5 ways you could help the bees through this drought

5 ways you could help the bees through this drought

bees

South Africa is currently experiencing one of the worst droughts in 20 years and it has certainly taken its toll on all ecosystems. One hears stories of animals that have to be culled in order to prevent a crisis of starvation and overgrazing. Even our little lemon tree at home is looking pretty bleak. A lot of our plants have not bloomed yet, and the ones that have’s blossoms are much smaller than usual and don’t last as long.

This is affecting all pollinators, and while many people are putting out bird feeders and have bird baths in their gardens, we often forget about the silent heroes, the BEES.  It seems that even amongst beekeepers there are some conflicting opinions on what the best practice might be. I have compiled a very short list of five things you could do that might save a whole colony of bees.

Put out some water for them, we here is South Africa can definitely testify of the rising global temperatures. Seeing as we are supposed to be in spring but is already experiencing temperatures in the 30°C region, I am assuming we will have another record breaking scorching summer. Bees generally have to work very hard during the summer months to regulate the temperature in the hives. When fresh, clean water is not easily available they might wonder off to the neighbour’s swimming pool, which might be catastrophic for them. Providing a close, clean and fresh water supply will help them cool off the core of the hive without having to fly too far for it. They also use the water to dilute the honey for the newBEES. It is important to know that once you’ve started to put out water for them you’ll have to keep it up, they are creatures of habit and will quickly start to depend on your source of water.

Planting drought savvy plants, it’s not too late to start. Bees will need to have nectar sources for much longer seeing as the amount of nectar on the flowers are so much less than usual because of the drought. A lot of succulent species will have flowers until late summer, and are great soldiers in a drought. Certain herb types such as lavender, sage, thyme, and rosemary will all be able to withstand the drought, more than others in any case, plus you get the added bonus of the wonderful aromas filling your garden and fresh herbs on demand. Most wildflowers are naturally drought resistant and makes for a beautiful and colourful garden at the same time.

Shade, this might be more relevant to beekeepers than laymen looking out for wild bees. By providing shade for the hive you will help to keep it cooler and they won’t have to work so hard, foragers can focus more of their energy and time on collecting nectar and less on collecting water to cool the hive. On the other hand I would also suggest that you put the water source in shade, thereby decreasing the amount of water that is evaporated by the scorching sun.

Harvest less honey, if you are a beekeeper it would be wise to harvest less honey than usual. It might seem that there is enough, or maybe even more than enough, but seeing as we do not know when the drought will end and how much nectar they will be able to collect before winter comes, it might be a good idea to let them store more of the honey. If you have more than one hive you could also keep a brood box frame, to transfer honey between the hives if  you see that one might not be producing enough.

This last point is somewhat of a controversial one, artificially feeding the bees. Many experts have conflicting opinions on this matter. Personally I have come to realise that in the long run it has more disadvantages than what it’s worth. Having said that, I also feel that in extreme circumstances, where it is a case of the bees literally starving or you feeding them, I would be in favour of it.  It is however, a very delicate thing and there are a number of factors to take into account. Firstly, it is imperative that you only use white refined sugar for your mixture, you can make a mixture of water and sugar, a ratio of 1:1 or 1 sugar: 2 water. Remember to put this mixture in a shallow plate or bowl and to put some pebbles or rocks that will stick out above the mixture, to allow the bees to gather the mixture without getting some of it onto their bodies or wings, which will subsequently lead to drowning. I have also read about people putting out a pollen supplement for the bees.

Just remember that whether you are putting out water or some form of a feeding station you might attract some unwanted predators in the process. Always keep an eye out for any signs that your bees are being robbed or killed, chances are something is luring the predators.

Alternatives to poisonous pesticides and insecticides

Alternatives to poisonous pesticides and insecticides

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So spring has sprung and the fruit trees are in full bloom, but what to do about those pesky insects that ruin just about all the fruit before they are even ripe and ready for you to enjoy?

