The pesticide and the honey bee

We’ve got several pear trees on the farm and the two oldest have very heavy fruit set this year. We had a peach tree that was similarly prolific and collapsed under its own weight. The ripening pears shown here are covered with what looks like a bit of rust, fungus; our apples are gnarly and nearly all sport one or a few holes, evidence of insect oviposition to provide newly hatched larvae a ready supply of nutrients. We could easily spray our trees with any of a variety of fungicides and pesticides but we do not, for a couple of reasons. First, we worry about chemical residues on the fruit that we eat and preserve. And second, although the matter has yet to be settled incontrovertibly, there is increasing evidence that fungicides and especially pesticides, most notably those called neonicotinoids, may contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) which effects honey bees across the country and around the world. Honey bees are critically important pollinators of fruit and nut crops and it has been estimated that they are responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value each year here in the United States. That number increases by an order-of-magnitude when one considers potential global declines in crop productivity due to losses from CCD. The primary symptom of CCD is the nearly complete abandonment of hives by adult bees. What’s been so puzzling about this is that symptomatic hives have a live queen, plenty of capped brood (developing young), and lots of honey and pollen. Workers simply disappear. Where they go, nobody knows. Research to discover the cause or synergistic causes of CCD has been intensive. Possible primary culprits are fungal infection, mite parasitism, viral infection, immunosupression, and the toxic influences of both fungicides and pesticides. Several recent studies have shed light on the relationship between exposure to neonicotinoids (neuro-active insecticides like Imidacloprid and Clothianidin) and declines in managed bee populations. Based upon the strength of such studies the Canadian government announced a partial two-year ban on neonicotinoid pesticides in 2014. The year before the European Union adopted a two-year restriction on the use of neonicotinoids. There is a petition at which calls upon the Canadian government to ban these substances, outright. Here in the states beekeepers have allied with the Pesticide Action Network to petition the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to suspend registration of neonicotinoids. To distill yet another of my very lengthy preambles, we have never sprayed our fruit trees, ever. Nearly all of our apples are scabby, the pears are scaly, and the peaches never, ever, look like anything you would want to pick from a supermarket shelf. If any particular piece of fruit is too-far-gone, we simply toss it for the deer and other visitors to the farm. Anything with a blemish or two, or three, finds its way to the kitchen where we have lots of very sharp knives. There are few imperfections which cannot be removed with a quick flick of the wrist. We do not care to produce pretty fruit, but we do care about the potential effects of toxins which would be released into the environment if we were to spray. In particular we worry about honey bees and the relationship between environmental toxins and CCD. We really do, and so should you. Is the cosmetic appeal of the fruits you purchase and consume really worth it?


Pareidolia or apophenia … you decide

I have posted images of tomatoes, and I have posted images of sunflowers. Those of you who follow Pairodox will, perhaps, think it an oasis in a red and yellow sea. It isn’t. It just so happens that the field shown here is situated between the farm and my day job, in town. Watching the fields come in each fall, as they lay fallow in winter, as they are planted each spring, and then trying to guess what will emerge from the ground sometime later is our entertainment. Playing this game of observation and deduction can be difficult, especially when farmers experiment with new crops and new patterns of crop rotation. Several farms have contracted to grow tomatoes down along the floodplain while others grow green beans, soy beans, corn, and sunflowers. The sunflower has been the most recent addition and arrived on our agricultural scene not more than two or three years ago. Sunflower seeds may be harvested for human consumption or as bird seed, or as a source of high quality vegetable oil with the meal then used in livestock feed. Usually the sunflowers have been planted adjacent to corn and soy beans. I believe this is the first year that we have seen them grown next to tomatoes. I am glad for this new pattern because it has allowed for just the sort of pleasant juxtaposition you see below. Beyond the vibrant play of color it struck me, even as I walked the field to position myself to best advantage, that the sunflowers, with their heads turned down and heavily laden stalks leaning in, looked disapprovingly upon the tangle of vines at their feet! The black and white presentation of the second image allows me to focus on the crowd milling around in conversation to the right. I see parents with their child down in front. There are others behind, looking forward, and wondering what all the commotion is about. In both photos the sunflowers seem to have noticed that the tomatoes are encroaching and they, the sunflowers, are seriously displeased. Maybe I need a vacation. Does anyone else see this? Before signing off let me point out that Pareidolia occurs when a vague or random stimulus is perceived as significant, while apophenia occurs when we discern patterns in random information.



