The struggling bee colony depends on dandelions for survival.
Out of all the species on our planet, perhaps one of the last you'd expect to need our help would be the bee.
They've got a good system. The drones serve the queen, the workers collect the pollen, and the honey feeds them. From them, we gather honey, beeswax, and royal jelly.
However, they are in trouble, good system or not. Bee populations are declining worldwide, and no one is really sure why. Scientists are able to point fingers at a lot of possible culprits, including poisons from pesticides, viruses, and malnutrition. Colony Collapse Disorder, in which a previously healthy hive dies off or is abandoned, affects the bee population as high as 70 per cent in some areas.
And why should you care? Well, if you enjoy eating apples, almonds, blueberries, cherries, cucumbers, onions, or a long list of other bee-pollinated foods, bee decline directly affects you. It affects us all. If we lose the bees, we are in big trouble. Food shortages would be a certainty.
There are a few things we can do to assist the bees, and one of them requires no effort whatsoever. In fact, it takes away one of your summer chores. All you have to do is leave your dandelions alone.
I've never really understood the big deal about eradicating dandelions from a lawn anyway. Sure, a uniformly green lawn looks nice, but seems inversely proportional to the amount of work needed to achieve it, particularly when you factor in the herbicides and pesticides necessary. Yet people are more than willing to put in the work. Driving around a Halifax suburb last weekend, I saw dozens of people on their hands and knees, spraying the weeds or digging them up by the roots.
Dandelions are not just pretty faces. Those bright blooms and dark green leaves are packed with good stuff. Dandelions are commonly included in herbal medicines, as they are rich in vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, and antioxidants. They can be used to treat liver and urinary disorders, skin problems, high blood pressure, anemia, and other health problems. Dandelion greens are delicious and very nutritious – you can pick yourself a great salad in your backyard.
It's true they spread quickly and we are accustomed to think of them as ruining the aesthetic pleasure of a well-kept green lawn. But all it takes is a little appreciation and attitude adjustment to see them in a whole new light.
So how do dandelions help the beleaguered bee? When bees first emerge from their hives, hungry after the long winter, nature in her wisdom provides early blooms like the plentiful dandelion to feed them pollen and nectar. Simply put, leaving your dandelions alone means leaving the bees an important early food source.
There are other things you can do, such as planting bee-friendly flowers, and reducing the pesticides you use around the garden. But leaving your dandelions alone is the easiest. It literally requires no effort to do, and can make a big difference to the struggling bee.
Maybe a full conversion to dandelion-lover just isn't in your cards. If that's the case, consider leaving the first crop of dandelions on your lawn until they begin to seed. That leaves the bees their vital first food until other flowers are up and blooming, after which you can dig them up and get only a slightly later start to your dandelion-free lawn. That would be a great way to help out and still achieve the lawn you want.
The more awareness we gain of the world around us, and the ways in which we affect the nature that sustains us, the better. People are realizing that there are things we can all do, at our local and individual level, to effect positive changes. The predictions for our future species survival might seem dim at times, but when we pay attention to our choices and the connections we make between ourselves and our planet, the less dim that becomes.
And, admit it: things are certainly less dim when you're looking at a field of sunny yellow flowers.
- Susan Whistler is a local writer and co-creator of the children's book, "The Great Crow Party." She enjoys her family, walks by the ocean, and perfectly placed apostrophes. She can be found online at www.susanwhistler.com. ‘