiple levels. We both influence and are influenced by our environment on a continuous basis. If we interact with our environment unconsciously then we are similarly at risk of being the victim of the unconscious effects of Nature, and that is the risk we are running with climate change.

Yet Nature is capable of the most exquisitely nuanced control. Think of the one house that remains untouched in a neighbourhood that is ravaged by storm or fire or flood or earthquake. Because the human mindset is still embedded in a sort of collective solipsism we view such occurrences as random. But are they?

One of the questions Gary Douglas, co-founder of Access Consciousness, asked in the run up to the Earth Class was “What does the Earth know about you?”

Huh??? Yet at some level you and I and the Earth are one. We are all expressions of the Earth, intimately and inseverably connected to it. Does Earth has a consciousness? Yes. Everything has consciousness. The Earth doesn’t have a human consciousness but it is conscious. Like the human body it is a conscious multi-layered self-organising system of unbelievable complexity.

That the Earth is aware of us as individuals used to be a stretch too far for me too. Way too far! What created the first tiny fracture in the smooth steely surface of my self-absorbed certainty was an earthquake. It wasn’t the fact of the earthquake. (I live in an area that is prone to the occasional earthquake.) It was the timing of it. And what happened at the exact same time.

I had just come home from the vet’s office. In the space of about 18 months I had lost all the remaining people in my life who were dearest to me, and now my mischievous young Abyssinian cat Negus, my husband’s last birthday present to me before he died, had had to be put down.

It was all too much. One last loss too many. I walked over to my desk by the window and sat down, feeling completely alone, overcome by a desolateness deeper than I had ever experienced before. It was a place where there was no hope or desire to live left.

Then in that moment I felt the earth begin to shake, ever so gently. Startled I looked up. It was a cloudless mid-summer afternoon and out of that cloudless sky, as the earth shook gently beneath me, hail began to fall from the sky like tiny crystalline tears.

At some deep level I realised that the Earth was grieving with me, grieving for me. That it was intimately connected with me, with each one of us.

It was such a strange and inexplicable experience that I struggled with it for years. But over the years I began to learn in other ways that the Earth is perfectly willing to respond to us if we respond to it. There were so many examples.

I used to be afraid of flying. Now I found that if I put out a request for smooth flying conditions a few days beforehand, invariably, without exception, even in the middle of severe weather, the flight would be smooth and untroubled.

And there were all the times when I didn’t even know to ask:

There was one of those multi-decade storms that caused complete havoc in the area, bringing down trees everywhere and blocking roads. Despite having several patches of beech forest – and New Zealand “beech” trees are notoriously shallow-rooted – I lost no trees at all. I was the only one. There wasn’t even a single branch down on the drive which curves round through the forest.

Then there was the massive lightning strike (I thought it was an explosion) a year later that knocked out all the phones in the area, frying a good many computers and TV sets as well, and requiring technicians to be brought in from across the country for several weeks to fix all the damage. Inexplicably, my house and a single cottage a mile or so down the road were the only ones unaffected that I know of.

On another occasion heavy snow had been forecast overnight. I live deep in the countryside and heavy snow can pose a real problem because it makes access in and out of my property difficult as well as bringing down branches. When the heavy snow hadn’t materalised by midday I rang a neighbour and asked where all the snow was that we’d been promised. He laughed and said he didn’t know, but he’d seen the snowplough heading down the road that morning. We assumed it must have been heading for the ski field which had been having some access problems because of snow. Later we learnt that all the roads in every direction had been blocked by over a metre of snow, yet within a half mile radius of where we lived there was no snow.

A year or so later a polar blast brought snow down to sea level in the South Island and even sub-tropical Auckland in the north of the North Island saw snow for the first time in living memory. Vast parts of the country were blanketed in thick snow, yet in the mountainous sub-alpine area where I live we received only the thinnest covering of snow which was all gone by afternoon.

Coincidences? There have been so many of them that I’ve had to give up this comfortable conclusion. And it’s not just me. I’ve heard many other people who have developed a close connection with the Earth describe similar experiences. If you respond to the Earth it begins to respond to you.

That collective human emotions affect the Earth’s electromagnetic field has been conclusively established by the HeartMath Institute’s Global Coherence Monitoring System.

Another example I’ve noticed over the years is when there is a global event that large numbers of people have been looking forward to. Take things like the London Olympics or the British royal wedding, and other similar events. Often the weather forecast has been bad, yet the event itself takes place in great weather, as if the happy collective anticipation affected the weather itself.

What if how climate change manifests depends on each one of us?

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Wasps as pollinators

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Wasp pollinating cotoneaster

Wasps tend to have much negativity projected onto them by humans and their nests are often poisoned. Perhaps that is why they sometimes act aggressively towards us?

We don’t see wasps as useful, yet they pollinate plants, although this isn’t widely recognised. A study of pollination of avocado trees in Mexico found that flies, honey bees and wasps were all important pollinators although each type of insect collected pollen on differing parts of their body. However wasps were present in lower numbers, this being an area where insecticides were in heavy use.

If honey bees die out – and we haven’t poisoned all the wasps also – they may become an important back up.

They are also part of Nature’s rubbish disposal crew, like flies and rodents. Yes, they will attack baby birds but only when the birds are unhealthy and would die anyway. In a sense the wasps speed up the dying process, maybe even anaesthetise the little chicks, and perhaps that is a blessing. The wasps are attracted by the scent of disease, just as they scent the chemicals of fear or animosity given off by humans and react accordingly.

One summer some years back wasps built a nest in the woodshed. It was also near a raised bed garden I had started near the edge of the forest and in a long dry spell I had to walk past the entrance to the woodshed each day, watering can in hand. There was a steady stream of wasps flying in and out of the woodshed. Mostly I could negotiate my way past them without incident but sometimes a wasp was flying past so fast that it bumped into this unexpected human obstruction that had suddenly entered its flightpath. Invariably the wasp simply corrected itself and continued on, this despite the fact that I was only a matter of feet away from the nest. But I always moved quietly and calmly and never waved my arms about the way I have often seen people do.