Think carefully before you use chemicals in the garden.

You may destroy the singing trees.

It’s midsummer so it’s been pretty hot and sunny in recent weeks but of course this is the time when most farm work has to be done. After one particularly hard harvesting day earlier this week I was relaxing with my workers under the tree eating some lovely cold watermelon and enjoying the quiet. I mentioned how quiet it was to the guys.

One of them waved up at the trees with his fork and said.
”Trees not singing.”

I knew immediately what he meant. There were no cicadas singing in the trees. We usually have cicadas singing my mid July and with all the hot weather we have had this year which would speed up the larva development into adults they should have been out sooner but here we are in early August and still not one singing tree.

Where have all the cicadas gone?

Gone the way of the bees and the other insects , no doubt about it. Since these new pesticides came along the number of insects we have good bad or indifferent has plummeted. While we are go well beyond organic farming and use absolutely no chemicals at all that does not mean that our neighbors dont use them.

The problem is that bugs fly around. That can be a good and bad thing. Its bad if you dont want a pest in your garden or in our case farm and dont want them flying in from outside to infest your crops. However the flipside is that if you have good and beneficial bugs or bees on your property you dont really want them flying off to some other farm to get zapped by their nasty chemicals. Sadly unless you have a really BIG farm which these days are only owned by massive corporations who dont care about the bees, then its impossible to have enough land to keep the good insects on your property and not straying into areas that are dangerous to them.

The farmer on our eastern side is a soy bean farmer. He plants soy beans every year, and has done since we bought the farm. Never gets a really good crop from it (surprise, surprise) but he dutifully puts on his chemical fertilizer and then sprays his field later in the year. Even though we have a thick line of trees and vegetation between us and his field if he chooses to spray on a day when the wind is blowing then something is likely to reach towards us. Plus bees and other insects are bound to go and investigate the flowers once they start to bloom.

A new farmer has started working on the other side of the road too. Fortunately he is farther away from our fields because I suspect he uses more and different sprays than the soy bean farmer. So if our healthy bees and bugs fly around and if they decide to go check out his field when he sprays or go anywhere near it or get caught downwind of it then they are gonna die.

Is this a good thing? Personally I dont think so. Sure we get rid of a few pest species and produce absolutely perfect looking vegetables and fruit but what is the true cost? Killing every bug for a mile around your spray area is not good practice. There are a lot more helpful and useful bugs than there are harmful ones and even though most people dont like creepy crawly bugs we really could not live without them. Bees are only the tip of the iceberg. We have no idea what the repercussions of killing a lot of other different species off will be to us. What I see happening is the tough unwanted insects that often do more damage, like ants, survive and the more delicate, beautiful and useful ones are wiped out.

swallowtail butterfly
Most people want to see pretty ‘bugs’ like this swallowtail butterfly in their gardens.

Think carefully before you use chemicals in the garden.
Dont assume that its all farmers doing this damage to the insects. Homeowners are a major use of chemicals and toxic products and often use them in much higher concentrations that farmers do. Sadly so many people have no idea how dangerous and damaging such chemicals can be. Just because its freely available purchase and easy to come by does not mean its not toxic to humans, pets, wild animals and all the other bugs not just the few that you are trying to kill. Please think very carefully before using any chemical on your plants. Dont just spray the plant as a precaution or because it looks sick. Make sure you know what is wrong with it and how to treat the particular problem before reaching for the chemicals. Dont just kill bugs because they are there. Not liking bugs around your property is not a reason to grab the chemicals and kill them. Dont spray just because you can and NEVER spray if there is any wind at all. It can get the chemicals on you, your family as well as your neighbors and even homes half to a full block away. One person with a can do a lot of damage with a single spray bottle of toxic chemicals.

If you have planted a diverse garden less chemicals or often no chemicals at all will be necessary. The more different flowering plants you have the more likely it will be that you dont get pests other insects are only too happy to come and eat them up. Most bugs are not interested in you and just want to go about their little lives without bothering anyone, or in a lot of cases joyfully chomping down on the nasty pests that are in your garden. Remember also that those annoying caterpillars that eat your plants can turn into beautiful butterflies so think hard before you pick them all of you plants and kill them.

swallowtail butterfly caterpillar
If you want swallowtail butterflies then don’t kill off the larva. Leave the caterpillars alone so you get to enjoy the butterflies.

Our farm is just not the same in the summer without the singing of the cicadas. To me they are the sound of summer and working in the fields to a orchestra of cicada song makes the job more enjoyable. Cicadas dont do any damage to crops, most people never even get to see one since they live up in the trees. Most people are have more experience with cicada killer wasps, and often are afraid of these gentle creatures that do us no harm and just prey on cicadas. I have seen a lot around the farm this year but they all look frantic with erratic flying patterns. These animals will most likely die out this year since there is not food for them. What other creatures also rely on the cicada or the wasp or other parts of the cicada life cycle. We have no idea what damage we are causing by eradicating just one kind of bug and most likely wont know for years until we discover a whole part of our ecosystem has collapses and its too late to rebuild it.

I miss my singing trees but sadly cicadas dont usually fly that far so once they are destroyed in one area it could take a lot of years before they repopulate my trees and they sing again. Perhaps they never will.

Where Are All The Bugs?

My windshield is Clean.

This weekend we took a road trip, not a really long one just up to the north of the state to visit a festival. It was fun so we stayed late and drove back in the dark. A lot of it is on smaller country roads. We had been going for a couple hours before it hit me. There was not one bug splat on the window. There were no bugs being caught in the headlights as they zoomed past.

