Sunday, June 9, 2019

Bees Luv Dandelions

One of our girls enjoying a Dandelion
     It was a beautiful, sunny, 20 degree celsius (70 fahrenheit) day in the garden and the bees were very active.  At this time of year there are a wide assortment of blossoms available to be foraged upon but one of the favourites is an unplanted native, invasive plant, the Dandelion (Taraxacum) of the Asteraceae (Aster) Family. Many still think of the Dandelion as an unwanted weed but I hope that attitude is changing along with the need for a manicured lawn (Grow food not lawns).  For us the Dandelion can flower throughout the growing period and if the seed heads are allowed to mature you are guaranteed a plentiful crop.
     My city garden is a 4 acre community garden close to downtown Vancouver and through the years I have grown to appreciate the invasive plants (weeds?).  Being a very multicultural city it is so interesting to hear the perspective of different cultures on particular plants.  Gout weed ( Aegopodium podagraria) for example is an extremely invasive plant, native to Eurasia which although enjoyed by the bees is difficult to remove and an irritant to most gardeners.  One day two Asian Canadian women approached me and asked if they could harvest our gout weed.  Attempting to hide my enthusiasm I asked them why.  They told me of it's medicinal properties (primarily to treat stomach ailments- thus the name gout weed) and told me how they boil it and prepare a tea.  On the same day I saw two older men harvesting dandelion leaves.  They explained to me that in Italy they cherish the leaves and fry them in olive oil and garlic.
     The entire Dandelion plant is edible and the flower petals, along with other ingredients, are used to make dandelion wine. The leaves are best when they first appear or after the first frost (Recipes). The ground, roasted roots can be used as a caffeine-free dandelion coffee.  Dandelion was also traditionally used to make the traditional British soft drink dandelion and burdock, and is one of the ingredients of root beer.  Also, Dandelions were once delicacies eaten by the Victorian gentry mostly in salads and sandwiches.  Dandelion leaves contain abundant vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, C, K, niacin, riboflaven and are good sources of calcium, potassium, iron, manganese and beta carotene.  Lecithin in the flower detoxifies the liver.  As well Dandelions nourish other plants through their long (up to 3 ft) tap root which brings minerals and nutrients from a less contaminated part of the soil to the surface where it is utilized by the shorter roots of neighbouring plants.  If you break the stem of a dandelion the white fluid that appears can be used to ease the pain of bee stings or sores.  Wow!  What an amazing plant.

     Like us bees are healthier, live longer and perform better when feeding on a mixed diet. 

"There is a growing body of evidence showing that poor nutrition can be a major player in affecting honey bee health. Eischen and Graham (2008) demonstrated that well-nourished honey bees are less susceptible to Nosema ceranae than poorly nourished bees.  Naug (2009) tested the hypothesis that nutritional stress due to habitat loss has played a major role in causing CCD by analyzing the land use data in U.S. He showed a significant correlation between the number of colony loss from each state and the state’s ratio of open land relative to its developed land area."   Zachary Huang, Michigan State University

     Bee Friendly Farming practices are essential for a healthy bee population.  Specifically, adopting a diverse pollinator beneficial planting farming practice.  Different pollens have different nutritional value to bees and studies have shown a slight improvement in performance when feeding on Dandelion (Nutritional Value of Bee Collected Pollens).  Interestingly for me two of the most nutritious pollens for bees, blackberry and cottonwood trees are aggressive volunteers in our garden. 

      For many in search of that manicured, green lawn a remedy for the removal of dandelions is to use a herbicide.  I request that you put away the Roundup herbicide and let your dandelions grow or control them by removing the flowers before they go to seed.  Before Roundup became the most used herbicide in the world it was a metal chelator or cleaner.  Numerous studies have proven the toxic effects of Glyphosate and  the World Health Organization has determined that Glyphosate is probably a carginogen .  In a recent study Glyphosate was found present in 98% of Canadian honey samples.  A recent U.S. court awarded 2 billion dollars in damages for the causation of cancer in Albert Pilliod (Monsanto hit with $2 billion damages verdict in third Roudup trial).  There are also studies showing the negative effects on our bees (Effects of Glyphosate on honeybee apetite and naviation).  There is an alternative.  You and I as food producers and consumers can grow and eat organically and if desired we can control the spread of dandelions by removing the flowers (hand, scythe, lawnmower or weedeater) before they go to seed (Dandelion Wine ?) or by hiring some unemployed goats (Rent a Goat).  Your bees will thank you.

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