Dance of the Flowers Moon
The world is awash in beauty this month! Every place you look is a portrait of stunning beauty, the lush lavishness bequeathed to us in June. It is absolutely our duty to notice and be in awe! The fragrance-filled air that wafts by our noses, the complex palettes of green, the rainbows of flowers dazzling our eyes, the soft green grass under our bare feet, the bird hymns, leaf clattering, and bee buzzing on the summer breeze, the soft sun caressing our food crops delighting our daily tastes, it truly is a feast of the senses.
I was astonished a few weeks ago, when a neighbour complained to a small group about all the flowering shrubs in our common area…telling the group to just "cut 'em down and gravel it. It's a waste of money!" I felt despair not only for this man’s soul, but also for the incredible gifts that are given to us, to be enjoyed in our embodied earthly form, yet so carelessly spurned as unworthy and unnecessary. How can we be so disconnected from Life and that which gives us life? How can your soul not sing this month?
We have planted many fruit and nut trees recently, so we decided to become a host to mason bees.
We messed up last year not knowing how to take the bee house down at the right time, place the cocoons in safe keeping until next spring, and then appropriately wash the houses. Nevertheless, numerous bees hatched from that one house, a testament to the resilience and abundance of the living world which does not need human management! With knowledge of best practices now, we purchased twice as many bees as last year and put up another house. The flowering shrubs literally vibrate with activity. It has been a wonder watching how hard these little bees work at pollination and reproducing themselves!
Most people think of honeybee colonies as responsible for pollination, but the native mason bees, a solitary bee smaller than a bumble bee, are the real workhorses of the pollination world. As beekeeper Rose McCully calculates, the iridescent, mild-mannered black mason bees visit and pollinate 1600 flowers in one day(!). In contrast, the honeybee visits 700 blooms a day but only pollinates about 30. The specialized hairs on their body and specifically their abdomen carry pollen as well as pollen baskets on the hind legs. Pollen contains proteins and fats for bee growth. That said, honeybee workers make ten million foraging trips to gather enough nectar for one pound of honey! A local honey beekeeper showed me how to work with bees, a complete thrill to be come part of their life!
Without bees, many ecosystems would fail. Along with wind, bees are responsible for the lion’s share of pollination for all fruits, nuts, vegetables, and flowers. Our ability to eat fruit and nuts largely rests in the hands of bees. Bees gather up pollen from the male part of a flower (anther) and transfer it to the female part (pistil). In a profound mutual relation, the flowers receive pollination and the bees receive food.
As Michael Pollan explains in The Botany of Desire (2001), flowers and bees exist in a very close
relationship that has evolved over millennia. It is a dance between those beings who can move and those beings who are stationary. Through gorgeous, colorful and scented flowers, the plants call the bees to help them achieve some core tasks. In this coevolution, the form and scent of the plants is selected by the bees. They “wind up trading favours” as the plant is able to reproduce just as the bees can now reproduce with the pollen and nectar for their young.
And humans receive the resulting fruit. The greater the amount of pollen received by the flower, the bigger and more abundant the fruit. As Pollan suggests, plants also act on us, getting us to do things for them as well. The sweetness of apple tree draws us to them, particularly given few naturally occurring sweet foods. Our desire for sweetness means we carry these seeds and plants to new places where we settle, thereby facilitating spread of the plant. In the case of the apple, it has spread from Kazakhstan to all continents.
Honeybees are a social bee and they work together to reproduce, care for young, find food as well as build and defend a nest. Honeybee nests can reach 60,000 individuals with specialization of duties in the nest. As https://themindunleashed.com tells us, bees get so tired gathering and hauling pollen, that they fall asleep inside the flower, with their little behinds covered in pollen! Upon looking, sure enough they do!
Bees have been under assault especially since the 1990s with mite infestations and industrial chemicals, particularly neonicotinoids (highly toxic to bees), but also the bioaccumulation of pesticides/insecticides/herbicides/fungicides/fumigants. From the documentary, The Pollinators, Germany has seen a loss of 75% of its flying insect mass. As there are not enough native bees in North America either, bees are trucked across the USA to pollinate large farms of everything from almonds to peaches. But indiscriminate spraying while bee colonies are in the area means up to 30% of bees are killed every year.
This profound disrespect for a living being, treating it as a disposable machine, is outrageous. With over 3000 chemicals registered for use on foodstuffs, we are also impacted, including changes in hormones, loss of human fertility and increases in autism spectrum, ADHD, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. While fresh vegetables and fruit provide much needed nutrition and vitamins, this chemical cocktail offsets the goodness of our food. It is just one reason we should be growing our own food.
While we need to advocate for the health of all living beings and stop the power of the industrial chemical lobby…individually we also need to implement permaculture practices. In other words, we need to understand how to live within ecological systems. Natural systems have four basic principles – they self-organize, self-design, self-repair, and self-perpetuate – from the level of our cells up to large ecosystems. If we adhered to these basic principles, it would utterly change how we live and the landscapes where we live. We need to become an integral part of our local ecology, living in harmony with bees and all other beings and elements. Permaculture means the co-evolution of culture, agriculture, and the natural world. Rather than putting massive tracts of land under tillage, we can create permanent plantings that produce in synergistic ways.
Finally, bees have long been a symbol of the soul and of divine intelligence, given the exacting combs that they create. We can follow their lead and use smart, regenerative practices that nurture healthy soil, healthy food, and a healthy, aesthetic environment for all beings. Bees can teach us about living in community and for the common good.
As I sit in my favorite place, between two Spanish lavender plants, or hike up by the glacier lilies, I have been enjoying the flights and vibrations of the bee family.
This month, enact David Holmgren’s first principle of permaculture…observe and interact. Watch your environs for all the species that are interacting there. Watch the bees, butterflies, and all other species…what are they doing, what function are they performing, and how might you cooperate with it? This is always the first task of permaculture gardening. Your watching task can expand to include the movement and dynamics of the sun, moon, wind, rain and soil. With this information, you can begin to think about how to design the space you live within, to be a co-evolving one. Acting in this way, we can give back some of the sweetness and beauty we receive from abundant natural world.