Always Bee Prepared

Nature is a truly amazing thing. Whether you like to go for a hike, fly fish, or something else, being outside is always an adventure.

Last night’s nature adventure took place at the local Roxbury Community Garden. This is my third season at the garden and it has been a great experience. I’ve met wonderful people and have enjoyed the satisfaction of planting something and watching it grow and provide food. Gardening has also been a great respite from the craziness of every day life.

Last night it also provided bees… lots of them.

Seven thousand to be exact. Roxbury is lucky enough to also offer an apiary. It is right next to the garden, so the bees can swing by and borrow a cup of pollen when they need it. Well, yesterday they decided to make a break for it.

Swarm! Swarm! Swarm!

When I arrived at the garden last night there were plenty of people taking advantage of the beautiful weather. I noticed “bugs” in the area and thought to myself that anglers fishing would certainly appreciate the evening hatch. Until I arrived at my garden plot and realized those bugs were actually bees and they decided to take up residence in my plot.

Yikes!

Honey bees are a an important part of our ecosystem. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service point to general strengths in honey bee colonies. In 2017, the United States had 2.88 million honey bee colonies, down 12 percent from the record high 3.28 million colonies in 2012, but down less than 1 percent from 2007.

We had quite the discussion as to what we should do. I decided to do what my mother always told me when I was a child and needed help; “ask for help from the friendly policeman.”

I called the Roxbury Police dispatch and explained we had a swarm at the garden and wanted to know if they had any way to contact the Environmental Commission, as they would know how to contact the bee keepers. They said they would see what they could do and would also dispatch an officer.

I was able to capture some of the fascinating process on video.

Luckily, our Garden Manager, Anne, arrived shortly after calling the police and helped us find a solution. As a member of the Roxbury Environmental Commission, she was able to reach out to a few people and come up with a plan. Enter Ken Hyman, Bee Keeper (and Anne’s neighbor).

Ken and his wife are bee keepers and bee conservationists, as well as members of the New Jersey Bee Keepers Association. They were able to come and collect just about the entire swarm of 7,000 bees safely.

An officer arrived at the garden as well to check and make sure no one was injured or stung, which we very much appreciated.

The bees moving to their new temporary home.

It was a long and fascinating process. We were all appreciative Ken and his wife were able to come so quickly and volunteer their services to resolve this specific issue. We were also appreciative the Roxbury Police checked on us to make sure no one was injured or had any allergic reactions.

So what do YOU do if you ever have a swarm of bees in your backyard?

First and foremost, do NOT take a care of Raid or other bug spray to it. Honeybees, unlike yellow jackets, are happy little insects. They pollinate flowers and make delicious honey for all of us to enjoy. According to the New Jersey Beekeepers Association, across the United States, and especially in New Jersey, the increase in development has caused a decrease in the plants and habitat that are critical to the survival of our pollinators. This reduction of food and habitat has drastically reduced pollinator populations. Widespread use of pesticides and herbicides are also influencing this decline.

The best thing to do is contact a beekeeper and ask to have the bees relocated. If we had not been able to relocate those bees, they had a very small chance of overnight survival. If you would like to encourage bees and other pollinators, do not use harsh chemicals on your lawn or in your garden. If you have a birdbath, change out the water regularly to avoid mosquito growth and provide stones or sticks in the water so they don’t drown when they land for a break and a drink. Plant a pollinator garden to encourage bees and butterflies.

If you are a Roxbury resident and are interested in joining the apiary, contact the Roxbury Environmental Commission.

It just goes to show, you never know what wonders of nature you will experience. Yesterday I was privileged to see and experience one of nature’s life cycles.

Gardens in the Garden State

It is safe to say this has been a tough year for everyone. Cut off from our families, friends, and our normal routines, many have decided to take on new challenges during this time. Many are turning to what I refer to as “analog hobbies;” meaning things we can do that do not involve technology. Maybe it is because we now spend all day in solitude working from home, staring at out laptops. Maybe it is because we have so much time on our hands, we need something new.

I am a huge fan of analog hobbies. While I spend most of my time working in the digital space, I have found over the years analog hobbies provide both enjoyment and challenges. I crochet, spin yarn, tie flies, fly fishing, do yoga, and over the last few years, garden.

When we moved into our new community two years ago, I discovered the town had a community garden. For a small annual fee, you can rent a plot in a space set aside for garden enthusiasts. I hadn’t had a garden in over a decade and was eager to begin again. In the last two years, I have tried out planting items I never cultivated before, met some wonderful people from my new community, and learned new gardening skills. Since New Jersey is known as the “Garden State,” I think it is a perfect hobby.

Whether it was Victory Gardens during World War II or gardening now during the COVID-19 pandemic, many are looking to gardening to help alleviate stress, as well as cultivate and control their own food sources. Published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, “Therapeutic horticulture in clinical depression: a prospective study of active components” found gardening therapy to be effective in reducing the symptoms of depression. Individuals participated in a 12-week “therapeutic horticulture program” at four farms near Oslo, Norway. It is safe to say gardening has helped many cope with the stress, anxiety, and depression many have experienced due to the lack of social interaction.

Additionally, many community gardens provide fresh fruits and vegetables to local social service organizations for those who are at risk of food insecurity. As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on and many lose their sources of income, the fresh produce provided to these organizations by community gardens has become increasingly important. Last year the community garden I belong to donated several hundred pounds of fresh produce to our local food pantry. This effort is duplicated in community gardens throughout New Jersey.

Earlier this year, a Newark couple spearheaded a plan to turn a vacant lot on Grafton Avenue into a beautiful community garden. It took an eyesore of space that was regularly littered with trash and needles and turned it into a vibrant space for the community to grow their own vegetables and show off the pride of their area. This has been a huge undertaking and I look forward to visiting their garden when we are able to travel more freely. This is a project to truly be celebrated!

There are locations, however, where space for community gardens have come under attack. The town of Denville in Morris County is looking to cut space of their community garden for – you guessed it – a parking lot.

Every time I hear about a project like this, I am reminded of the lyrics of Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell…

“They paved paradise to put up a parking lot.”

While New Jersey is officially known as the Garden State, it is often referred to as the Mall State. What was once great farming lands have often been reduced to strip malls and parking lots. As more blacktop is put down, weather like rain and snow has nowhere to go. It won’t be absorbed into the once fertile soil. Instead it will create run-off that will lead to more flooding and pollution.

This parking lot is part of a $2.7 million dollar library expansion project in Denville.

I am a huge fan of public libraries and have often written about their continued importance for their communities. However, this is not about a library. This is about eliminating a sizable amount of green garden space for a parking lot.

Here is a video which shows how much of the garden space will be lost.

DenvilleGarden

It is shocking that the Mayor and town government would support such a plan.

As the video shares, the members of the community garden donate much of their bounty to a local orphanage, as well as local food pantries and churches to help their neighbors avoid food insecurity.

I implore Mayor Thomas Andes and the Town Council to rethink this decision. Now, more than ever, we need more open public space, not less And that open space should include community gardens.