A story of business-meets-environmental-stewardship
The small cottage sat inconspicuously back from Brainerd Road, overgrown and unkempt, mostly unnoticed as traffic passed. Tom Carroll saw an opportunity to turn it into a garden shop. With Grace Episcopal Church’s permission, he arranged last spring to rent and renovate it—only to discover a beehive from ceiling to floor behind the wall in one of the rooms.
Many people faced with a bee invasion would call the exterminator to solve the problem. But Tom, with his horticulture certificate and landscaping experience, said, “I didn’t feel like that was the right thing to do.” Instead, he called beekeeper Sandra Clay, a member of the Tennessee Valley Beekeepers Association. A hive box was built to sit outside near the bees’ house entrance. The house indoor wall was then removed, and Sandra pulled out honeycomb pieces, attaching them to hive frames with rubber bands and placing them in the hive box. The bees swarmed to the new place with their queen, where she continued her job of laying 1,000 or more eggs a day.
This is a marvelous stewardship story—especially because bees are in decline. They are suffering from Colony Collapse Disorder. Suspicion has fallen on certain pesticides and fungicides used on flowering plants. Can you say neonicotinoids? They are systemic, meaning they are taken up by all parts of the plant. They also harm other animals, persisting as long as five years in soil and leaching into waterways. In the pollination process, bees carry these pesticides back to the hive where they get into food fed to larvae and queen, thereby reducing fertility and reducing hive resistance to disease.
Bee life is fascinating. Imagine a single organism operating with 20,000-60,000 individuals living in a world of color and scent, each with special jobs to assure the success of the whole. In grade school one learns that bees (these are the females) fly out to look for food sources and come back to tell the others where to look by doing the “waggle dance.” But neonicotinoids impair bee memory. What if those bees cannot remember how to dance? That’s a serious concern when you realize that bee pollination is essential to the production of one out of every three bites of food we eat—not just honey.
The European Union has suspended use of three neonic pesticides, but the EPA has delayed action until a 2016-2019 review. Meanwhile, there are several ways we citizens can help: Plant a home garden filled with bee-friendly flowering plants such as salvia, lavender, coreopsis, marigold, primrose, phlox, alyssum, Shasta daisy, milkweed, clover, squash, buckwheat, sunflower, sugarbeet, tomato or corn.
A Xerces Society study analyzed plants purchased from top U.S. garden retailers including Lowes, Walmart and Home Depot, finding 51 percent of them contained neonicotinoid pesticides. So buy plants and seeds from local businesses such as Belvoir Gardens or Barn Nursery. Ask whether they are neonic-free. Read pesticide labels and avoid any with imidacloprid, acetimacloprid, clothianidin, thiacloprid, thiamethoxam, dinotefuran or nitenpyram. These neonics are mainly produced by Bayer and Syngenta. Try using homemade pesticides like garlic or citrus water instead.
A bigger step would be to become a beekeeper with a back yard beehive. Training is available (tennvalleybeekeepers.org). Sign up by Feb. 20. You can also download “Beekeeping in Tennessee” free from that site to learn more. You don’t have to worry about being stung unless you have a bee allergy. Non-threatened bees are far more interested in finding food or visiting the queen.
Finally, if you visit the Belvoir Gardens shop, thank Tom Carroll and ask to see the book that tells the story of the bee move. Then walk to the backside of the shop. The hive is buzzing and the bees are dancing.
Belvoir Gardens is located at 4022 Brainerd Rd. (423) 227-0360, facebook.com/belvoirgardens