Green Wizardries: A Shift

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Yesterday, I saw my first ladybug of the year.  They used to be quite plentiful in my gardens and just around generally.  We have two tree frogs in our flower garden.  We would normally have about fifteen of them easily visible in the same garden a few years ago.  The rough-skinned newts used to appear in their hundreds when they were migrating to ponds in the spring and in the late summer when the hatchlings would leave the ponds and migrate to the woods.  I used to spend a lot of time picking them up off the road to protect them from cars.  I rarely see these newts anymore.  

We are also having many fewer bees and pollinating insects in the gardens.  This is not due to any change in the way we manage the gardens.  We try to have something blooming throughout the season and we provide shelter and water for the pollinators.  Something else is causing the decline in insects.  I believe it is mostly agricultural chemicals, (used by other people) but also our irresponsible use of cell towers and other forms of radio-frequency radiation  are probably another form of attack on insects.

Insects are enormously important at many jobs that keep the ecosystem functioning.  They are the base of the food web for many birds, and mammals.  They pollinate our crops.  

We have experienced a drastic fall in the number of bats on our farm.  When we came here, 16 years ago, the night sky was dazzling with bats.  We would sit out in the bath on our porch and the insects, particularly mosquitoes, would smell us as a tasty snack and fly around us.  The bats would skim in just over our heads and hoover them up.  Our last bath on the porch, we had one mosquito and saw four bats flying high, heading west.  It is simple, no insects, no bats.  All these things taken together suggest to me that we have crossed a threshold where the consequences of our collective stupidity and hubris are catching up with us.  

One of the oddest things I have seen this spring is a lot of infertile seeds.  Some of them were from the big seed companies and I do not have a lot of faith in such seeds.  I think they are sometimes many years old and they just keep putting them out for sale.  This spring, a lot of my friends were also seeing infertile seeds.  These were from very good local seed companies that I had dealt with before and always found their seeds to be of a very high standard.  A lot of their seeds were also infertile but what really surprised me is that some of my own fresh seed grown last year was also mysteriously infertile.  

We have all been having trouble getting squash seeds to germinate.  I planted 6 pots of one variety of zucchini and only one sprouted. Out of twelve seeds, only one sprouted!   A friend planted thirty pots of winter squash an only a few came up.  I planted 6 pots of a winter squash from Veseys  Seeds and only one seed sprouted.  Again, the pots were planted with two seeds to a pot.  

I was just out working near a patch of Jerusalem broad beans and they are in full flower and the day is warm and sunny.  I would normally expect to see lots of pollinators hard at work but there was not a single one on the bean blossoms.  

The question is, what can we do about this?  I believe the best that we can do is to support the few insects we have left by planting flowers they can use to feed on the nectar and pollen.  I bought a big packet of alyssum seeds and am planting them around the edges of ever vegetable bed where they can fit.  I am tucking calendula plants in between the cauliflowers, broccoli and cabbage.   I leave the opium poppies to grow in the garden wherever I can.  I have also planted out a lot of bachelor’s buttons because the tiny parasitic wasps drink nectar from their leaf joins even when there are no blooms.   

I have a lot of cosmos daisies, calendulas and German chamomile planted in beds outside in my yard where the deer can get at them.  They are blooming nicely and I harvest the chamomile flowers for tea and to use in making medicines and cosmetics.   So far, the deer have not eaten any of those flowers.  The deer are also uninterested in the beds of chocolate mint and lemon balm so these very useful herbs can be grown by everyone, not just people with a high-fenced garden.  

It is also important to put out saucers of water, filled with pebbles so the small insects can land and have a drink.  Other than that, maybe we should all consider using less of everything because almost everything humans do is polluting.  So for a holiday, going camping at a nearby lake might be a better choice for the Living Earth than flying to foreign parts.