Royal Weddings and Marriages of Convenience

Bees in the Nepeta with Dew (NYC Skygarden)

While the world has been distracted all weekend by the spectacle of England’s royal wedding, I can’t stop thinking about the other royal wedding I learned about this week in the fabulous must-see movie Queen of the Sun: What are the Bees Telling Us.

For sheer entertainment values of sex, violence and drama, the royal wedding of the honeybee far outshines that of the Windsors. First, the emergent virgin queen kills all her rivals, stinging them through their cells. Then she embarks on her glorious marriage flight, mating with 12-15 drones mid-air, and storing their sperm in her spermatheca. A spermatheca! What a brilliant family planning device. Last seen (by me) in the snail.

Once the drone has performed his task of a lifetime, his lifetime ends quickly, as the in-flight mating rips out his penis and abdominal tissues. The queen goes on to lay around 2,000 eggs per day — more than her own bodyweight. Meanwhile, worker bees attend to her every need, feeding her and cleaning up after her. The queen can choose to fertilize the eggs using sperm from her spermatheca as the egg passes through her oviduct. Fertilized eggs become female workers (or queens) and unfertilized eggs become male drones.

Like coverage of the other royal wedding, Queen of the Sun is filled with eccentric characters and beautiful scenery. And though there is a lot of discussion about the troubles facing both monarchal systems, no one questions the relevance of the honeybees. They are in trouble, and we would do well to revere, honor and serve them as we will not last long without them.

Takeaway advice for gardeners who want to support the bees that support them:

  1. Plant bee-friendly flowers and flowering herbs in your garden and yard.
  2. Cherish your weeds (or at least don’t get all obsessive about removing them), as they can be havens for honeybees.
  3. Don’t use chemicals and pesticides to treat your lawn or garden. No. Not even Roundup! Especially not Roundup (or any other brand of glyphosate). I was horrified to attend an organic kitchen gardening course here a couple of years ago where Roundup was used “just around the edges” to keep things tidy. The neonicotinoid class of insectisides has been implicated in colony collapse disorder. Here are the members and their brand names so you can be sure to avoid:
    • Clothianidin: Poncho, Titan, Clutch, Belay, Arena.
    • Imidacloprid: Admire, Advantage, Confidor, Gaucho, Marathon, Merit, Premeir, Provado, Bayer Advanced, Rose Defense, Kohinor, Hachikusan, Premise, Prothor, and Winner.
    • Thiamethoxam: Actara, Crusier, Platinum, Helix, Centric
    • Acetamiprid: Assail, Intruder, Adjust
    • Thiacloprid: Calypso
    • Nitenpyram: Capstar
  4. Buy local, raw honey. This is a joy in New Zealand! I am currently loving both J. Friend & Co’s range and Earthbound Honey’s raw organic manuka honey.
  5. Bees are thirsty. Put a small basin of fresh water outside your home.
  6. Buy local, organic food from a farmer that you know. Choose organic food whenever possible.
  7. Learn how to be a beekeeper using sustainable practices. (National Beekeepers’ Association of New Zealand, Wellington Beekeepers Association)
  8. Understand that honeybees aren’t out to get you – they’re interested in pollen.
  9. Share solutions with others in your community.
  10. Let your government — and business— know what you think by both speaking out and supporting bee-friendly bee-friendly people and products.

Marriages of Convenience

Did you know that besides being the date of the Royal Wedding, Friday, April 29, 2011 was also World Immunology Day? Just as the garden is an ecosystem, so is the body. We humans are extremely chimeric — over 10% other species by weight. I celebrated by attending a fascinating presentation at the Malaghan Institute called “A Marriage of Convenience: partnering with microbes for better health.” Joanna Kirman spoke about mycobacteria and cancer. Graham Le Gros explored mycobacteria and asthma and Anne La Flamme gave a tour of our old friends, parasitic worms — currently being used in treatment of multiple sclerosis (and inflammatory bowel disease, among other chronic inflammatory disorders). If this stuff turns you on too, you can listen along and read my notes at right.

Meanwhile, in the Seagarden…

I just enjoyed the first sweet juicy tamarillo (Ted’s Red) of the season and first ever from my own trees. What a treat! The juice tasted almost like pomegranate. I wonder if it’s because they’re planted next to each other and have been sharing trade secrets?

Last week’s extreme winds savaged the wind-protective covers of my vegetable patches and blew all the feijoas right off the trees, regardless of their readiness. I removed the last of the spent tomato plants, harvested the rest of the tomatillos (which are also lovely in fresh raw juice) and planted an assortment of exciting new seedlings, including: cos/romaine lettuce, lolla rossa lettuce, miner’s lettuce, wild arugula, rocket aka arugula, pineapple sage, feverfew and lemongrass. And last but not least, Lhamo, a rescue of a rescue kitteh, is surveying the Seagarden this weekend. Will she stay? It’s looking likely.

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