GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! Neonics 2: Flowers, the Place Where Honey Bees & Gardeners Meetup


Posted by Laura Hagen, Honest Weight Food Co-op, HWFC, Member-Owner and family to an ‘organic practices’ beekeeper

GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! is a blog dedicated to American independently-owned, Member-Owned & operated, community food co-ops, their Member-Owners and families.


ACTION ITEM – HWFC Member-Owners: This is a reminder that there is a quarterly HWFC Membership Meeting on Sunday, October 22, 2017 at the First Unitarian Universalist Church (FUUSA), 405 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY. The meeting consists of:

4:30 – 5:30pm: Meet the Governance Review
Council (GRC) Candidates
5:30 – 6:00pm: Dessert potluck
6:00 – 8:00pm: Meeting, with GRC elections to
take place at the meeting


This is Part 2 (here is Part 1) of my continuing series about honey bees, pollinators, gardeners… …and neonicotinoids, that unwelcome ‘invasive’ poison in our gardens about which we gardeners need to immediately take up arms. Each successive post will focus on a particular issue relating to the need to ban neonicotinoids from our gardens, our farmlands…

…and our planet.

“Wee haue by this Shipp and the Discouerie sent you … Beehives…”

Letter written December 5, 1621 by the Council of the Virginia Company in London and addressed to the Governor and Council in Virginia 1

There are over 20,000 species of bees in the world; honey bees – both ‘managed’ and wild – are the most well-known by the public. Honey bees have been thriving for 50 million years! (In contrast, we’ve only been around for 6-7 million, 2.5 million or 200,000 years, depending upon your anthropological criteria.) They have a highly-complex and ordered social life; different from the majority of the world’s bees, which are solitary. Each honey bee has a distinct job within the hive, all contributing together to its order, harmony and productivity.

That hive is home.

How did honey bees happen to become part of the ecosystem of this continent?

Well, the honey bees with which we are all familiar here in the United States are actually an import. The first English settlers arrived on this continent in 1607 and created the permanent English colony of Jamestown, located in present-day Virginia.

Fifteen years later, in 1622, the very first bee hives on the continent were brought over from England.


In her outstanding introduction to the history of bees in American, Honey Bees Across America, Brenda Kellar informs us:

“The only evidence we have of the initial importation of honey bees to North America is a letter written December 5, 1621 by the Council of the Virginia Company in London and addressed to the Governor and Council in Virginia, “Wee haue by this Shipp and the Discouerie sent you diurs [divers] sortes of seedes, and fruit trees, as also Pidgeons, Connies, Peacockes Maistiues [Mastiffs], and Beehives, [emphasis added] as you shall by the invoice pceiue [perceive]; the preservation & encrease whereof we respond vnto you…” (Goodwin 1956; Kingsbury 1906:532). The Discovery (60 tons, Thomas Jones, captain, and twenty persons) left England November 1621 and arrived in Virginia March 1622 (Langford Ship Information; Brown 1898:469-470). The other ship described only as “this shipp” could have been either the Bona Nova (200 tons, John Huddleston, master, and fifty persons) or the Hopewell (60 tons, Thomas Smith, master, and twenty persons), also known as the Great Hopewell. The Bona Nova was a month behind and arrived at Jamestown in April (Langford Ship Information). This was the Hopewell’s first voyage to Virginia and there is no record of the date of its arrival (Langford Ship Information), although Brown claims it arrived at Jamestown within 24 days of the Good Friday March 22, 1622 massacre (Brown 1898:469).

Historical documentary sources tell us that from Jamestown the honey bees multiplied and spread out. It would be another 16 years before the next successful shipment of honey bees made it to North America (Free 1982:116; Ransome 1937:260). However, the feral honey bee population boomed and by the mid 17th century honey bee hunting or ‘lining’[1] was a popular activity and would continue to be so well into the 20th century.” 2

Among all of the items critical for the survival of this fledgling English colony in Virginia – shipped over on a four-month long winter journey across the north Atlantic and explicit in the bill of particulars from 1622 – were “Beehives.”

This highlights just how important the English colonists – many of them farmers – knew honey bees to be!

How did these bees survive a journey, in the cold hold of a ship from November, 1621 to March, 1622? (Were they in the hold or, perhaps, somewhere in warmer quarters? I don’t think history tells us.)

It’s nothing they haven’t done before – perhaps not often in the hold of a ship! – but certainly, for millenia, in forests and in trees, dotting winter fields covered in snow.

Clearly this delivery was a carefully-timed event.

Approaching fall, the queen normally stops laying summer bees, which normally live for six weeks. The remaining bees, consuming a bit of royal jelly, hatch out and live for six months: they’re called winter bees. Due to the lack of brood (baby bees), the remaining winter bees would have balled up around the queen (forming a literal ‘bee ball‘), keeping her at 70 degrees. This ball, due to lack of brood, would be free to move about the combs, consuming honey and ‘beebread‘ (fermented pollen) as necessary, to maintain core temperature.

This is all normal behavior in any winter honey bee hive.

Bathroom breaks? Bees are quite patient, they can wait! In the early spring, the hives would have begun to raise the core temperatures of each bee ball from 70 degrees to 98.6 degrees, at which point the queen would start laying eggs, which are destined to hatch as brand new summer bees.

This would have coincided with a March, 1622 arrival in Virginia: early spring, at which time the bees would have left shipboard, been placed in fields, and immediately begun foraging.

The beekeepers on both ends of this winter, trans-Atlantic journey would have carefully chosen the departure and arrival dates of the beehives. They understood how hives work; they worked with the seasons – and with the rhythms of the hive – to assure the successful transplant of those fledgling beehives.

Clearly the transplant took!


Here we are in 2017, almost 400 years after those first hives arrived. Ninety-nine percent of American beekeepers are made up of small, community-based apiaries; hives managed by a farmer for his or her own farm; or backyard beekeepers, called ‘sideliner’ or ‘hobbyist’ beekeepers. There are simply thousands of American families, across all fifty states – some gardeners like you and me – who maintain one or a few hives in the backyard, a larger apiary on the lower forty, many hives spread over several farmsteads, or a small or medium-scale business supplying honey and beeswax to the local community.

The American beekeepers who have been hitting the news since 2006 with massive bee die-offs, called colony collapse disorder (CCD), are – for the most part – large, commercial, migratory beekeepers: those who truck thousands of hives across the continent, following one or another mono-crop about to bloom, providing pollination services to the farms; California’s almond crops are, perhaps, the most well-known of these crops.

Many of the mono-crops their bees are pollinating in the United States are grown from neonicotinoid-coated seeds: some examples are corn, soy, wheat and sugar beets (used to make white sugar). Neonicotinoids are systemic, water-soluble pesticides which have been implicated in CCD and massive honey and bumble bee die-offs since 2006. (Please see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

These large-scale, commercial operations only make up about 1 percent of America’s beekeepers.


A backyard beekeeper conducting an inspection of a Kenyan Top Bar Hive (KTBH), which is shaped like a hollow log (a preferred wild honey bee habitat). Note the dish of water, which is shallow and has stones placed in it, so that the bees may safely drink.

The community and neighborhood apiaries, the backyard hobbyists and their bees are, by the way, providing (free!) pollination services to all the neighbor farmers and gardeners in a three-mile radius from each hive. Your own flower and vegetable gardens thrive, in part, because of the attentive work of a beekeeper – somewhere local to you – and his or her apiary.

These beekeepers – the 99 percent spread out across America in every village, town, city and community – are your neighbors.

The 1 percent of our beekeepers traveling America’s roads, trucking hives, are providing pollination services for many, many of the crops your family eats: e.g., corn; almonds, citrus fruits, blueberries.

From those very first hives in 1622 up until today – we gardeners, farmers and beekeepers on this continent have had a symbiotic relationship – a very rewarding and a very essential relationship.

We gardeners and farmers are very, very lucky to have such accommodating neighbors, that is, those who keep bees!


 “…each of our individual actions can contribute to a grand solution … So, let the small act of planting flowers and keeping them free of pesticides be the driver of large scale change…

Dr. Marla Spivak, Bees Scholar
June 2013 at TEDGlobal 2013

Honey bees which, like all of us, need food, gather that food from simple, ordinary flowers. They derive virtually all of their food from flowers. Those flowering plants which you and I, as gardeners, delight in digging in, watering and caring for and, occasionally, moving around madly and obsessively until we create the perfect palette, are the main food source for bees. For flowers yield nectar and pollen.

From each flower – and bees have their favorites, just like you and I, with white clover blossoms and Linden trees in bloom (also called American basswood or ‘the Bee Tree‘) being two of them! – a bee will gather nectar which – when fermented back at the hive – creates ‘honey,’ the hive’s source of carbohydrate, and pollen which – when fermented back at the hive – creates ‘beebread,” the hive’s source of protein.

