The tinkering with the financial underpinnings of Rainshadow Farm is moving along. That is to say, it looks as if the loan modification will likely go through. We are starting our trial period in November, with the new loan finalized in March. It’s taken so long, and I’ve been through so many ups and down becoming the sole owner of this over-priced piece of property. I must admit I felt a sense of completion and satisfaction in seeing with my own eyes the old-fashioned language printed on the new deed: “KIW, an unmarried woman.” There’s a dignity to that phrase that makes me think of my great aunt, an unmarried woman farmer in West Virginia, who owned her little piece of “almost Heaven” on a hillside above the Kanawha River. When I saw the document I thought of her and the ways her life has inspired mine over the years. It gave me a moment of peaceful joy. Peace in the midst of chaos.
I told myself that if the loan modification went through, I would bring in some bees. I do have bees circulating on this property throughout the warm weather, even when it is warm in the fall, like it has been until the last few days. Even now, as the weather is rapidly cooling into late fall/early winter in the high desert, there are a few bees still out. The lilacs are trying to bloom for the third time this year. On the way into the house tonight after a Halloween party and work, Erin pointed out a strawberry in the front and there are several strawberry flowers blooming in the front beds.
As for the bees — the farm has high desert plants that attract them — in the spring and fall there are copious desert wildflowers. I’ve also begun seeding parts of the farm with local wildflowers that are not already growing here, but may be a quarter-mile or half-mile down the road. That’s one reason I try to keep about 1/2 my land uncultivated, for the bees and for other farm-friendly insects, too. I cultivate herbs and flowers that attract them around the property. The biggest all-season attractors over the last few years seem to be lavender, rosemary, and various mints including lemon balm. Some mints need more water, but since I irrigate the orchard area already and mints are opportunistic, they spring up in all around. Lavender and rosemary are particularly nice since bees flock to them and they require less water than many attractive herbs.
Over the last decade or more honeybees have been dying off at unusually high rates. In the winter of 2012 almost one third of the honeybee colonies in the USA died or disappeared. In colony collapse disorder (CCD) beekeepers find their hives abandoned, with the wax and honey left behind.
I have heard of beekeepers finding their bees dead in the hives and on the ground. Pesticides have been blamed. Neonicotinoids pesticides, a newer class of pesticide — ironically said to be safer for farm animals and humans — is frequently the culprit named in the death of these little pollinators. Even very small amounts of neonicotinoids appear to have a powerful effect on bees. Varroa mites are known to be a threat to bees. Large monocultures, especially commodity crops of corn and wheat, may be weakening bees since they provide less of the pollen bees need to survive than a similar amount of polycultures would provide. Pesticides, inadequate food quality and quantity, and parasitic mites might all be acting together to create an environment inhospitable enough to bees to cause their decline.
And what of other pollinators? This report indicates that not only honeybees but populations of hummingbirds, nectar-feeding bats, and butterflies are declining. Habitat loss and fragmentation is a problem, as is global climate change. Tucked into this article is mention of the potential influence of climate change on the ability of pollinators to interact with flowers they need to survive. And as a micro-scale farmer, I might add these are interactions needed for the flowers to produce fruit.
I do think climate change is having an impact. How can massive climate change not throw things out of equilibrium? In the high desert many fellow gardeners and farmers have mentioned noticing a change in the times that their local pollinators show up. As small-scale growers and household gardeners, perhaps the best thing we can do for the pollinators (along with participating in wildlife and farm policy activism) is to watch our gardens and plant plenty of rich flowering plants in great variety. We can observe the land and notice (even taking notes and photographs) which pollinators show up at what times of year and what seems to attract them each season. I know that the growing seasons have shifted in this region over the last several years. The patterns of precipitation have changed. In other words, the high desert climate is changing. I’ve blogged about this in the past in more detail. I hope that if we can provide space for local wildflowers and flowering shrubs to grow, along with our cultivated food plants, we might help the potentially endangered pollinators. If we do not use pesticides, we may provide even more local help to the pollinators.
Considering all of this, I was very pleased to see bumblebees near the grapevines in the back yard this summer.