If you are lucky enough to have at least one fruit tree in your garden you will know about the very real tragedy of watching them grow for several weeks only to find them ruined by fruit flies and/or other insects and birds by the time they are ready to eat. So if you are looking for an environmentally friendly alternative to those poisonous pesticides and insecticides you should keep reading because I’ll be listing a few of my favourites.

Before you decide on your method you should take note that there are good and bad insects, some insects are actually necessary in your garden and their presence is needed for a beautiful flourishing garden. These are insects that pollinate, and/or feast on other pests and insects. Be careful when using any form of insecticide or pesticide as it may also kill or repel the good insects.

Lime sulphur and dormant oil witch can usually be bought at nurseries, it can be sprayed onto the trunks and branches of dormant fruit trees; this suffocates and kills any insect eggs. Make sure that you only spray this on dormant trees as it can kill the tree.

You can also make your own dormant oil to spray onto the trees by mixing 1 cup vegetable oil and 2 table spoons liquid soap (like sunlight) in 4 litres of water. Shake well before and during use. This spray will unfortunately also kill the good insects, so make sure you only spray it on the affected plants and trees, and rather do it early in the morning or just before dark.

Help nature take its course, Praying Mantis fall under the category of good insects mentioned before, they consume most other garden insects and will so doing help you control your insect problem. You can actually buy Praying Mantis eggs from an online catalogue.

Lady bugs, there is a reason people say they bring good luck. They consume aphids, mites, whiteflies, and scale. You can either buy them from a catalogue online or lure them to your garden by planting daisies, tansies, or yarrows.

Birds can also wreak havoc in fruit trees; one option is to literally cover the canopy with fine mesh bird netting. Make sure that it is not tied too tightly, giving the fruit and the trees enough room to grow. Also do daily checks to make sure the fruit is not pressing against the mesh, or that there aren’t any holes in the mesh because the birds will eat through the holes.

This might sound cruel, but placing a rubber snake in a tree can also scare off most curious creatures including birds.

Anything reflective, you can either hang old cd’s in the tree, or long strips of flash tape, or even suspend reflective aluminium items from the branches.

None of these methods will physically hurt the birds and it might save some of those juicy fruit for you to enjoy when the time comes. Remember that birds need to eat, and placing bird feeders around the garden (away from your fruit trees) might actually also be beneficial to both parties, if they are able to get food easily from one place it might lure them away from you fruit trees.

Important to note that a study based on the USDA and FDA testing data, the fruit and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticide residue are:

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries
  • Nectarines (Imported)
  • Grapes
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Cucumbers
  • Blueberries
  • Potatoes
Solar vs Wind

Solar vs Wind

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I guess it depends on who’s asking, both solar and wind have their own unique advantages and disadvantages. For me, the key is the reference point and the end goal in mind.

Solar energy systems are generally more affordable and straightforward if you are looking to generate power for your own home. Some of the advantages here are that you can start out small and add on panels as you have the finances, the ease of installation of additional solar panels once the main system is up and running makes it perfect for someone that doesn’t necessarily have the capital to make a total switch at once. Aftermarket maintenance is limited as most solar panels have a life span of 20 years.

A solar panel system usually consist of the panels itself, which collect the sun’s rays and turn them into electricity, a battery system that stores the incoming DC currents, and an inverter that converts the DC signals into AC power, which is what we would generally receive from the grid. I came across an amazing website, SOLARNATION that explains the whole process in detail.

Solar panels are ideal for urban areas where space is limited; panels are installed on rooftops, which means no extra ground space is needed. For a household of two adults and two children it would cost between R70 000 and R100 000 to make a total switch to solar power.

Wind energy systems are generally more suited for larger commercial systems, where power is generated for small towns or to supplement the existing grid. These systems work well in a network, were a “wind farm” can be established. This means that a lot of space will have to be available not to mention the massive start-up capital. These systems are generally not used for the generation of personal power, and private people don’t often opt for this option.