BeesKnees (2)

The ‘pollen baskets’ on this bee are packed to the brim with yellow, tacky pollen, stored behind the bee’s knees. The term ‘That’s the Bee’s Knees!’ was made popular in the roaring ’20’s; it is flapper slang, similar to our use of the terms ‘cool‘ or ‘way cool.

Pollen is that fine yellow dust – slightly tacky, yes? – which most of us have had occasion to encounter on our gloves or hands while gardening. Those of you who are alert and attentive gardeners – and who among us is not alert and attentive! – have actually seen the so-called ‘bees’ knees:‘ a bee, zipping by, appearing to have large, weighty, yellow appendages on her back legs. This is actually the storage spot, right on the bee, for that pollen, on its way to being delivered to the hive. She is a sort-of UPS driver of the hive!

That pollen will end up back home, get placed in a cell, and it will ferment for just the right amount of time, until it is capped off for long term storage.

Nectar, that sweet liquid produced by a flower, once harvested, will remain in the bee, until it is regurgitated back home, get placed in a cell, and it will ferment for just the right amount of time, until it, too, is capped off for long term storage.

Fermentation is a key word here, hang on to it.

What is nectar? Well, do you remember, in the early summer as a child, encountering a honeysuckle bush?

I remember, in early summer, a warm, sunny day, sighting the first honeysuckle stand in full bloom, and eagerly running over with my brother …each of us plucking off a flower and gently snipping off the petal end, without breaking those long, thin, delicate things with yellow pollen on them. We would each – oh, so gently – pull and tug and draw it apart until the very end of the flower yielded that one precious drop of crystal clear, sweet, sublime liquid.

I remember holding the blossom above my tongue, letting that one drop take its sweet time and eventually drip down onto that tongue, eager to taste the sweet liquid. This was repeated over and over again – brother and sister sharing a tiny moment of heaven, blossom after blossom – piles of flowers in the grass at their feet. That is nectar!

That is the raw material for honey, yet another of nature’s sweet fluids, created not by a flower, but by a flower, a honey bee and a little time and fermentation!


On the first day of autumn, this field bee travels back and forth between her hive and the flowers, taking full advantage of the warm, sunny day! She is gathering pollen and nectar. (Learn about that oh-so-innocent-looking vine – known as the evil ‘lesser bindweed’ – in my gardening-metaphor post, GRASSROOTS ACTION and invasives ARE POWERFUL!, here.)

Honey bees also need water, which is why it is essential that you, as a gardener, provide a source of clean fresh water – in a shallow dish with stones – for all of the pollinators which live in or visit your gardens.

Now, bees also gather sap from conifers, sap flows, tree buds, and other botanical sources, to create propolis (‘bee glue‘), out of which they create a resinous mixture to seal small spaces in the hive, keep the hive antiseptic, and defend against invaders, like ants and beetles. But that is another story!


Bees, in the course of simply living their lives, do an essential thing for us humans: they pollinate flowers. This essential act of procreation, the moving of pollen from one flower, one plant, to another, assures that somewhere down the line there will be food for us: a cherry tree will bear cherries, an almond tree will bear almonds, a tomato plant will produce tomatoes, a pumpkin vine will yield those big, orange pumpkins we all delight in for Halloween and for the pies which grace our Thanksgiving dinner tables.

If there is no pollination, down the line there will be no cherries, no almonds, no tomatoes, no pumpkins.

Honey bees are directly responsible for pollinating 30 percent of our food supply and 90 percent of our most commonly-grown foods; we rely upon all pollinators to pollinate 70 percent of our food supply. Pollinators – and honey bees – are essential to human survival.

This bears repeating: honey bees pollinate 30 percent of our food and are responsible for pollinating 90 percent of our most commonly-grown foods; all pollinators pollinate 70 percent of our food. They are all essential for the survival of our species.

If we do not – as a species – have pollinators, we do not have food.


I think you are beginning to understand that fermentation plays a rather big role here among honey bees, especially of interest to those of you who follow a ‘Paleo’ or ‘traditional’ diet or who are learning about the incredible health value of ferments in our own diets. For healthy, unstressed bees utilize bacteria (and other micro-organisms) to create their fermented foods for long term storage.

That beebread and that honey have to last the winter, a time when there are no flowers to visit.

I learned a visceral lesson about fermentation this autumn.

One night, an unusually warm late September evening about 8PM, I pulled into the driveway, opened the truck door, gathered my bags, stepped out, slammed the door shut …and I was met with a thick, foul stench. Now, the door opens right next to the garbage pail, so I assumed something had been left in the pail and was busily rotting. (Since we, as organic gardeners, re-use all our kitchen leavings and always maintain a tidy compost pile and the weekly garbage had just been picked up – I could not understand what that might be.)

I went to check.


About 10PM that evening the odor simply went away.

Now, understand, this was not just your everyday kind of an odor. It smelled exactly like the liquid which dribbles out of the back of a garbage truck which you (unfortunately) happen to be driving behind on a hot, humid, steamy summer morning.

As my Mom would have said, “It stunk to high heaven!”

Several days’ later, the same thing happened. Dining room windows wide open, this malodorous, horrific odor wafted in. I ran out, checked everywhere and determined something – somewhere – must have died.

Again, about 10PM the odor simply vanished.

A few days’ later, again at night with the windows, again, left wide open, this ungodly, foul odor blew in, as I was, thank goodness!, finishing up my dinner. This time – aha! – the beekeeper-husband happened to be home. He could smell it; there would be a witness to my olfactory discomfort.

I sent him out to investigate.

Twenty minutes’ later, perimeter check completed, he opened the back door with a big, secret smile on his face. But, will he tell me what he’s discovered? No. He leaves me in olfactory-limbo.

I noticed, though, that he had been rooting around the hive.

10PM rolls around, and, for the third time, that odor simply vanished. Sweet, warm evening air blew by my face.

By this time there was a definite pattern anybody would have noticed!

Well, the beekeeper in the family finally informed the gardener in the family that the bees had been very busily gathering nectar and pollen from all the golden rod, which was still, by the way, in full bloom. We had had unusually warm, fall days and cool nights; the cool nights were keeping the late season, high-sugar nectar from being delivered to the plants’ roots over night and, instead, it remained in the flowers. The bees took full advantage! They were having a continuous party feeding upon super-sweet nectar and golden rod pollen!

They gathered all the pollen they could individually carry on those bees’ knees, and collectively placed it in the hive cells –  allowing them to sit open, for just the right amount of time …and ferment.

They did the same with the super-sweet nectar, allowing the cells to sit open, for just the right amount of time …and ferment.

Well, ferment… …or stink, depending upon your point of view, they did!

At 10PM, right as rain, the bees had finished capping off their brand new beebread and honey, and, low and behold, that odor simply vanished!

The bees – so to speak – put a lid on it!

Since we make our own sauerkraut and Kombucha from a Jun culture (an ancient culture which specifically requires honey not sugar for fermentation), I know what fermentation can smell like! It can stink to high heaven!

Mystery solved! My goodness, I was amazed at the production plant which is a beehive! Those bees were busy stocking up for winter.

We, human beings and tiny little honey bees, share this basic survival strategy: don’t waste time, ferment your excess to get you through the winter.

We also share in another one: we each need to have bacteria to assist us in not only fermenting our foods, but also in the very survival of our species.

I am willing to bet, once I research it, that I will find out that bees, like us, need a healthy gut ‘biome’ with tons of ‘good bacteria’ keeping the immune system going strong. Maybe those bee bacteria, too, are ill-affected by antibiotics and chemicals and poisonous, pesticide residue in the food.

I will let you know what I find out. A closer look into just how honey bees ferment pollen and nectar is definitely in order.

Anyway, it was at that moment  – in the evening just after 10PM – that I gained a deepening understanding and appreciation of the intimate connection between our species’. We both prepare foods for the long-term survival of our families through winter: we both ferment food and, yes, it can smell! The bees, in gathering their own food, pollinate flowers, literally creating food for us. We also share in the bounty of their hives, for we humans have, for thousands of years, harvested honey, one of their fermented foods. A book no less than the Bible is testament to that!

In fact, everybody must have heard, by now, the story that they found thousands-of-years-old honey in an Egyptian tomb, tested it, found it pure …and they ate it!

Milk and honey on the other side,’ is not, apparently, just a myth. Pharaoh planned to have some honey put aside for his journey!

However, as any natural or ‘organic practices’ beekeeper will tell you, the best time to harvest excess hive honey is in the spring, when the hive is safely through the winter and the queen wants that honey out of her way! so she can get to work making brood  and summer bees!

To everything there is a season.” 3

I need to pay more attention to the seasons and the cycles and the interconnections between me – a human being – and the beings – some very tiny – which whom I share an ecosystem. For I, we all, do share living together in an ecosystem. We each have a responsibility to preserve it, to defend it, to safeguard it, to protect it and, equally as important, to understand it. For in our hands is the stewardship of the land and the protection of our ecosystems.

