Susan Werner pays a call and sings a song

June 30, 2013

DPlantmann is in the (solitary bee) house

Two weeks ago , I was horrified to read that 25,000 bumblebees had died in the town of Wilsonville, Oregon, after a landscaping company sprayed 55 linden trees in a Target parking lot to control for aphids. Unfortunately, within a matter of days, the estimated number of dead bees had risen to 50,000.

The Oregonian reported that

Aphids produce honeydew, a sticky liquid that can drip off onto cars or pedestrians. A Target representative said by email that the Wilsonville store had received no customer complaints about it.  (emphasis mine)

Now, in a moving and brilliant stroke of guerilla PR to honor the insects that pollinate the very food we eat,

Fifty thousand bumblebees  will be honored in a memorial this weekend at the Wilsonville Target where a majority of the insects died … Rozzell Medina, of Portland, said on the Facebook page that the event will “memorialize these fallen lifeforms and talk about the plight of the bees and their importance to life on Earth.”

The chemical that was sprayed was a product called Safari, which is distributed by the Valent U.S.A. Corporation, and its active ingredient is a neonicotinoid pesticide called dinotefuran. In the wake of this environmental catastrophe, the Oregon Department of Agriculture has issued a temporary restriction on eighteen insecticides with the active ingredient dinotefuran.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, which originally reported the bee slaughter, has done a review of research into the effects of neonicotinoid on bees, with recommendations for action, called Are Neonicotinoids Killing Bees? Among their findings:

  • Several of these insecticides are highly toxic to honey bees and bumblebees.
  • Neonicotinoid residues are found in pollen and nectar consumed by pollinators such as bees and butterflies. The residues can reach lethal concentrations in some situations.
  • Neonicotinoids can persist in soil for months or years after a single application. Measurable amounts of residues were found in woody plants up to six years after application.
  • Untreated plants may absorb chemical residues left over in the soil from the previous year.
  • Products approved for homeowners to use in gardens, lawns, and on ornamental trees have manufacturer-recommended application rates up to 120 times higher than rates approved for agricultural crops.
  • There is no direct link demonstrated between neonicotinoids and the honey bee syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). However, recent research suggests that neonicotinoids may make honey bees more susceptible to parasites and pathogens, including the intestinal parasite Nosema, which has been implicated as one causative factor in CCD.
  • Many neonicotinoid pesticides that are sold to homeowners for use on lawns and gardens do not have any mention of the risks of these products to bees, and the label guidance for products used in agriculture is not always clear or consistent.

In January of this year, the European Food Safety Authority decided that neonicotinoids pose an “unacceptable” danger to bees and adoped a proposal to restrict the use of 3 pesticides belonging to the nenicotinoid family (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam) for a period of 2 years.

Last week, if you listened to this show, you learned that aphids can be controlled organically. Not only that, as noted above, the ham-fisted insecticide treatmennt in Oregon was unnecessary. In fact, some U.S. scientists are now calling for an end to the use of such chemicals for cosmetic purposes.

Which brings us to today’s guest, Don Guzan, sometimes known as “DPlantmann.” Among the many things Don does in the horticultural and environmental world, he is also an advocate for solitary bees. As he wrote to me, “We couldn’t exist as a species without our native pollinators.”

If you think he’s talking about honey bees, you would be mistaken. Those bees, as beneficial as they have become to U.S. agriculture, are actually non-native species in the genus Apis. (By the way, bumblebees are not solitary, though many species are natives.) The Wildlife Habitat Management Institute of the Natural Resources Conservation Service has some information from “Native Pollinators” :

Although some plant species rely on wind or water to transfer pollen from one flower to the next, the vast majority (almost 90%) of all plant species need the help of animals for this task. There are approximately 200,000 different species of animals around the world that act as pollinators. Of these, about 1,000 are vertebrates, such as birds, bats, and small mammals, and the rest are invertebrates, including flies, beetles, but – terflies, moths, and bees.