Then I realized that I had not had to clean bugs off the windshield at all this year! Where have all the bugs gone?
This is really bad. If we loose all the bugs then we are really going to be in trouble. No bugs, no pollination no food. We might not like bugs, we might think they are creepy and unpleasant but we need them, without bugs there will be no food.

There is a lot of fuss going on about the reduction in bee colonies and how the bees are dying. This is certainly true, but its not just the bees that are dying its lots of different insects. I have certainly noticed a vast reduction in the number of insects on our farm this past year. Where plants used to be covered in pollinating insects there are few if any around.

Certainly bees are important but bees don’t pollinate all flowers. Take a look around almost any garden and you will see that different insects visit different flowers. Most plants with umbel like flowers , that means flat open flowers like Dill (Anethum graveolens), Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Queen Annes Lace (Daucus carota), and a multitude of other plants don’t attract bees. I have never seen a bee on our Yarrow, Fennel or Dill, not on the Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) or Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) either. I have seen a multitude of other kinds of insects all over them. So if we loose those insects then we don’t have any more of any of these plants because there will be so seed to perpetuate them.
The same is true of many plants, rarely do I see bees on our holly bushes, or the euphorbia’s, euonymus or boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) but there are usually dozens of other plants.

bug on boneset
Single bug on Boneset.

Most people maybe will not notice the lack of flying insects or even be happy about it but it will take its toll. If we have no seeds for our herbs then our cuisine and our herbal medicine will suffer. So think very carefully before you get that insect spray out in your garden and spray it around arbitrary

We also really have no understanding of the life of these chemicals and how they affect other systems. Something may have been manufactured to kill a flying insect or specific pest but what happens when it hits the ground. How do the soil insects and microbiota (all the tiny tings that live in the soil) fair. It has been well documented that Glyphosate (Roundup) will kill everything in the soil basically making it sterile and thus fairly useless to plants, what I wonder are all these other chemicals doing.

It might not seem like a big deal, many insects eat a lot of stuff that we don’t want, they are our garbage disposal. They eat the dead leaves, animal carcasses and just about anything organic around the world. If there were no insects, bacteria and fungi then nothing would decay and we would be drowning in garbage and smelly waste. We need all these animals even if we think they are creepy crawlies without them our world would not survive, and we would die quite quickly. We may not realize they are there but without them our life would really not exist. So we need to stop the chemical spraying our ancestors got along fine in agriculture without tones of toxic chemicals so can we. Please do your part, don’t spray unless you have to and support campaigns to ban toxic chemical. Make this world a better place of us, our children and grandchildren.


Lavender harvesting all alone.

Today was lavender harvest day, well the beginning of lavender harvest anyway. The weather forecast says hot today so I started early 6.15am. Its really pleasant out in the field at this time of the morning, just me and nature, the birds tweeting and a few passing cars in the distance. After an hour the sun comes up over the trees on the western side of the property and the warn golden light washes across the field. Now it’s a race to get as much done before I fry. I tend to keep my head down concentrating on harvesting. I use a sickle to cut lavender and if you don’t concentrate on what you are doing you can have a nasty accident with one of these things.

lavender field blooming
Some of the lavender in our field

I stop to watch a bunch of turkeys go by a few rows over, they are used to me working out here now and are quite happy to co habit with me. Then I look up and down the rest of the row I am working on. (my rows are 190 feet long, which is a LOT of lavender). That’s when I realize there is a problem.

My lavender is not moving.

That may sound like a strange comment about a plant, they are, after all planted, its not as if they jump up and run around. However lavender flowers are on thin, stiff stalks. They are stiff enough to keep the flower upright in almost any weather but they are not stiff enough to stand upright when a bumble bee lands on it. Every year when the lavender flowers the plants are in constant motion the flowers waving around as the bees move from flower to flowers. Its like a dance to music that I am not privy too. It’s a lovely site to see.

This year there is no movement, there are no bees. When I look more closely I realize that there are not many insects at all. The bumble bees are usually the major visitor to the lavender flowers but there are usually others as well, the small native bees, the sand or ‘digger’ bees that build solitary nests in the sand and stock them with pollen, other pollen loving insects and a horde or butterflies.
This year my flowers are alone. Finally I see ONE bee working alone, nothing else. I get up and go inspect the yarrow row. Yarrow has flat umbel flowers that are visited by other insects, not bees but other beneficials. We are a cosmopolitan farm and there is food for everyone in the insect family here. There are very few insects on the yarrow either.

Something had wiped out all the insects. Its 10am on a hot sunny morning, the field should be humming, but its not.

Its been a few years since I saw a honey bee in our fields. Our last hive was killed off by a spraying three years ago, but I was comforted in the masses of bumble bees we had. When we moved into the farm there were only a few, but over the past 9 years their numbers has exploded and we usually have hundreds if not thousands of them all over our fields. Our farm has something in flower from very early spring until the frost kills off the last plants it’s a nirvana for pollen lovers.

rows of lavender in bloom
Portion of our lavender field in bloom

Sadly they don’t just stay on our farm. Insects range, most likely to our neighboring farm. He sprays his fields (soy beans every year). I can’t prove that its his spraying that is killing the insects its only a theory. He did spray the day before my last hive died but I can’t prove it that was the cause.

Without insects we will all die. Without pollinators there will be almost no food. Pollinators make the fruits on the vegetables grow and produce the seeds for next years crop. Without seeds all the plants will die and we will die too. The insect eating animals and the birds will die. The planet will die.

I have long been a big supporter of stopping insect killing pesticides but this is the first time that I have seen the disaster in action. Without bees and other pollinators there will be no farmers and no food. Help save our planet, our food and us add your name to stop the sale of bee killing pesticides. Click Here.