I am going to go back and re-read Rachel Carson’s works, all of them, 4 for she gifted us with these messages – ‘gifts‘ whose reason for being was ecosystem crisis by systemic pesticide – almost 60 years ago. 5

It is at our own peril that we ignore the warning signs that the honey bees are – many with their lives – giving to us in 2017. 6

© Laura Hagen


The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.

John Philpot Curran



1. Kellar, Brenda. “Honey Bees Across America.” Oregon State Beekeepers Association. Web. 12 October 2017.

We are in debt to Ms. Kellar for this carefully researched information. I appreciate the time she took to create this story, with its detailed, original source material, all carefully cited. We can enjoy her well-done story… …and, because of her scholarship, also go and read the original sources for ourselves! (Ah, the blessings of librarians – my heroes – and the internet!)

I was so impressed with her article I went looking for others. In fact, I found Ms. Kellar had completed her Master of Arts in Applied Anthropology. Granted in 2004, the title of her thesis is: One Methodology for the Incorporation of Entomological Material in the Discipline of Historic Archaeology Using the Honey Bee (Apis mellifera L.) as a Test Subject. With the wonders of the internet, here is her thesis!

Ms. Kellar goes into much more detail about those first beehives which arrived in Jamestown in 1622. Curious? Please sit down and read her thesis!

2. Ibid.

3. Seeger, Pete. “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season).” The Bitter and the Sweet. Columbia. 1962. Vinyl: LP.

Listen to Pete Seeger as he sings, at age 93, the song he wrote in 1962, Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season), which uses – almost word-for-word – the first eight verses of the third chapter of the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes, King James version. This recording took place on November 9, 2012, with the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Foundation honoring legendary musician David Amram with the “Power of Song Award” at Symphony Space in New York City.

Pete lived near the Hudson River – a pristine river first explored in 1609 by an English captain on a mission for the Dutch: Henry Hudson in the ship the Halve Maen. Pete Seeger, in the Sloop Clearwater, helped clean up that same Hudson River, some 350 years later.

Consider, for a moment, the lifelong legacy of this one, simple musician. One of the many, many things he did was to take on the corporate polluters of the Hudson River … and win.

A little over a year after that Power of Song Award concert down near New York harbor, we – especially those of us on and near his beloved Hudson River – lost Pete Seeger on January 27, 2014. He was 94.

4. Rachel Carson was a scientist, ecologist, and writer. Employed for fifteen years by the federal government in the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, she rose to the position of Editor-in-Chief of all publications for that agency. Linda Lear, who wrote a biography of Rachel Carson, lists Ms. Carson’s four books as:

Under the Sea-Wind (1941)
The Sea Around Us (1952)
The Edge of the Sea (1955)
Silent Spring (1962)

Ms. Lear’s biography of Rachel Carson is entitled Biography Witness for Nature (1997); it was was re-issued in 2009 by by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, as Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature.

Ms. Lear also references the 1970 book by Frank Graham, entitled Since Silent Spring Rachel Carson has been proved right. What have we done about it?

A research archive of the life and work of Rachel Carson, the Lear-Carson Collection, is maintained at Connecticut College in New London, CT.

5. My generation will never forget the images of piles of dead fish on our river banks and in our streams, birds’ eggs not hatching, and the dire warning that the American bald eagle was poised to go extinct, all due to a systemic pesticide, DDT.

It is directly because of the impact which both Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Pete Seeger had upon me (my family lived near to the Hudson River and knew how polluted it was), that I, with a bunch of other like-minded students, co-founded our high school’s first-ever Ecology Club and we initiated its first-ever Earth Day celebration, which became a yearly event throughout the entire high school. Town-wide, monthly newspaper drives, initiated and organized by one of our French teachers, dear M. George Johnson, were the beginnings of ‘recycling’  in our community: a brand new concept in the late 1960’s – early ’70’s.

During high school, the Sloop Clearwater used to (and still does!) dock at key towns and cities up and down the length of the Hudson River from New York harbor up to Albany, New York; the sight of her majestic, tall mast and beautiful, white sails slowly floating downriver was unique, memorable and inspiring to a young adult concerned about the plight of the living beings we share the planet with.

Is it vacant, silent honey bee hives, backyards bereft of floating monarch’s and birdsong, and piles of dead bumble bees in store parking lots which are to be this generation’s systemic pesticides’ warning klaxon?

It was the Sloop Clearwater, Pete Seeger and a whole bunch of concerned citizens – Moms, Dads, kids (and musicians!) – who all changed the Hudson River’s story. People like renowned naturalist and Illinois beekeeper, Terence Ingram and his Eagle Nature Foundation, Ltd., (he began studying bald eagles in 1962, the same year Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published), positively changed the story of the bald eagle.

Who is changing the systemic pesticide / neonicotinoid story for our pollinators here in 2017?

Can we gardeners make a difference, each in our home communities?

6. On September 20, 2017 the International Union of Conservation of Nature’s Task Force on Systemic Pesticides (TFSP), an international body of scientists, released its latest, updated warning about neonicotinoids, Severe Threats to Biodiversity from Neonicotinoid Pesticides Revealed in Latest Scientific Review.

GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! NEONICS I. Gardeners: neonic-coated seeds, the flowers in our gardens, lethal to pollinators & bees


Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner and family to an ‘organic practices’ beekeeper

GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! is a blog dedicated to American independently-owned, Member-Owned & operated, community food co-ops, their Member-Owners and families.


Dear fellow Honest Weight Food Co-op (HWFC) Member-Owners, food co-op lovers, and gardeners,

Today, I’m initiating a series about neonicotinoids, insecticides which have been implicated in massive numbers of pollinator deaths, as well as honey bee die-offs, called colony collapse disorder (CCD).

Since it is the fall planting season and many co-op families are busy planting, I’m leading off this series with a neonicotinoid-warning to gardeners.


“Homeowners are planting flowers in their yards thinking they’re helping bees and they’re basically planting poison plants…”

Erin MacGregor-Forbes, Maine Beekeeper

from The Case of The Vanishing Bees by Tom Turner
Posted on Earthjustice

A relatively new industrial agriculture (BIG Ag) practice is the coating of seeds with neonicotinoids (‘new nicotine-like insecticides’ or ‘neonics’), 1 an insecticide which damages the central nervous system of honey bees and pollinators and can cause paralysis and death. Neonics have been clearly implicated in colony collapse disorder (CCD) and massive honey and bumble bee die-offs across the country. 2

Since the mid-2000s, when this practice gained strong momentum, BIG Ag has been routinely coating the seeds of many mono-crops with these pesticides; corn – America’s no. 1 cash crop – soy, wheat, cotton, sunflowers, 3 potatoes, canola (oilseed rape), sugar beets, 4 many cereal grains and legumes, and some vegetables are only some examples of the mono-crops which are getting this seed treatment, both here in the US and throughout the world.

It was also in the mid-2000s that the United States – in a never-seen-like-this-before calamity! – began losing, on average, one third of its managed honey bees annually, as estimated by researchers; a horrific trend which has continued to this day and, in many states, has gotten even worse. 5

71 to nearly 100 percent of the corn seed used in the US today is treated with neonics; a majority of soybean seeds are, as well. Farmers report it is all but impossible to buy corn seed that has not been neonic treated. Seed companies have been steadily increasing the amount of this pesticide used per seed, to the point where some seeds are now routinely being coated with five times the original amounts used!

Neonics are the most widely-used insecticide in the world today. In the US, there are six neonics, called ‘active ingredients,’ registered by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) for agricultural use: imidacloprid (the most widely-used, worldwide), acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, thiacloprid, and thiamethoxam (nitenpyram, a seventh, is not registered for used in agriculture). They are being used extensively in (non-organic) agriculture as a foliar spray, in soil drenching, in tree trunk injections, and as a coating for seeds.

It is noteworthy that three neonics were banned in the EU in 2013 for two years, for use on bee-attractive, flowering crops (e.g. corn, sunflowers and canola), and their use was also restricted on ornamental crops (e.g. annuals and perennials). The EU is currently reviewing this ban with the possibility of making it permanent.

It was only very recently, that researchers began to investigate just how pervasive the use of neonic-coated seeds is in the US. As it turns out, the federal government wasn’t even gathering stats about the use of neonic-coated seeds because, under EPA guidelines, it is not considered a pesticide application! 6 This 2015 study, by Margaret R. Douglas and John F. Tooker from Penn State University, states:

“…We synthesized publicly available data to estimate and interpret trends in neonicotinoid use since their introduction in 1994, with a special focus on seed treatments, a major use not captured by the national pesticide-use survey …

… It is remarkable that almost the entire area of the most widely grown crop in the U.S. (i.e., maize) is now treated with an insecticide, yet we have no public survey data reflecting this trend… 7

Pesticide-coating of seeds represents a frightening paradigm shift in pesticide deployment; instead of using pesticides after pests become evident, BIG Ag now prophylactically treats all the seeds of particular crops, before they are even planted.

