Encouraging the ‘mighty bee’ and a butterfly hula

Two weeks into spring, many blooms brighten our island landscapes. Occasional dusky cecropia moths, brilliant monarchs and white butterflies dance through the garden — not nearly the air ballet seen some years back when our host plants for the monarchs were decimated by hungry caterpillars preparing for the chrysalis stage before emerging as winged “dancer” pollinators.

As attractants, we’re about to plant more crown flowers, which the monarchs choose for egg-laying, and also plants rich in pollen and nectar. Keeping all controls organic will ensure a continued healthy green space. Each of us can help in our own outdoor spaces when the need arises by using environmentally sound products such as simple soap washes and sprays containing neem oil. Apartment and condo dwellers can follow suit when undertaking container gardening.

Gardening, including pruning, digging, planting and weeding, is good exercise. Stationary bikes and health club devices never yield such pleasing results. Besides, you’ll know you’re contributing a green thumb-print while enjoying the yield and beauty of a home garden — edibles and/or flowers — and the pleasures derived from this work.

Continuing with the bees a’buzzing subject of the last “Green Flash,” have you actually heard the song of the bees out there? We haven’t. We’re missing that lovely hum. Fewer bee “bundles” are entrapped in the garden spider webs I regularly dismantle with my trusty bamboo rake.

Reports the world over show dwindling bee (and butterfly/insect) populations. Mainland almond growers have found it necessary have beehives trucked in to be placed in their orchards. The work accomplished by bees spreading pollen is entirely necessary to other prized crops — apples, tomatoes, watermelons, and let’s not forget our own Hawaii-grown papayas, Macadamia nuts and more.

There’s little doubt now that the use of chemicals for weed control have been a major cause — along with attacking mites and urbanization — leading to this major shift in natural pollination. More than one in five U.S. honey bee colonies have been lost not only in winter, but in summer, too. The European Union in 2013 limited — and in 2018 will ban — agro-chemicals containing neonicotinoids (neonics), chemically similar to nicotine. These insecticides prove toxic to insects, though less to birds and mammals. Canada is considering following suit. The United Kingdom has strong lobbying interests that are slowing down such measures. So, too, the United States.

We seem to reinvent the wheel with the reported study after study on the results of using poisonous controls for agriculture. Still, we have non-believers.

Meanwhile, corporate giants such as Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta shrug off the scientific reports that will cut their sales. They regularly spread “no worry” messages to offset the chance of regulations that will cut their enormous profits while giving back health to insects and crops — and human beings. A recent “scathing UN report,” reports SumofUs.org, calls the story that we need pesticides to feed the world “a complete myth.”

The subject of “A World with BEES” loomed so important that it flew onto “Time” magazine’s cover in 2013. The lead article stated a number of almost doomsday facts. Many world citizens already believed that the time had come for a global ban on the use of harmful chemicals to grow food.

Before revisiting the subject of also encouraging butterflies in our gardens, I’ll mention the heartening news of June 2014 that Kauai students from three North Shore schools were participating in a “Pollinators in Paradise” program. At the onset of this course, the students considered bees to be “pesky insects” and seemed unaware that roughly 80 percent of foods they enjoyed require pollination. They soon gained a true understanding of the “mighty bee.” This reported shift in outlook took place during hands-on planting and tending of flowers rich in pollen and nectar, while limiting use of chemical products known to be harmful to bees, as well as other insects and birds.

Also in 2014, our County Council granted our apiarists the right to test their honey for chemical content. Interestingly, the results were deemed “confidential” so as not to affect product sales.

In the spring of 2016, Kapaa High School student Ritikaa Kumar was awarded a third place in the biochemistry category of the state Science and Engineering Fair for her senior division project: “Honey as a Measure of Environmental Contamination by Glyphosate.” In the recent March 19 TGI “Forum,” Kekaha beekeeper Gordon LaBedz questioned the recent state report that Kauai bees were judged healthy and thanked the County Council for funding a pesticide study of our bees. The “ocean friendly, organic yard” apiarist wrote that his honey contained Roundup (glyphosate is in Roundup) and quoted Jane Goodall, “Whoever thought it was a good idea to grow food with poison?”

Other qualified Kauai citizens, such as Carl Berg, have used scientific procedures to measure harmful content to report results. It seems we seesaw between whether it’s pollen that’s being assessed, or honey … and so we go, with another expensive “official” local study undertaken. Hopefully, the results of this one will counter the red herrings being tossed our way.

Staying aware and patiently waiting for positive action, our home garden focus now is to find plant suppliers, particularly of native plants such as hibiscus and olona. And mamaki, the leaves of which attract and host the disappearing Kamehameha butterfly.

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Dawn Fraser Kawahara has focused on arts and culture, and the environment, on Kauai since the early 1980s. She and her husband, a retired biology teacher, live in Wailua Homesteads. Their passion for travel feeds into the writer’s monthly TGI column, “FarAway Places.” Kawahara’s books are available through Amazon and other outlets. Information: www.kauaiweddingsandbooks.com.

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