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Having said that, the progress in terms of research and technology for home wind turbines have grown leaps and bounds in the last 5 to 8 years and there are quite a few options on the market for wind turbines that are more suited for use in urban areas, but you would still need about an acre of space if your goal is to switch a 100% to wind power. Kestrel is a renewable energy company that focusses on wind energy systems for urban customers. Other companies that can assist in home wind power systems include The Green Connexion and Ecotech Energy. A reasonable price, for a wind turbine system that generates about 3.5KW/h, is in the area of R85 000. A turbine system with this kind of capacity should be able to produce enough electricity to power between 60 – 100% of your household’s electrical demand; this of course would depend on a number of variables. Maintenance for wind turbines are limited once they are set up and they rarely need servicing at all.

So, to put it all into perspective for you and to help you with the decision making process, an average South African household with two adults and two small children uses between 550 and 750KW per month. This figure will vary of course depending on any number of factors such as appliances used, energy saving habits, and the time of year. So if you take into consideration your budget, energy demand and space available you should be able to work out the best option for your situation.

 

Consequences of our Acidic Oceans

Consequences of our Acidic Oceans

Consequences of our Acidic Oceans

As we all know there’s been a rapid increase in the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere as a direct consequence of our way of life, burning fossil fuels for our primary source of electricity. This has had many negative effects on the earth and all environments around us. Trees are a great roll player in the photosynthesis process whereby they turn the CO2 in the air into breathable oxygen for all living creatures, and while the recent drives to plant trees and stop deforestation are great and should be continued, it is should not be our only concern in searching for a solution for the quest to decrease CO2. The ocean absorbs about a quarter of the CO2 we release into the atmosphere every year.

The ocean is absorbing about half of the man-made CO2 that is in the air.  Carbonic acid is what is formed when CO2 is absorbed in the ocean, thus resulting in Ocean Acidification.

The acidification of the ocean has many effects, not only on the ocean species but on a global scale as well. Did you know that the zooplankton in the ocean is responsible for producing most of the earth’s oxygen?

Coral reefs are also an integral part of the ocean’s balance, not only do they provide shelter for millions of little creatures but they also provide food for many of them. The increase in the acid levels is significantly reducing the ability of reef-building corals to produce their skeletons.

Have you ever heard of Pteropods? Better known as the sea’s butterflies, they are also a major food source for many different species underwater, but most importantly to the North Pacific juvenile salmon. By 2100 these Pteropods will have literally slowly dissolved, if the acidity level keeps rising at the current rate.

It is also affecting shelled organisms, and as a result the entire underwater food web. The fact is that there are limited information and research available on this topic, but scientists all agree on one thing, and that is that the changes in the chemistry of the ocean can only lead to catastrophe, and we need to act as fast as possible if we want to prevent it from happening.

Globally over a billion people depend directly or indirectly on the ocean for their primary source of subsidence. Do you know that burning 1 ton of coal emits 2.86 tonnes of CO2, it is estimated that in 2011 the U.S alone emitted about 1.87 billion tonnes of CO2.

Now is the time to seriously consider renewably energy sources like wind and solar. The prices of renewable energy solutions are currently at an all-time low and it is more affordable now than ever before. It is time that the countries that signed the Paris agreement all stand together and reach realistic ways in which to reach their goals, I believe the answer is in government funded renewable energy plants, instead of building new coal plants, yes a wind or solar energy plant may be more expensive initially, but if the running costs were to be considered, they quickly seem more and more viable. There is no coal to mine, or buy, minimal waste and footprint on its environment.

What is your standpoint on coal vs renewable energy?

Urban Farming

Urban Farming

Urban Farming 2

With an ever increasing world population people have to start thinking out of the box for food solutions. One of these great new revolutions is urban farming. Urban farming is exactly that, farming and producing food within the urban community, there are many ways in which it can be done.