According to a 2016 Minnesota Department of Agriculture report, neonics in the US are being used primarily as seed treatments. Of those seed treatments, 80% consist of neonic pesticides.

According to this report, Pollinators and Pesticides, by the Center for Food Safety:

“From 2009-2011, over 3.5 million pounds of neonicotinoids were applied to roughly 127 million acres of agricultural crops annually across the United States.” 8

With 3.5 million pounds of neonicotinoids applied annually to US crops – covering an area which represents approximately one twelfth the area of the US, minus Hawaii and Alaska – how can it be that the EPA does not consider this seed-coating a pesticide application, when we are blanketing our farmland and ecosystem with a toxic load of neonics each and every year? (see 6)

The BIG Ag practice of coating seeds in neonic pesticides also extends to annuals – flowering, as well as vegetable & herb plants – perennials, bulbs, rhizomes, larger ornamentals (shrubs), and indoor potted plants.


Flowers are the primary source of honey bees’ food, from which they gather pollen & nectar. It takes the entire lifetime of each of ten, nectar-gathering field bees – each of whom live for six weeks during the summer – to make 1 teaspoon of honey. Notice the soft, fine hairs of this honey bee; her ‘fur’ collects and moves pollen from one flower to another.

Neonics are also being used extensively in other landscape applications, by both homeowners and landscape professionals, including as foliar sprays, soil drenching of turf and trees, and trunk injections.

That there is a pervasive BIG Ag, industry-wide practice of coating seeds with a toxic, systemic pesticide is a fact not well known by most people, let alone home gardeners.

Millions of American home gardeners are – every spring, every fall – transporting hundreds of thousands of flowering annuals and perennials to our homes and gardens – each of our front & backyards, porches, decks, sidewalks, mailboxes, bird feeders, window boxes, and railings decorated with a profusion of beautiful blooms and blossoms – with absolutely no idea that we are poisoning the honey bees and pollinators, for whom a flower is an essential source of food.



“I was asked yesterday by Minnesota Public Radio reporter Dan Gunderson how long I thought we had before disaster struck. ‘How long?’ I answered. ‘It isn’t a question of how long any more, the disaster is here.'”

New York commercial beekeeper Jim Doan forced out of business by pesticide losses
Tom Theobald, Colorado beekeeper

Neonics are systemic, water-soluble pesticides, meaning the pesticide doesn’t simply remain on the surface of the plant. It, instead, travels through a plant’s vascular system, permanently poisoning the plant for the life of the plant: roots, stems, leaves, fruit, berries, flowers, nectar and pollen.

In pollinators, the poisoning by neonics is cumulative; each and every time a honey bee, for example, visits a stand of neonic-tainted clover blossoms in a day, her own neuro-toxicity increases.

Neonics are  – just like the systemic DDT about which Rachel Carson warned in her 1962 book, Silent Spring – very toxic to the living things in an ecosystem, enduring, and their use creates unintended & dire consequences.

However, the DDT Rachel Carson warned about pales in comparison to the toxicity of neonics. Some neonics are, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, “…at least 5,000 to 10,000 times more toxic to bees than DDT… .” 9 These pesticides are, therefore, highly toxic to honey bees and pollinators in tiny amounts.

Furthermore, when some neonics breakdown, these metabolites can be 10-16 times more toxic to pollinators!

The maximum annual usage of DDT in the US (which occurred in 1959) was 80 million pounds. Using the 2009 figure for US neonic usage (which he found was 3.4 million pounds), beekeeper Tom Theobald estimated (given that neonics are 5,000 – 10,000 times more toxic than DDT and he used the more conservative figure of 5,000) that, per year:

“We are now drenching American farmland with the equivalent of 17.5 billion pounds of DDT.” 10

These statistics alone should put to rest any question that neonicotinoid pesticides are causing great harm to bees - and pollinators - in the United States. Our environment is a frighteningly more poisonous and toxic place than Rachel Carson could ever have imagined.

“One of the most concerning aspects about neonicotinoid seed treatments is their propensity for contaminating the environment: when used as a coating on seeds, only 1.6-2.0% of the amount of the active chemical applied actually enters the crop itself, leaving the remainder of the chemical coating to pollute the environment.” 11

When neonic-coated seeds are first sown, a pesticide dust cloud is released into the wind, contaminating neighboring fields, flower-rich hedgerows (including, for example, nearby organic wildflower habitats 12) and pollinators, which can be harmed on both a contact and an oral basis by some neonics. This pesticide’s water solubility makes it especially dangerous as it very easily travels everywhere, ultimately contaminating our ground water, ponds, rivers, streams, and wetlands. That there is a ‘downstream’ effect to land and water invertebrates, as well as bats and insect-feeding woodland birds, is a given.

This neonic dust, by the way, can also include talc or graphite (used as seed lubricants with forced air seed planters). According to a 2012 Purdue University study in Indiana, this contaminated talc is “light“and “mobile” and “…the exhausted talc showed extremely high levels of the insecticides – up to about 700,000 times the lethal contact dose for a bee…” 13

The article continues:

” ‘Whatever was on the seed was being exhausted into the environment,’ Krupke said. ‘This material is so concentrated that even small amounts landing on flowering plants around a field can kill foragers or be transported to the hive in contaminated pollen. This might be why we found these insecticides in pollen that the bees had collected and brought back to their hives.'” 14

Is anyone researching the damage which tons of airborne, (non-purified?) talc itself might be inflicting upon pollinators and the environment (and anyone in proximity to talc-contaminated air and fields), in addition to the neonics in the talc itself?

What is the impact of talc (and/or graphite), being brought back to the hive in the pollen which field bees collect? 15

[See these images, detailing the US increase in the use of seed treatments of just one neonic, imidacloprid, from 2000 –  2014.]

Neonics, doing double damage, degrade slowly as they continue to poisonand they are taken up by neighboring plants. In soil, neonics have a half-life of between 148 days to as long as nineteen years. These pesticides accumulate with each application, creating, of farmland – of your garden – year-by-year, an increasingly toxic environment for pollinators.

It was absolutely shocking to discover that one of the seeds available with a neonic-coating – used as a cover & rotational crop and to seed pasture is clover. Clover is a favorite flower of honey bees; how many millions of us of us enjoy our clover honey! Pasture sown with this seed will subject bees – who will return multiple times throughout the day – to longterm, low level (sublethal) exposure to toxic neonics, poisoning of the hive, and eventual, likely, colony collapse. 16

Gardeners, what kind of world are we allowing wherein a simple flower has become, to a bee, a poisonous bio-hazard?


Home gardeners, and their pollinators, may be exposed to much higher concentrations of neonics – in landscape ornamentals, annuals, perennials and through landscape contractor practices and homeowner application – than those allowed for in large-scale, commercial agricultural crops:

"Products [neonicotinoids] approved for home and garden use may be applied to ornamental and landscape plants, as well as turf, at significantly higher rates (potentially 120 times higher) than those approved for agricultural crops." 17
One report from 2014 revealed, "Amounts used on ornamentals lead to residues 12-16 times greater than found on crop plants." 18

You cannot wash, soak or scrub this pesticide off. It creates, of any new plant you bed into your garden, a neonic-producing factory, poisoning everything it produces – including the pollen and nectar – for the life of that plant (please read, here).

Your own backyard garden can become a source of this toxic poison, exposing the honey bees, bumblebees, butterflies and monarchs, moths, beetles, lady bugs, native pollinators, hummingbirds, birds, bats (and earthworms) which visit your garden to sublethal (enough to harm but not kill) or lethal doses of neonics.

To be blunt: the beautiful flowers in your own garden, which woo the pollinators, may be wooing them to their death. 19

BeesKnees (2)

The yellow sacs – ‘pollen baskets’ – on this bee are packed to the brim with pollen, gathered from flowers and stored for delivery to the hive, behind the bee’s knees – hence the term ‘The Bee’s Knees!’ Make sure you only purchase local, ‘certified organic’ plants so the pollen which visiting honey bees collect in your garden is free of neonicotinoids.

According to a recent UN report put out by its Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity Ecosystem Services (IPBES), some pollinators – up to 40% in some locations! – are now facing extinction.

The IUCN stated in a 2014 report that 9% of all bees and almost 24% of bumblebees in Europe are now threatened with extinction.

On March 21, 2017 – just six month ago – the rusty patched bumble bee became the first bee in the continental United States to be federally-protected under the Endangered Species Act. This should be a day of mourning for all those who cherish bees and should serve as an urgent wake-up call: for with bees as an ‘indicator species,‘ alerting us as to the health (or illness) of an ecosystem, are we now in trouble?

[Right now, please watch this documentary, A Ghost in the Making Searching for the Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee, by Clay Bolt.]

