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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Word on Behalf of Honey Bees

Visitors young and old can learn from the bees at TLC's apiary
At TLC, one of our favorite things to hear is that someone has come away from one of our programs and decided to plant pollinator-friendly flowers and plants on their property. On our own properties as well as those we serve with our stewardship outreach programs, we advocate for native plantings that attract honey bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. This practice is mutually beneficial for you, the environment, and local honey bee swarms, which have been in decline for years due to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). 

Unfortunately, it seems that many plants purchased specifically for their honey bee-friendly nature may, in fact, be contributing to CCD, if purchased from certain retail stores. A recent report published by Friends of the Earth found that over 50% of "honey bee-friendly" plants purchased from Home Depot and Lowe's stores had been treated with neonicotinoid insecticide. This type of insecticide is widely believed to be a significant contributing factor in CCD and the overall decline of pollinators. Not only does it kill bees in large quantities, exposure to even small amounts can cause disruption in bees' perceptions, immune systems, and navigational abilities, making them vulnerable to disease. Retailers are not required to disclose which pesticides have been used to treat their plants, making it even more difficult for consumers to protect themselves--and the pollinators that visit their gardens--from exposure to harmful chemicals. 

Because of this, the study concludes that "The high percentage of contaminated plants and their neonicotinoid concentrations suggest that this problem is widespread, and that many home gardens have likely become a source of exposure for bees."

The last thing TLC wants to do is discourage anyone from making their yard more of a haven for honey bees. Even one native, pollinator-friendly garden can make a difference in the health of local honey bees, and many such gardens can have an exponentially greater effect! Furthermore, there are many additional benefits to planting native species, removing invasives, and conducting environmentally-conscious stewardship on your property. (Contact our Landscape Visionaries team to find out more.) But when choosing what to plant, it's important to learn as much as possible about where your plants come from and what they have been exposed to. 

This information also serves as a reminder of the many powerful forces at play that combine to cause widespread decline of vital pollinators. This makes it more important than ever for each of us to be aware and conscious of the things we can do every day to make a positive difference.

What You Can Do: 
  • Attend TLC's Open Hive Days to learn all about honey bees, the role they play in local and global ecosystems, and how to begin your own apiary.
  • Share what you learn with others. Spread the word about how important honey bees and other pollinators are to our world.
  • When building your bee-friendly garden or backyard, buy organic plant starts, or start your own plants from (non-treated) seeds. 
  • Avoid using insecticides that contain neonicotinoids. (A list of common products to avoid can be found here.)
  • Ask the managers of your local nurseries to stop using these harmful pesticides or using suppliers that pre-treat with neonicotinoids. Let them know you will not buy these products. 
  • Visit BeeAction to learn more and sign a petition urging retail garden stores to stop using neonicotinoid-based insecticides. 
  • Urge your Congressional representative to support the Save America's Pollinators Act.
TLC strives to do all we can to protect our neighborhood pollinators. Stay tuned for more events, updates, and opportunities to make a difference for these vital creatures.

Honey bees are abuzz at our new observation hive

Monday, June 9, 2014

Outdoor Alternatives

April introducing medicinal properties of mugwort.

There is an overwhelming world of medicinal plants it seems. However, April Coburn, of Nettlejuice Herbcraft, is able to pull it all together and focus on the common species of Chester County on a three hour guided hike of the medicinal plants of Bucktoe Creek Preserve.

On the list are several species you may recognize the name of, but not the medicinal properties associated.

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) - The root of the plant has been used as a means to boost energy and assist with mental illnesses, while the rest of the plant is used for stomach and intestinal aliments.

Red Clover  (Trifolium praetense) - The perennial plant with a purple/red flower has several medicinal purposes due to the high level of nutrients such as calcium, potassium, and vitamin C. This plant has an overall positive effect, and with continued use will rid your body of toxins by helping to clear the lungs and liver, and improve circulation.

Red Clover and Common Milkweed.
Common Milkweed (Asclepians syriaca) - There are a few reasons why monarch butterflies love to feed on this plant, but an interesting reason is the uptake of toxins into their body to make them distasteful to predators. The milky sap contains a mild poison that may be toxic when taken internally without preparation. The sap can be externally used to remove warts, for ringworm, and for bee stings. The buds can be consumed to alleviate chest discomfort.

April speaking about Shepherd's Purse (ground plant)

Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) - This plant is used for heart and circulatory problems, and also for minor uses for headaches.
Giant Ragweed. 

Giant Ragweed (Ambrosia trifida) - For external assistance, ragweed leaves can be used to sooth insect bites and poison ivy rashes. As for external use, the roots can be blended as a tea to calm nausea and fever, and Native Americans used it as a laxative.

If you enjoy wild foraging walks, TLC has two more in 2014. Wild Mushroom Forage will be held August 9th from 9am - 1:30pm with a special cooking demonstration at The Woodlands at Phillips, and the Wild Edible Forage will be held September 27th from 3pm - 6pm with Lee Peterson, author of the Peterson Field Guides to Wild Edible Plants. Both located at Bucktoe Creek Preserve!

Be sure to join TLC for our upcoming Cool Season Grass walk on Thursday, June 19th from 9:00am - 12:00pm with local botanist, Janet Ebert, as we identify and learn about common grasses (and other plants we may see!) of eastern Pennsylvania. Click here to register! 

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