Dry run

I listed, in my previous post, the names of some of the tributaries of Pine Creek. What I did not mention then was that although this part of the world has received more than average rainfall through the month of August, many of the creeks, hollows, and runs are currently producing but a trickle. Ground water reserves, it seems, are not easily slaked. Because I am not a hydrologist, I wouldn’t know where to begin to calculate the annual water budget of an area like ours but I can tell you that bulk flow is one of nature’s most powerful forces. Evaporation, condensation, and transpiration draw moisture from the soil and from oceans and lakes and up into the atmosphere, precipitation returns it to Earth, and gravity and capillary action draw moisture down into the soil and then deeper to contribute to ground water. Such reserves feed the water table which is exposed to the atmosphere, and the cycle begins again. What has always amazed me is how water, its availability and its level of reserve, cycles through the year in a fairly predictable way. The countless and interconnected parts of our biosphere are delicately balanced such that the water table is rarely overflowing. Plants and animals use what they need and tributaries drain the hills of surplus. Although we may like to think, perhaps because of the often deep contours they have carved, that tributaries flow all of the time, many do not. And so it is that this lengthy preamble explains both the title to this post and the image below of the dry bed of Elk Run just above its confluence with Pine Creek. I have always been struck by the balance of nature and worry about human influence and impacts. Perhaps many of you know of hydraulic fracturing and its demonstrated effects on local geology and hydrology, not only here in Pennsylvania, but around the country. The gas industry has surely put many of us to work and has perhaps reduced our dependence on foreign sources of energy, but at what cost? It is naive to believe that this newly applied technology will be without impacts. Unfortunately, we probably won’t know of them until it is too late.


Time off

Late on Saturday Joanna proclaimed, We’re taking a day off. The house is clean, we’re caught up on the laundry, the lawns look great, and there’s nothing on the calendar for tomorrow. We’re gonna wake up early, pick up some coffee and drive north to Black Walnut Bottom on the Pine Creek Rail Trail. We’re going to ride north to Rattle Snake Rock, have a picnic lunch, and then ride back. Storms passed through our area on Saturday afternoon and drier air followed the front. We woke to blue sky and scattered clouds yesterday and were on the trail by ten … we were back at the house for afternoon chores at four … we had a glorious time.The steel truss railroad bridge shown below crosses the creek just above Cedar Run and below Trout Run. I love the names of the contributing tributaries such as Bull Run, Elk Run, Clay Mine Run, and Gamble Run. One wonders whether the stories behind the names come even close to those which I can conjure in my mind. If a new tributary should be born at our place, what could we name it? Folly Run, Learners Run, Bust-me-back Run? Surely not Pairodox Run, for where’s the story there? We did stop, according to plan, at Rattle Snack Rock for lunch and then walked the bike down to the Creek. A large group had chosen to lunch on the promontory, thereby precluding our enjoyment of the view. Not to be discouraged, we got back on the bike and headed south. We stopped north of Slate Run to dabble a bit in the shallows and white water there … stay tuned for more images.



The images gathered here were taken in Massachusetts at the end of June. When we returned to the farm, after a brief time away, there was much that needed attention. Evidences of the distant passage of Hurricane Arthur were about; the wind and heavy rains had brought down several large limbs and there was vegetable flotsam on nearly every horizontal surface. Once all of that had been cleared away, other things, such as the hay harvest and our crop of spring lambs, called for attention. Although I did manage to post a few images taken during our trip, a number of others got lost in the shuffle of a busy summer. Having to play catchup on such a grand scale was, in retrospect, a small price to pay for having been able to enjoy a few days breathing in the salt air and warm breezes of our summer-home-away-from-home. Cataumet is a special place and followers may recall that I have posted images from there before. Enjoy this contribution to a growing collection.

Retrospective eighteen (August 2013)

Given the way in which blogs are presented, I am convinced that posts which reside more than a scroll or two behind the most recent are doomed to languish and to be forgotten. Because I believe there is value in looking at contributions from days, weeks, and even months ago, I present here a gallery of images presented during August of 2013. Perhaps it will be interesting to scroll through these and to compare them to those presented during this past month. Be patient, it may take several minutes for all of the images to load fully. Hovering over an image will reveal its title. Clicking one will take you to a carousel view and you can either move through the collection or click the links to read each post in its original form. Note that this is the eighteenth in my series of retrospective posts. You may find interest in taking a look at the retrospective from a year ago and if you’d missed any of the others, you can find them all by clicking Retrospective in the tag cloud in the sidebar.

Heron today, turtle tomorrow

Joanna says I have little patience, and she is right.  Several weeks ago she reported that we had, for the first time since we’ve been here at the farm, a small group of Painted Turtles living in the pond below the house. She said that it would be nice if I could get a picture of one. She immediately thought about what she had said and added, No, you don’t have the patience. Over the next few days, and whenever I had the opportunity, I would scan the edge of the pond for turtles and, on several occasions they presented themselves, but whenever I would get down off the tractor or mower for a better look, they would dart away. Even when I displayed infinite patience and approached quietly, and on foot from a distance, it was clear that the turtles were very aware of movement at the edge of their newly adopted home. My solution was to construct a bit of a blind by laying a few ends of plywood down at the water’s edge and across from a spot that I thought would provide both a suitable place for turtles to bask and a nice backdrop for a photo. So, with my blind established, and while Joanna was away, I surprised myself by sitting along the edge of the pond, hiding among the Cat Tails, for a bit more than an hour. I saw no turtles, but I did demonstrate what was, for me, an infinite amount of patience. Yesterday Joanna walked up from the pond and said that she had spotted a young Green Heron. She suggested that I get the camera and, if I approached quietly, I might be able to get a nice shot of it. And so I did … and did!


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