“…even tiny doses
of a neonicotinoid pesticide
called imidacloprid reduce the amount
of pollen collected by bumblebee colonies by 57
percent, and … the effects last for at least
a month after exposure.” 20

To help you understand neonicotinoids and the poisoning of bees, birds and beneficial insects – from the perspective of an Integrative Pest Management (IPM) specialist – I cannot recommend this publication highly enough: the nonprofit Bio-Integral Resource Center’s April 2014 Special Edition Quarterly, entitled Neonicotinoids, Bees, Birds and Beneficial Insects. It’s short; please read it cover-to-cover.

“The major risk [to birds] is seed

treatments; one imidacloprid treated

corn seed, 3-4 cereal seeds,

or 4-5 canola seeds

can be lethal

to the

average bird.” 21

William Quarles, PhD, IPM Specialist, Executive Director of the Bio-Integral Resource Center (BIRC)



“A single corn plant grown from an imidacloprid-treated seed will have access to 1.34 milligrams (mg) of imidacloprid from the soil it is grown in. In contrast, the recommended label application rate for a perennial nursery plant in a three-gallon pot is 300 mg of imidacloprid, an amount that is 220 times more imidacloprid per plant.”

Gardeners Beware:Bee-Toxic Pesticides Found in “Bee-Friendly”
Plants Sold at Garden Centers Nationwide

Friends of the Earth, 2013

Honey bees can travel up to three miles from their hive, however, they will tend to stay within a mile, or so, from home. Flowers are honey bees’ only source of food (with a few minor exceptions) and it may be in your garden where they are getting pollen (when fermented with nectar it becomes “bee bread,” their source of protein) and nectar (when fermented it becomes “honey,” their source of carbohydrate).

Your garden flowers are their kitchen larder!

It is not well-known that honey bees also store water in the hive. Have a source of fresh water for visiting honey bees and pollinators, especially during the hot days of summer. (Use a shallow container and place stones in it, so the honey bees have a place to land.)

A Friends of the Earth (FoE) pilot study, 22 released in 2013, Gardeners Beware: Bee-Toxic Pesticides Found in “Bee-Friendly” Plants Sold at Garden Centers Nationwide, reported that at major retailers across the country, 7 out of 13 flowering garden plants tested contained neonics. In 2014, Mother Earth News recommended only buying “certified organic transplants.” 23

A follow-up FoE study – Gardeners Beware 2014 – demonstrated the sheer, devilish perversity pervading the gardening industry: over half of the ‘bee-friendly plants’ tested, were, themselves poisoned with neonicotinoids, with no warning whatsoever provided to the consumer!

Bees, in particular, are extremely sensitive to, thus easily harmed by, neonicotinoids. These poisoned ‘bee-friendly’ plants, when transplanted to your garden, will harm or kill visiting bees…

…and you will never even know it happened.

In 2016, even though the new FoE report indicated there is progress, it was shocking to see favorite annuals like coreopsis, salvia and petunias as testing extremely high in neonic residues. This FoE report shows that most large retailers are implementing plans to eliminate neonics from their plant sales’, as well as labeling any which have neonics in them.

However, there are still many US consumer reports of plant retailers continuing to openly sell plants grown with neonics without labels, professing ignorance as to their plant products, or who are being out-and-out deceptive in their sales’ practices.

If you chose to buy these plants and plant them in your garden…

…you may be endangering the pollinators in your backyard with neonic pesticides.


One significant (and, as yet, unrecognized by the public) place where neonics are entering the plant supply chain is at the creation of a plug (seedlings, liners, starts). These are seedlings, raised from seed in individual cells and sold ready for transplanting. Many nurseries purchase flats of plugs / starts from seedling wholesalers and transplant them, to save on the time, space and warm conditions needed to germinate seeds. When they order trays of these plugs / starts, they can select – at the point of sale – the option to have seeds grown which are “coated.” (See this example of a plant catalogue, utilized by plant retailers, which sells coated plugs, pp. 61-70 and 112.)

So, it is with the very seed itself – or, rather, the toxic treatment of the seed – where both the danger to pollinators …as well as the silent poisoning of our gardens, begins.

Without neonic-warning labels on each and every plug and start (which will, themselves, each be moved and transplanted at least once) – it becomes impossible for the home gardener to know if the adult plant they are purchasing is 100% guaranteed-free of a neonic pesticide.

Retailers, themselves, may not even know if their plugs and starts were neonic-treated, or what other chemicals may be in them! For example, one company in the plug business since 1968, has two nurseries which produce ornamental plant plugs, in nurseries in China.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, in its 2016 report, How Neonicotinoids Can Kill Bees, states, “…to our knowledge, no measurements are available of pollen or nectar residues of ornamental plants after coated seeds are planted…24

Just as it was uncovered that no federal agency was tracking the annual tonnage of neonics being spread across millions of acres of farmland via seeds, it appears no one is tracking just how poisoned the flowering plants, herbs, vegetable seedlings, annuals, perennials and bulbs are, which millions of gardeners are bringing home.

In 2016, Maryland became the first state to regulate neonic use among consumers; a  major weakness, however, is the lack of a requirement to label plants, seeds or nursery stock treated with neonics. The law places no neonic restrictions upon industry: for example, seed and pesticide companies, farmers, veterinarians and the home repair industry.


Much harder to control is the lingering presence of pesticides that have been applied to plants months before they reach your garden. There have been reports of dead bees – both honey bees and bumble bees – around commercially grown hanging baskets…

Neonicotinoids in Your Garden
Jennifer Hopwood and Matthew Shepherd

CONSIDER THIS: How many families - in just your neighborhood - planted or displayed neonic-poisoned flowering plants this summer? What has that done to the food supply of pollinators?

This is happening to pollinators all across the United States, in every single neighborhood, in every single town, village and city.

We gardeners need to get the word out: please talk to your neighbors - one neighbor at a time - and educate them. Use this FoE document, Bee Bold Take a Stand Against Bee Killing Pesticides, to help you.

Neonic usage is pervasive in the ‘home & garden’ world. It is industry-wide practice to use neonics as a foliar spray. Soil drenching, in the treatment of turf, trees and ornamental shrubs is another common application method, as well as trunk injections; pesticide residues can remain for months or years. Check the chemicals of landscape contractors you hire and – before you purchase – make sure that any plants, bulbs, rhizomes, bare root plants, shrubs and trees have not had their roots or soil neonic-drenched.

Even the hanging baskets you buy, overflowing with gorgeous annual blossoms, are routinely soaked in a vat of neonics 25 and neonics are included in some “plant starter mixes” (soil)!

With December coming, some families had better prepare for this one: neonics (imidacloprid and thiamethoxam) are approved for use on Christmas trees! Does this include wreaths? Door swags? One would assume yes. This fact may alter many Christmas, Solstice and winter celebrations of those families which also seek to protect pollinators. 26

Many town & city arborists across the country are routinely treating public shrubs and trees with neonics; some are flowering. This has become standard procedure in arboriculture. 27 Turf treatment with neonics, on both public and private land, is epidemic.

Neonics have found their way into our public parks, gardens, golf courses, nature centers, and even our children’s ball fields and playgrounds!

Many common “garden care” products (used by both homeowners and landscape contractors) contain neonicotinoids. These neonic products (and see here, pp. 60-61, and here) are readily available at hardware stores, garden centers and Big Box stores. The variety of trademarked neonic products on the market is so vast, I was unable to locate a single comprehensive, up-to-date product list to point you to!

I found out why. Searching at the EPA website for the six registered and active neonic pesticides approved for use in agriculture, here, returned a staggering 1,688 individual neonic product names – with names like Venom, Maxforce, Assail, Malice, Dominion and Scorpion – all either for sale on store shelves directly to consumers or to seed companies, farmers, vets and others, licensed to use these products in industrial agriculture!

The EPA site was not at all consumer-helpful. Go, instead, to the Pesticide Research Institute’s (PRI) Pesticide Product Evaluator, where you can quickly search for the pesticide data you need. (PRI assisted in the writing of the FoE reports, cited above.) Use of this database requires a fee, however, they allow for a one-day free trial. (I am still searching for a free, searchable site for consumers.)

Neonics are also being used to control parasites in pets (fleas, ticks and worms: please check with your veterinarian for the neonic “Nitenpyram,” and have them also check their databases for the other six registered neonics); as well as indoor insects (e.g. ants, termites, bedbugs); and as a wood preservative treatment, in insulation and building supplies. Neonics are – in point of fact – registered with the EPA for multiple different uses impacting consumer homes and gardens.

Given that the seeds of cover crops, like clover, are available with a neonic-coating, the next logical question is: What about grass seed? Is that, too, available with a neonic coating? A New Zealand writer, Jodie Bruning, asks: What’s all that coloured stuff on our grass seeds? This document confirms it is neonics.

This Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP) report, Highly Hazardous Pesticides  Neonicotinoids, indicates, again, neonics are being used on grass seed. (I have not yet confirmed usage in the US. A quick call to the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY), should get me the name of the right person to ask about neonic-coated grass seed here in NYS, as a start.)