Urban farming has many advantages, including a reduced carbon footprint due to limited transportation needs, utilising space that would otherwise be wasted, adding to a greener look of cities, as well as contributing to the reversal of the alarming levels of CO2 present in cities. It is also found that it generally uses less soil and water, and very importantly, supplies a pollen source for the city bees.

Rooftop Gardens

These are often the most popular and prevalent due to its simplicity. Very little initial infrastructure is required and it often also serves as a stress outlet for the people involved in it, a sort of ‘get away’ from the city’s hustle and bustle.

Over the weekend I saw a documentary where the shop was growing most of its own fruit and veggies on the rooftop. This means there is practically no transport involved, significantly reducing the carbon footprint of these produce. And because there isn’t nearly as much soil to be watered you save on that as well, not to mention the space efficiency.

Aquaponics

It uses less than 5% of the water of conventional commercial farming. This method produces both fresh leafy greens and a healthy supply of Tilapia fish. I have seen very successful examples of this in old warehouses, where the fish is kept in tanks, big enough for them to grow sufficiently, with tall frames holding the containers of greens. There is no soil involved and the roots of the greens hang in a channel of water below them, the nutrient rich water from the fish tanks are flushed through these water channels ‘feeding’ the plants, and assisting in the filtration process of the tank’s water. These frames consist of numerous shelves with UV and LED lights that serves as a kind of replacement for the sun, which means that these veggies grow 24/7. Another advantage of this type of farming is that no pesticides are needed since the environment is controlled and no bugs can get into this closed system.

I hear you when you ask, ‘but what about the electricity involved to power this system?’ Because both LED and Fluorescent lights are more power efficient when running them long term as opposed to regularly switching them on and off, they use surprisingly little electricity. So much so that it would be totally viable to run this system on a solar or wind powered energy source.

Vertical Gardening

This is different from Aquaponics in some key aspects. Firstly there aren’t necessarily Tilapia fish involved, and these are often grown in greenhouses, or outside, where they are fuelled by the sun, and not artificial lighting.

However, people often get confused due to the fact that they both include stacking up the greens on tall frames. In vertical farming, these frames often rotate, so as to give each shelf enough time in the sun to grow sufficiently. This system can also very easily be powered by wind of solar energy.

Backyard Gardens

This trend is gaining popularity by the day, with more and more people trading in their lush green lawns for a more nutritious veggie garden. I have written a very informative  post about this previously, which will also help you to save water in the process.

Other examples of urban farms include beekeeping, cattle farming and underground gardens.  With more difficult circumstances caused by droughts, global warming, wild fires, and displaced people food security is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve.

How do you plan to help relieve the pressure of food security?

How to be more sustainable

How to be more sustainable

What does it being sustainable really mean- (1)

Now that it is a little clearer on what it takes to live a sustainable life. I will share some of my tips and tricks on exactly how you can decrease your carbon footprint, conserve energy, water and other resources, and be more self-sustaining.

Conserve energy

There are many ways in which to achieve this, and it can be applied in all aspects of your life. Inside the house you can use energy efficient appliances, switch off lights that are not in use, make use of energy saver light bulbs, insulate your house and limit air conditioning (heating or cooling). For more tips on how to save energy in the house read: Five ways to save electricity this winter

Reduce your carbon footprint

This entails much more than just carpooling to work, or buying an electric car; if the electricity that you use to charge your car comes from coal based energy then it isn’t reducing your carbon footprint at all. In order to reduce your carbon footprint you need to make informed choices. You need to know the process that is required to produce a certain product; there are some solar panels that will not be able to recover the amount of energy that was used to produce them in their lifetime.

Be more self-sustaining

This is something more personal, and it will change from one person to the next, but I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that your contribution should consist of something that you enjoy and might see yourself doing for the rest of your life, something that could very easily become a habit or even a hobby for you.

