Sunday, July 6, 2014

Consider the bees

Haven’t been posting for a few weeks.  During that time, much has happened.  I got to spend a few wonderful weeks with my DD#2.  We spent most of our time visiting places in New England that were on both of our bucket lists before she left for a new life and career in Spain.  I also started a new job—closer to my dad’s so that I can stay with him during the week.   Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the internet at his house.

That’s partly been a good thing as I tend to be distracted by it.   Not having the internet has forced me  to turn to other activities like long walks after work and restoring some of the gardens at my dad’s house that are overgrown.   I also do most of the cooking and spend more time in conversation with my dad.  I’m catching up on books I’ve wanted to read and learning how to download books from the library onto the kindle my daughter gave me.

The weather has been wonderful.  My walking has taken me through neighborhoods where I grew up and I’ve rediscovered the pleasure and convenience of living in suburbia—a walk to the corner store for milk and a newspaper, a short drive to reach a major store, rubbish pick-up and mail delivery—all things I don’t have here.   Ernie, my cat travels back and forth with me and is adjusting well to living in two places.

As I mentioned above the gardens that once were a showplace of 100 year old peonies and roses have become overgrown.   The rich loamy soil that was once like wet coffee grinds is now dry and powdery and full of shallow tree roots,  due to my father letting trees grow everywhere.   He has several 2nd generation Norway maples that are the offspring of a larger tree in a neighbor’s yard.   He thought the trees would meant less mowing for him but the trees have sapped all of the nutrients out of the soil and the grass now has to be heavily fertilized and watered in order to maintain the “golf-course” look that my dad wants.

My dad isn’t alone,  all of the neighbors on his street seem to be in competition for the greenest and thickest turf and most mornings when I leave for work, I see at least one landscaping company trucks parked at a neighbor’s. The problem with this is that across the street from my dad’s house, the Plymouth River flows.   All of that nitrogen-rich fertilizer and pesticide is leaching through the soil into the river. 

Years ago a beautiful lawn was lush and green and full of white clover.   White clover is a legume, it pulls nitrogen from the air and fixes it to its roots.   The grass that grows in with the clover is dark green, healthy and lush.  

White clover is no longer added to grass seed mixtures.  I had a difficult time finding it and when I did the salesman told me that it was considered a “weed”.  Some of the other reasons are that it dies down in winter and creates temporary bare patches, which, btw, quickly fill in by the more desirable perennial grass rhizomes.   Clover also attracts honey and bumble bees which are docile and non-aggressive but sometimes get confused with wasps and hornets which are aggressive.  Clover also attracts wildlife like deer and rabbits because it is rich in nutrients and lastly there are the little white flowers which some lawn purists find objectionable.  They can be minimized by frequent mowing.   Clover also smells amazing when it is cut, even better than grass, and recovers very quickly from mowing or foot traffic.  Clover will quickly shade out weed seeds like crab grass and chickweed.

Lastly, all of us have in some part contributed to CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) that is affecting the honey bee population.  Most experts agree that one of the  main contributors to CCD is the use of pesticides that are used in the lawn industry.   It’s been a long time since I’ve seen honeybees buzzing about in my garden or lawn and this year, I’ve seen less and less solitary bees.   I’m getting worried.    We need to make it right again and not be swayed into thinking that a weed-free/insect-free  lawn is the only alternative and only possible by using chemicals (there are organic alternatives available).  Water, ph levels and choosing the correct species of grass for the area are equally as important.

Benefits of Clover (excerpted from

  • White clover (Trifolium repens) is a rapid spreader that crowds out broadleaf weeds while it grows harmoniously with grass. It will thrive in areas that are poorly drained or too shady for a conventional lawn.
  • Being a legume, clover has the ability to convert nitrogen into fertilizer using bacteria in it's root system, practically eliminating the need for additional fertilization.
  • It is an extremely drought-resistant plant and will keep its cool-green color even during the hottest and driest parts of summer.
  • Left uncut, white clover grows 4-8 inches tall and produces small white flowers that are often tinged with pink. The flowers not only create a beautiful visual effect, but also bring in bees, butterflies, and beneficial insects that prey on garden pests.
  • Honeybees rarely sting when they are away from their hive, but if they make you uncomfortable or you are allergic to bee stings, simply have the lawn mowed more often when clover is in bloom.