The ramifications, not only to our soil and pollinators, but to earthworms, beetles and the birds which eat earthworms and beetles – if neonic-coated grass seed is indeed on the market and being sold to US homeowners – is frightening.

Home owners and gardeners  have – unknowingly and without their permission – become the vector for a poison  – at doses allowed to be much, much higher than those used in food crop agriculture – which is endangering our pollinators and polluting not only our backyards, but – because we have not demanded public policy changes at the village, town and city levels – also our neighborhoods, parks, public spaces, and playgrounds.

One need only remember the fate of the rusty patched bumble bee to recognize we families must take action at the local level to protect our pollinators.


Since the FoE reports documented that some plant retailers are being deceptive and, given that plant neonic treatments are totally invisible, the warning, caveat emptor!  – buyer beware! – applies.

One of the FoE’s recommendations to retailers in its report, Gardener’s Beware 2016, is that retailers offer, for sale to the public, “third-party certified organic starts and plants.” 28

However, be warned that 36.2% of the respondents in the Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 State of the Industry White Paper, a trade publication, stated they will continue to use neonics in production.

You, the consumer,

NEED to complain. When

enough consumers show – with their

wallets – that they won’t buy these

poisoned plants and they will

buy ‘certified organic’

plants – they’ll get

the message.

Your voice matters! Complain! Be upset! Post your neonic concerns with plant sellers! Call the plant managers! Because this FoE 2015 report demonstrates that consumer pressure can be leveraged to create change in the garden industry: Growing Bee-Friendly Garden Plants: Profiles In Innovation.

And, because forewarned is forearmed, here are some of the answers with which plant retailers are being prepped, by industry, for those times when we savvy consumers come along and start asking really uncomfortable and pointed questions about neonics in their plants.


Changing you gardening behaviors and habits is critical and it really matters.

Friends of the Earth makes it clear that we gardeners and homeowners are now part of the problem:

"Unfortunately for bees, other pollinators and for all of us, the now common cosmetic use of neonicotinoid pesticides in gardens, lawns and landscapes is an important factor in declining health of managed and wild pollinators." 29

If you are using neonics in your garden or grass or allowing landscape contractors to use these chemicals in your garden, on your grass, on your shrubs and trees, or anywhere on your property, STOP! Figure out a different strategy. Please consider going organic!

As gardeners, one of the safest courses for our honey bees and pollinators is to only purchase ‘certified organic’ plants which are labeled as such. Only buy from reputable, well-known plant sellers, who publicly advertise that they do not allow neonics (and pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides) use at any stage of plant production.

A reputable nursery should be more than willing to verify this for you; nurseries, unlike ‘Big Box’ stores, are in the business of growing and selling plants and they value the relationships with longtime, repeat customers.

Be assertive; if you are not satisfied with the answers you get, walk away from that plant retailer and do not go back.

The safest course for home gardeners (and least expensive, for you thrifty green thumbs!), in my opinion? Propagate your own seeds in organic soil medium from ‘certified organic’ heirloom seeds and seeds which you saved yourself and initiate the time-honored practice of seed and plant exchanges between fellow (organic) gardeners.

For it is you, on behalf of the pollinators which grace your backyard, who are 100% in charge of which flowering plants end up in your garden. Plant wisely.


A beekeeper who uses organic practices in hive management, inspecting a Kenyan Top Bar Hive (KTBH), shaped like a hollow log (a preferred wild honey bee habitat). This hive allows for easy inspection without unnecessarily disturbing the bees. He uses no gloves – to allow for sensitivity in inspection – and (often) no smoke, due to his familiarity with the rhythm of the hives.



Honest Weight Food Co-op (HWFC) does not have a written, publicized neonic policy. I, therefore, am including the non-organic plants, seeds and gardening products (like straw, hay and soil) for sale at HWFC in this warning. Only purchase ‘certified organic’ plants and gardening products from HWFC. Its policy should state that HWFC will only purchase regionally-grown, ‘certified organic’ 30 indoor and outdoor plants, seeds, cut flowers, wreaths, door swags & evergreen products, and garden supplies. Period.

The policy needs to require written contracts with all plant & garden vendors, in which the vendor explicitly states that it does not use neonicotinoids (and any pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides) at any stage of plant production, including in plugs & starts, soil mediums, foliar sprays, and elsewhere on the farm. Each plant needs to have a clear label.

With the gardening industry the way it is today – the industry-wide use of neonic-treated plugs & starts, the use of neonics in planting mediums, the greenhouse foliar spraying with neonics – it is simply not good enough to strive to not carry plants which are neonic-treated. HWFC must NOT carry any neonic-treated plants and supplies.

For “striving” will not keep our pollinators out of harm’s way.

This sample letter and questionnaire to a ‘valued grower’ from FoE (pp. 49-52) is a well-thought out way to insure that all the seeds, plants, and plant supplies HWFC sells are safe for pollinators; FoE highly recommends ‘certified organic’ as being the safest.

FoE also published a report and scorecard, Swarming the Aisles Rating Top Retailers on Bee-Friendly and Organic Food, which should be reviewed by our co-op for the ‘pollinator protection policies’ being implemented at top US food stores.


Before you buy those mum plants,

those unlabeled crocus bulbs,

that Christmas tree or wreath,


to make sure they have a label

that says they’re neonic-free


better, that they’re ‘certified organic.’

If not,

put them right back…

…and walk away.

We are very fortunate that, in addition to non-organic plants, HWFC includes ‘certified organic’ plants and seeds in its plant selections; many local nurseries do not. (Lots more about The Farm at Miller’s Crossing – a Hudson Valley farm selling certified organic vegetables, grass fed beef and maple syrup, and whose certified organic flower, vegetable and herb plants HWFC has sold for years – in a special, upcoming post.)

It is crystal clear to me – who has a family member who is a longtime ‘organic-practices’ beekeeper – that, until the plant-growing industry cleans up its act, our co-op needs to adopt the above policy and aggressively implement and publicize it.

We at HWFC cannot wait another season, for Christmas trees and wreaths will be coming in, probably loaded with neonics… …and without labels alerting us not to buy them.

Many other large corporations, like Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart’s, BJ’s Wholesale Club and Whole Foods have already adopted plans to get rid of neonics. Our co-op needs to proclaim its commitment to our pollinators and be proud of its stand against the sale of neonics and pesticides in any and all of the seeds, cut flowers, bulbs, holiday wreaths, plants and plant products which it offers for sale to the public.



Since we’re on the subject of seeds, let me highlight the two regional seed companies whose seeds HWFC sells. 31 Both offer ‘certified organic’ selections:

Take the time to read this wonderful interview with Fedco Seeds‘ founder, CR Lawn. Fedco, a Maine-based business founded in 1978, is a co-operative; HWFC has been a member for decades, maybe almost since Fedco’s founding! Approximately 30% of its seeds are ‘certified organic’ and Fedco sells neither coated nor genetically-modified seeds. They are quite knowledgeable about all the recent BIG Ag trends in seed production. Each February, HWFC Member-Owners look forward to the delivery of the simple, black & white newsprint Fedco seed catalogue, and we families, collectively, place an order with Fedco – all scrambling to meet their deadline! – and receiving a nice discount. Fedco seeds are sold at the store throughout the growing season, as well. 32

HWFC also sells seeds from the Hudson Valley Seed Company, which, since May 2013, has been both “a Certified Organic Farm and a Certified Organic Handler.” Their website states: “We offer heirloom and open-pollinated seeds for vegetable, flower, and herb varieties. Many of these seeds we produce on our own small farm; the rest we source from other local farmers, farmers in other regions, and from trustworthy wholesale seed houses that are not owned by or affiliated with multi-national biotech companies.” In addition, they “have signed the Safe Seed Pledge, and … adhere to Vandana Shiva’s Declaration [on] Seed Freedom.

This company is quite a treasure for us here in the Hudson Valley! Their ‘Art Packs’ (this is the ‘coating’ your seeds come in!) are designed by artists, many from the northeast and many who are, themselves, gardeners. This is an incredible, added bonus to your seed purchase!

Fall Bulbs

Fedco appears low on fall bulb stock, please browse; Hudson Valley Seed Company has plenty in stock and “All bulbs are neonicotinoid-free, as well as systemic fungicide and systemic pesticide-free.”

Before you purchase your fall bulbs, please listen to this The Organic View radio show, Hidden Dangers of Systemic Pesticides on Tulips & Bulbs, with host June Stoyer, as she interviews Jeroen Koeman, President & Co-Founder of EcoTulips LLC.