Making your own compost, and using it in your own vegetable garden is a great way to be more sustainable, but if you do not have sufficient space it will not be practical, nor when it is not something that you could see yourself doing.

Re-use

Re-using is often much better than recycling because recycling actually uses a lot of energy. Re-using and re-applying something that you would normally throw out saves the time and energy that it requires to take that item to the landfill when it’s thrown out, as well as the time and energy to sort and recycle the recyclables.

There are, however, certain things that should be recycled, even if it is for the simple fact that the more of it gets recycled the less will hopefully be newly produced, like plastics, and aluminium products.

Certain glass product  are good examples of things that can be re-used, for example, a used glass bottle to keep water in the fridge, or re-using glass jars if you make your own jams, jellies and chutneys, or rather re-using a glass container in the kitchen instead of buying and using plastic containers.

Be water wise

Water can actually also be re-used, we re-use our shower, sink and washing water (from the dishwasher and washing machine) in the garden, you would be surprised at how much water is generated by the above mentioned activities, if you are interested in saving water in and around the house, you could read: 5 Ways to save water every day.

You could actually also design your garden itself to be more water efficient, by planting your flowers, fruits, and veggies in boxes or pots the amount of soil that needs to be watered is less and the area to where the water could possibly spread to is smaller, so it is applied to a more concentrated area, using only what the plant needs. You can read more on how to save water in your veggie garden here: Sustainable living: vegetable gardening.

Get with the BUZZ

It can be argued that bees form part of the backbone of the finely balanced equilibrium of all ecosystems, by pollinating millions of flowers each year they provide food and substance for the masses. They also have lots of other by-products that we humans use in our everyday life.

If you are not able or willing to have your own beehive, there are other options, like the ‘adopt-a-hive’ initiative. Read all about the Busy Busy Bees from this link.

Spread the word

Never underestimate the power of word of mouth, people tend to listen more to their friends and family than they do a stranger in an article. There are still too many people that think conservation and environmental issues are just hot air. What we need is as many people as possible to do their small part and the results could be huge.

What does it take to live a sustainable life?

What does it take to live a sustainable life?

What does it being sustainable really mean- (2)

Sustainable, green living and clean energy are all words that are trending right now, but what do they really mean? Truly living in a sustainable way is much more than just installing a solar geyser, which is still a great idea by the way. Green living requires a shift in mind set, habits, and perspective. Truly understanding why it is important is the first step, and probably the most important.

We as humans have, for many decades, over indulged in all that mother nature has to offer, we have driven species to extinction, set off a ripple effect starting with greenhouse gasses and globing warming, and taken earth’s ability to ‘bounce back’ for granted. But it is not too late for us to right our wrongs, and people need to realise that the sooner we start the better.

The first step in making a lifestyle shift to one that is more eco-friendly and sustainable is to realise that there are many luxuries that we can do without. Once we realise that we do not need to water our lawns and gardens every single day, for example, or that we do not need to heat the whole house in winter time, but rather just the rooms we are using at the moment, we will start to see how we have lived wastefully.

Step two is just as important, it is where we must realise the full extent of the effects that our way of life has on our environment. Many people are in denial over global warming and its effects, what makes it worse is that people of influence that feel they should express their uninformed opinions publically. Ignoring and denying it will not make it go away, people need to realise this is a real issue, and that our own quality of life will get a lot worse if we do not act now.

Lastly it is crucial that we act on it right away, the sooner we start making changes to decrease our carbon footprint and the effect on nature, the better our chances are to turn this runaway bus around. Making sustainable life choices means that we are ensuring a future for many generations to come; we are saving and re-using our resources, protecting and conserving all life forms (fauna, flora, oceans, and humanity).

For me the goal has always been to not live wastefully, to use only what I absolutely need and leave the rest for the next person, the future. Over the years I have picked up some skills from experience, and learned some tricks from others. Follow the link for my post on how to be more sustainable.