Among the most common native pollinators are solitary bees, aptly named because most do not assemble in hives or colonies, and those that do aggregate live solitary lives among the others. Solitary bees pollinate valuable commercial crops such as apples, alfalfa, watermelon, sunflowers, strawberries, and blueberries. Solitary bees nest in a variety of interesting places including sticks, dirt mounds, and termite holes. A few species construct domed nests out of mud, plant resins, saps, or gums on the surface of rocks or trees. Many bees use abandoned beetle burrows or other tunnels in dead standing trees, or excavate their nests within the soft central pith of stems and twigs. Most species of solitary bees, however, nest in the ground, digging a tunnel in bare or partially vegetated, well-drained soil. Depending on the species, solitary bees can be generalist feeders or specialist feeders. Generalists are bees that gather nectar and pollen from a wide range of flower types and species. Often these are the more resilient species, able to survive in degraded environments with weedy or non-native plants. Specialists, on the other hand, rely on a single plant species or a closely related group of plants for nectar and pollen, and are more susceptible to the negative effects of landscape or habitat changes.

But back to Don. As a naturalist, he offers a number of unique environmental products on his website, such as solitary bee homes, heron stop systems, organic pest controls, and even photography and stained glass. Through his company Root Feeders, Don offers a number of horticultural, design and consultation services, including advice in project management, with particular expertise in quality improvement, cost control and staff organization/development. A seasoned and versitile professional who collaborates with others to provide creative solutions to complex problems.

Don and I will talk today about how to provide a bee friendly landscape. And he’s happy that solitary bees are finally getting the recognition they deserve. Me, too. Another thing he’s involved with is raisng backyard chickens. He has information on setting up a brooding area, heat and food requirements, behavior, and the process and reasoning of building a moveable coop (out of odds and ends). He says he got his 15 day old chicks at Meyer Hatchery.

We have a lot to cover. We’ll see what we can accomplish.

Susan Werner sings from the heart…of America

Since I try to be as transparent on my show as I can (possibly to a fault), I will cop to something. Until earlier this week, I had never heard of Susan Werner. .

It took only a few minutes of sampling songs from her career to realize that I was missing something special. She has been writing, singing and recording songs since the early 1990s. If you had to describe her music, you’d certainly use the words “country,” “folk,” “pop,” “jazz,” “rock,” “torch,” and “classic.” If you’re getting the idea that the lady is versatile, yeah, that’s what I’m saying. Oh, and don’t forget the words “funny,” “witty,” and “I can cut people to ribbons with my lyrics.”

Are you getting the picture? If not, just tune in today at 10am.

And she’s a true Midwesterner, raised on an Iowa farm, and now living in Chicago. Which means that a lot of what she writes hits home for those of us in the heartland. Especially her latest release, “Hayseed,” which is also available on iTunes. On it, she covers everything from pesticides to climate change to egg money to to Aldo Leopold…and who writes about Aldo Leopold?? Susan Werner does, that’s who.

The album was commissioned by the University of Nebraska’s Lied Center For The Performing Arts and the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the entire project began with seed money from fans during a successful PledgeMusic campaign.

Werner rewarded fans with items like signed ears of corn from her folks’ farm, and a percentage of the money raised was donated to three farming charities; Practical Farmers of Iowa in Ames, Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) of Spring Valley, Wisconsin, and The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas.

Hayseed was just released on June 25 and now Werner hits the road on a national tour, which, I’m told, will also include appearances at local farmers markets. Her first stop is next week, Friday, July 5 at City Winery, 1200 W Randolph Street in Chicago. Showtime is 8pm and tickets range from $20 to $40. Call 312/733-9463 for more information.

By the way, you can follow Susan on Facebook and Twitter. In fact, the best comment about her music is something that Susan wrote herself for her Twitter page: “i write a lotta songs, some are better than others.” Works fer me.