“In the past we didn’t designed gardens that play a critical ecological role in the landscape, but we must do so in the future … As gardeners and stewards of our land, we have never been so empowered to help save biodiversity from extinction, and the need to do so has never been so great.” 33

Douglas W. Tallamy

It’s not enough to purchase ‘certified organic’ annuals and perennials, if your intent is to feed local pollinators. You will want to bed in a variety of native flowering plants which are suited to your climate and soil and which span the growing season, so as to produce a variety of flowers, all season long. Be sure to plant late-bloomers for autumn pollinator needs.

If you just can’t part with certain beloved perennials, stick with the old-fashioned & heirloom varieties, something my Dad, a gardener, always recommended. They are ‘tried and true’ and they offer a better shot at providing good sources of pollen and nectar for pollinators than common, hybrid cultivars.

For, what you may not know, is that many of the annuals and perennials which you buy at ‘Big Box’ stores, grocery stores and most garden centers & nurseries are hybrids, bred specifically for the beauty and size of their blooms: their ‘curb appeal’ to humans. They are not bred for the flowers’ ability to produce high-quality, nutritious pollen and nectar.

Therefore, you need to become familiar with the wonderful world of native plants. Oh, joy, a new adventure in gardening to begin!

Here are three good resources to begin learning about native, pollinator-friendly plants for your garden: Friends of the Earth’s Bee & Bee Create Your Own Bed and Breakfast for Bumblebees, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation’s Pollinator Plants Northeast Region and Douglas W. Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens.


In its second year, this HoneyBee Fest in the tiny NY hamlet of Narrowsburg, offered local honey, bee-related crafts, honey ice cream, music, bee workshops, and even a modest Bee Parade! Narrowsburg has officially “adopted” the honey bee; other Sullivan County towns have each “adopted” a different pollinator.

Kim Eierman, an Environmental Horticulturist and a presenter this weekend at the Narrowsburg, NY HoneyBee Fest, and with whom I met, highly recommended the works of Dr. Doug Tallamy, Sara Bonnett Stein, (who has sadly passed away) and her book Noah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Backyards and, of course all of Rachel Carson’s books, including Silent Spring. Here is her own list of resources and her list of bee-friendly native perennials and late-blooming native perrenials. I am simply floored at the wealth of valuable information available on her website!


 This stand of native flowers in a suburban, upstate NY garden provides a better source of food for pollinators than the non-native cultivars and hybrid perrenials offered at most nurseries and ‘Big Box’ stores.

Ms. Eierman, founder of EcoBeneficial, who cautioned me to remember “right plant, right place,” when selecting native plants, is a “Certified Horticulturist through the American Society for Horticultural Science … an Accredited Organic Landcare Professional, a Steering Committee member of The Native Plant Center, and a member of The Ecological Landscape Alliance and the Garden Writers Association … She teaches at the New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, The Native Plant Center in NY, Rutgers Home Gardeners School and several other institutions.

She recommended these two regional native plant nurseries, the Catskill Native Nursery in Kerhonkson, NY and Earth Tones Native Plants in Woodbury, CT, as being reputable, knowledgeable and happy to work with you in planning your pollinator garden.

Remember, in addition to honey bees, there are many other pollinators; native bees, bumblebees, butterflies, native wasps, moths and hummingbirds are just a few of the many different kinds of pollinators which might live in or fly through a backyard garden, seeking food and drink. Make sure your native plantings provide food for them, too. Study Doug Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens and his new book, with co-author Rick Darke, The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden, and peruse the wonderful, (free!) information at EcoBeneficial.



Do not support BIG Ag and the gardening industry’s harmful, destructive and toxic practice of growing plants from neonic-coated seeds or the spraying & dousing of plants with neonic pesticides.

  • Do not share your family’s ‘garden budget’ with any retailer which is not selling ‘certified organic’ plants and seeds, (see 30) which are labeled as such.
  • Do not allow plants treated with neonics or pesticides onto your property. (Be sure to review your lawn & garden contractors’ chemicals, and your own, as well. Go organic.)
  • Do support ‘certified organic’ seed and plant growers & retailers.
  • Do support regional, native plant nurseries, which specialize in understanding how plants and pollinators help each other.
  • Do begin planting for pollinators even if you know nothing about it. Read! Learn! Begin! One plant at a time, create a pollinator habitat in your own backyard.
  • Do take the first step, and switch to organic gardening, if you have not yet done so.

Take the time to just sit and watch the pollinators in your backyard. That’s it, just observe. Let them teach you.

For our pollinators’ and our honey bees’ lives depend upon your wise plant purchases and your organic land stewardship.

And please remember, Grassroots Action is Powerful! We gardeners can, one-by-one, in our backyards, towns & villages & counties, help effect the change pollinators need, together.


This sign, in the front yard of Christ Lutheran Church in Woodstock, NY, which we passed on the way home from the Narrowsburg, NY HoneyBee Fest, says it all:
If you plant it, they will come.”


Future topics I will be exploring relating to neonics and our honey bees and pollinators include:

  • Neonicotinoids: a public policy nightmare. Get involved to help NY’s pollinators!
  • Are neonic-coated seeds even allowed in NYS?
  • Whatever happened to that NYS Pollinator Task Force, formed in 2015, which seems to be missing-in-action …a case of “Task Force Collapse Disorder” right here in NY’s capital? (Let our own local author, Tracy Frisch, introduce you to that topic in Why Andrew Cuomo’s Pollinator Task Force Won’t Save New York’s Bees.)
  • How to invest your town, village, county or city in supporting pollinators.
  • The pervasive & frightening use of neonics in our food supply.
  • “Greenwashing” initiatives in which BIG Food and BIG Organic are investing BIG Sums, to lure you – the consumer – into believing they are doing everything possible to protect pollinators. (They’re not.)
  • The beekeeper’s perspective, from those natural beekeepers who specifically use organic principles in hive management.
  • The large, commercial ‘migratory beekeepers’ – who truck thousands of beehives all across the country following seasonal crops  – and whose apiaries are among those being threatened – and disappearing – because of BIG Ag mono-cropping practices and neonic-poisoned crops.

GiveBeesAChanceDo you think ‘John Lennon would approve of this message?’


If you liked this post, learned something from it or have a question, please leave me a note, below. Feedback is welcomed!

In true grassroots’ fashion, pass this information on to other pollinator & plant lovers, organic food lovers, and your friends and family, of course.

You can also sign up to receive automatic GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! updates in your email box. When you scroll upward, an icon, ‘follow,’ will appear in the lower right hand corner of your screen. Click on that and follow!


This series of posts about the dangers of neonicotinoids – and the dangers to our seeds – is dedicated to Mom and Dad: Dad, who was a greenhouse man and the head gardener on a Hudson River estate, where we lived in the gardener’s cottage (learn about Dad’s battle with ‘THAT woodchuck,’ here), and Mom, who was a florist, by his side, and a lifelong backyard gardener. Mom and Dad taught my brother and me to love the land, plants, birds, bees and animals which are the grace, wonder & beauty, in our everyday life. I cannot even imagine having a gardening conversation with them, in which the words butterflies or hummingbirds appeared in the same sentence as the word ‘extinct.’

Dad warned my brother and me when we were kids, sitting together in the back of the greenhouse on a warm, autumn day, watching him as he prepped some seeds for saving, “Kids, now I want you to remember this. Listen to me. Pay attention! Always save your seeds.” These words of my Dad, the gardener, resonate as I bear witness – fifty years later, ever the gardener’s daughter – to the assault upon our pollinators and upon our seeds.

© Laura Hagen


The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.

John Philpot Curran



1. Please read the books:
2010: The systemic insecticides: a disaster in the making by Dutch toxicologist Henk Tenneke
2008: A Spring without Bees: How Colony Collapse Disorder Has Endangered Our Food Supply by Michael Schacker.

The Center for Food Safety maintains a list of peer-reviewed, scientific studies documenting the adverse impacts of neonicotinoids, here.

2. Where you get your news from is critical. There is the ‘real‘ news about CCD, honey bee and pollinator die-offs and pollinator extinction threats – as expressed by organizations I have cited in this blogpost, such as Earthjustice (here and here); Center for Food Safety (here, here, here, here, here); The Pesticide Action Network of North America (here, here, here, here, here, here;); Beyond Pesticides (here, here, here); Friends of the Earth (here); Pesticide Research Institute (here); The Neonicotinoid View on June Stoyer’s The Organic View Radio Show (here and here); The Pollinator Stewardship Council (here and here);  The American Bird Conservancy (here and here), and others.

Individual beekeepers who have been defending honey bees and pollinators include Jeff Anderson, Lucas Criswell, Gail Fuller, David Hackenberg. In addition, Steve Ellis of Old Mill Honey Co. (MN, CA), Jim Doan of Doan Family Farms (NY), Tom Theobald of Niwot Honey Farm (CO) and Bill Rhodes of Bill Rhodes Honey (FL); beekeepers who won one battle.

And then there is the ‘fake news’ being pumped out by standard media outlets like, for example, Bloomberg (Bees Are Bouncing Back From Colony Collapse Disorder) and some public radio outlets (Are Bees Making A Comeback From Colony Collapse Disorder?).

