Let’s hear it for dandelions

A shortage of honeybees means that prime food sources like dandelions should be appreciated and nurtured in Terrace, B.C.

Nova Scotia’s wild blueberry growers say they must import 5,000 hives of honeybees from Ontario if they are to have sufficient pollinators this summer to produce a profitable crop. Hives will be rented for the three weeks of blooming late April into May.

Before moving the bees to Nova Scotia, inspectors will check the Ontario hives for small hive beetle. The tiny beetle burrows into weak hives and lays its eggs in the hive much as a cowbird lays its eggs in a robin’s nest then leaves the host bird to feed and care for the cowbird’s hatchlings.

A badly infested hive will be black with beetle excrement while white beetle grubs writhe like Gimli garter snakes in the honeycombs. The beetle’s excrement can ferment the honey.

I have no idea how many bees an average hive might hold. Or how an apiarist tallies his livestock. Given today’s electrical gadgetry, does each hive have a tiny computerized counter at the entrance to the hive – much like gateways to a subway track – where bees are automatically counted as they leave on a pollen-gathering foray, or return laden with their cargo?

And what about at dusk, when bees come home to rest for the night? Is each level in the hive supervised by its own Nanny McBee who charts attendance and tucks  in each exhausted worker until time to begin the dawn shift?

A recent article noted dandelions are bees’ first food of choice each spring as the yellow blossoms blanket acres of farm and urban yards. With the paucity of bees evident each year I realize I could be environmentally friendly and allow my dandelions to flourish for the first several weeks each spring. Goodness knows my yard grows an abundant crop until the plant naturally takes a rest weeks later.

By the time I first roll my mower out of the shed and fill its gas tank, usually in May, often it’s nigh impossible to push it through the tall tangle of dandelions, grasses, and moss.

But this year, bolstered by my intention of supplying food for wild bees, without flinching I’ll be able to look square in the eye of anyone who dares to remark upon my horticultural untidiness.

To maintain as steady a supply of dandelion blossoms into mid summer as weather permits, I’m considering rotational mowing the way prairie farmers cultivated their fields before machinery got too big to haul back and forth to a field.

I plan to mow my yard either in broad stripes, or circularly beginning from the outside working toward the center. That way the  part of the field most visible to traffic should look neat while in more out-of-the-way areas under the trees or behind shrubs vegetation can sprawl.

GMO crops have been blamed for massive loss of bee populations. Whether or not that’s true, I can’t say. A report in 2002 claimed Ontario experienced massive die-off of bees after GMO corn was seeded on surrounding farms.

One report says “genetically modified seeds “are enrobed in systemic pesticides like clothianidin and/or thiamethoxam. These nicotine-based neurotoxins are what impair the bees’ navigational capabilities and compromise their immune and nervous systems, causing paralysis and eventually death.

“In a way, it’s like the honeybee gets Alzheimer’s and is unable to find her way back home. A honeybee cannot live more than 24 hours without her hive.”

“Because GMO seeds can stick together talc is often added to the mix. When air seeders are used, pesticide-laden dust particles blow all over, even settling on the soil surface of neighbouring fields and flowering plants like dandelions.”

My dandelions will be pesticide-free.