This past Monday morning was especially tough for many hard workers and I was entirely at fault.
Blundering through the row of zinnias at Red Chimney Farm, I upset more than a few bees, spiders and butterflies. I may have stepped on a salamander. A baby bunny gave me the stink eye. A Praying Mantis spent a long time sizing me up, making it clear that my head could roll if she so chose. I apologized profusely to all involved in this thrumming, humming hive of industry under the hot July sun, cut my flowers and got my clumsy human butt outta the way.
It reminded me of this recent Robert Krulwich’s NPR Science segment on biodiversity: Cornstalks Everywhere But Nothing Else Not Even a Bee.
Photographer David Littschwager studied one single cubic foot of land in different places and then did a sample of the little critters found therein. He counted hundreds of species; different insects, birds, plants and fungi; all working in tandem with the soil, living in harmony or merrily eating each other — an efficient little slice of bio diversity.
And in the commercial corn field in Iowa? Nothing. Not even birds singing. Why would they sing? There’s nothing to eat there that won’t make them sick. Also, nothing there to improve the soil: no bugs crawling along the surface, but also no microbial organism underground to improve the soil and allow plants to take up nutrients. Kind of crazy, the idea that Dow Chemical could take care of that for us.
But here is another crazy idea: I think our flowers should be crawling with critters. I know how awful that sounds to people plunking down a chunk of change for bridal bouquet. Petals that have been chewed on by Japanese Beetles are not romantic.
But while in the field, flowers should have all manner of insect attendants; bees that collect pollen, bugs that chew on leaves, spiders that eat bugs, birds who snap up spiders, etc, etc, up to and including the fabled old lady to swallow the proverbial cow.
It’s just the way the system was set up. It would be great if only the good bugs hung out with the flowers, and growers are smart to make conditions favorable to some bugs but not all. “I hate to spray,” Suzanne Montie of Red Chimney Farms told me and she hasn’t had to, not once this year. But so help her, if those beetles don’t lay off her Dahlias, there will be a soapy bucket of water waiting for them. And if that doesn’t do it, well, there is spray bottle of something hellish in her shed, but she may not have to go that far. That Praying Mantis looked like she meant business.
I wish this sort of thoughtful pest control (sometimes referred to as Integrated Pest Management, or a practical wait and see attitude that uses a variety of controls and saves pesticide to the very last), was typical of the floral industry and agriculture in general, but it is not. The thought of Central American flower fields being hosed with pesticides while the workers are in there harvesting, makes my blood boil. And I wish that fact would make people think twice before buying those two dozen perfect, sterile roses for $19.00 at Costco. But again, not so much.
Not yet, anyway. Another reason to sing the praises of local farmers making changes for the benefit of flower buyers, veggie eaters and an army of industrious insect employees. Cheers to Red Chimney, M and M Plants, Wollam Gardens, Sutter Post and the Capital Flower Growers and all our other local Maryland and Virginia flower farms.
When we buy flowers from them, we also buy bird song – an infinitely better buy.