US Right to Know warns against the Genetic Literacy Project in its July 18, 2017 article Jon Entine and Genetic Literacy Project Spin Chemical Industry PR.

3. Due to sunflowers being one of BIG Ag’s mono-crops which utilizes neonic-coated seeds, birders are cautioned to only purchase organic sunflower seeds for the wild birds they feed.

4. Beekeepers who supply fondant (a “fudge” made of sugar and water) during the winter months, need to be aware that close to 50 percent of the white, table sugar in our country is manufactured from sugar beets. Not only are sugar beet seeds routinely neonic-coated but, as of 2009, 90 – 95 percent of US sugar beet production was reported as using Monsanto’s Roundup Ready® GM sugar beet seeds; the decision to do so was made in 2005. See: One Man’s Battle Against GM Sugar Beets by Ken Roseboro, editor of The Organic and Non-GMO Report.

For your fondant, source white sugar which is made from cane not sugar beets and, if possible, organic.

5. For example, in 2015-2016, NY was among the states which had the highest rates of (managed) honey bee die-offs, with 54.1 percent losses! National averages for the same time period were 44 percent. Some NYS commercial beekeepers have recently experienced 70 percent losses!

Annual losses of thirty percent had become the new national average, since 2006 – 2007. Prior to this, 5 – 10 percent in annual loss was the national norm among US managed honey beekeepers.

The USDA considers annual losses of 18.7 percent to be unsustainable.

This is a crisis.

6. Please read this 2016 article, Beekeeper Who Sounded Alarm on Colony Collapse Disorder Loses 90 Percent of His Hives, by Maryam Henein, the director of the award-winning documentary film, Vanishing of the Beesto understand how the US EPA is able to continue allowing neonic-coated seeds to be utilized in agriculture.

See the April 26, 2017 Citizen Petition to Regulate Coated Seeds under FIFRA.

In a partial victory, on May 8, 2017, a federal court ruled on a four-year old case, that the EPA violated the Endangered Species Act when it approved 59 neonicotinoid pesticide registrations, including uses for landscaping and ornamental plants. Tom Theobald, the beekeeper cited above, was one of the plaintiffs, which also included beekeepers Steve Ellis, Jim Doan, and Bill Rhodes; Center for Food Safety (CFS); Beyond Pesticides; Sierra Club; and Center for Environmental Health. It remains to be seen how this decision will help pollinators.

7. Douglas, Margaret R. and John F. Tooker. “Large-Scale Deployment of Seed Treatments Has Driven Rapid Increase in Use of Neonicotinoid Insecticides and Preemptive Pest Management in U.S. Field Crops.” Department of Entomology, The Pennsylvania State University. Environmental Science & Technology: 2015, 49 (8), pp. 5,088–5,097: pp. 5,088, 5,093. Web. 15 September 2017.

See the article by Nathan Collins, Bee-Harming Pesticides Are More Common Than Anyone Thought and this article, First National-Scale Reconnaissance of Neonicotinoid Insecticides in United States Streams, which both referenced the above study.

8. Walker, Larissa. “Pollinators and Pesticides.” Center for Food Safety, September 2013: p. 4. Web. 21 September 2017.

9. Conclusions of the IUCN Task Force on Systemic Pesticides. “Harm.” Worldwide Integrated Assessment, January 2015. Web. 20 September 2017.

See the IUCN Task Force on Systemic Pesticides’ chart comparing the toxicity, in honey bees, of DDT to neonicotinoids, here, in, Effects of neonicotinoids and fipronil on non-target invertebrates by L.W. Pisa

The IUCN’s Task Force on Systemic Pesticides – initiated by a group of European scientists – formed the Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the Impact of Systemic Pesticides on Biodiversity and Ecosystems (WIA). WIA “has made a synthesis of 1,121 published peer-reviewed studies spanning the last five years, including industry-sponsored ones. It is the single most comprehensive study of neonics ever undertaken, is peer reviewed, and published as open access so that the findings and the source material can be thoroughly examined by others.

10. Stoyer, June, host and Tom Theobald, special guest co-host. “The Big Picture on Neonicotinoids.” The Organic View Radio Show. The Neonicotinoid View, 8 September 2014. Web. 20 September 2017.

Please also see Tom Theobald, Are neonicotinoids the new DDT?

11. Walker, Larissa. “Pollinators and Pesticides.” Center for Food Safety, September 2013: p. 5. Web. 21 September 2017.

Dr. William Quarles states, “About 2-20% of a seed treatment is absorbed by the plant.” See: “Neonicotinoids, Bees, Birds and Beneficial Insects.” Bio-Integral Resource Center. Common Sense Pest Control Quarterly: Special Issue April 2014, Vol. XXVIII, Number 1-4: p. 3. Web. 25 September 2017.

12. USDA whistleblower, former USDA employee, and agro-ecologist and entomologist Dr. Jonathan Lundgren started a research initiative, Blue Dasher Farm, and has already begun producing data; this research demonstrates that simply growing a bunch of wildflowers (‘hedgerows‘) around fields which are continuing to be actively contaminated with neonics & windblown neonic seed dust will not protect pollinators from ongoing contamination by toxic neonics. (Consumer alert: funding ‘hedgerow‘ projects  – to the tune of millions of donated, corporate dollars to worthy nonprofits – is becoming the popular means for BIG Food and BIG Organic to [try and] demonstrate they are protecting our pollinators: ‘greenwashing‘ aimed directly at the consumer, assisted, in some cases, by happy, cartoon honey bees and colorful wildflowers on food product packages.)

This 2014 Center for Food Safety report, Heavy Costs  Weighing the Value of Neonicotinoid Insecticides in Agriculture, was peer-reviewed by Dr. Lundgren, in his role as a Research Entomologist, US Department of Agriculture.

13. Wallheimer, Brian. “Researchers: Honeybee deaths linked to seed insecticide exposure.” Purdue University. Purdue University News Service: 11 January 2012. Web. 27 September 2017.

The study referred to is: Krupke, Christian H., Greg J. Hunt, Brian D. Eitzer,  Gladys Andino, Krispn Given.” Multiple Routes of Pesticide Exposure for Honey Bees Living Near Agricultural Fields.” PLOS ONE. 03 January 2012. Web. 27 September 2017.

14. Ibid.

15. How many tons of talc are poisoning our farmlands each year? Is the talc which is being utilized purified and cosmetic-grade or not? Please see the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s document, Talc. (Talc is a substance implicated in ovarian cancer deaths among women.)

16. This is an Australian source.

This Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA) report, Highly Hazardous Pesticides  Neonicotinoids, indicates neonics are being used on clover seeds in Canada. I am still researching the use of neonic-coated clover seeds in the US.

17. Hopwood, Jennifer, Mace Vaughan, Matthew Shepherd, David Biddinger, Eric Mader, Scott Hoffman Black, and Celeste Mazzacano. “Are Neonicotinoids Killing Bees? A Review of Research into the Effects of Neonicotinoid Insecticides on Bees, with Recommendations for Action.” The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, 2012: pp. v-vi. Web. 13 Sept. 2017. or

18. Quarles, William, PhD. “Neonicotinoids, Bees, Birds and Beneficial Insects.” Bio-Integral Resource Center. Common Sense Pest Control Quarterly: Special Issue April 2014, Vol. XXVIII, Number 1-4: p. 5. Web. 25 September 2017.

See the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation’s 2016 report, How Neonicotinoids Can Kill Bees, for the case study, Comparison Between Agricultural and Backyard Products, pp. 50-53.

As an aside, cut flowers are toxic with many different pesticides! This article by Dr. Mercola will help you locate organically-grown cut flowers.

19. This The Guardian article by Karl Mathiesen, Bees may become addicted to nicotine-like pesticides, reviews the 2015 study, Sébastien C. Kessler,, Bees prefer foods containing neonicotiniod pesticides.

20. News Editor. “Neonicotinoid Pesticides Harm Bees’ Foodgathering Ability.” Environment News Service, 29 January 2014. Web. 02 September 2017.

21. Quarles, William, PhD. “Neonicotinoids, Bees, Birds and Beneficial Insects.” Bio-Integral Resource Center. Common Sense Pest Control Quarterly: Special Issue April 2014, Vol. XXVIII, Number 1-4: p. 8. Web. 25 September 2017.

Also see this January 2015 WIA document, Conclusions of the Worldwide Integrated Assessment on the risks of neonicotinoids and fipronil to biodiversity and ecosystem functioning: “Overall, at concentrations relevant to field exposure scenarios in fields sown with coated seeds, imidacloprid and clothianidin pose risks to small birds, and ingestion of even a few treated seeds could cause mortality or reproductive impairment to sensitive bird species.

22. Please see these organizations’ pollinator resource pages: Friends of the Earth, here, and Pesticide Research Institutehere.

23. This is the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) publication, Guidance Seeds, Annual Seedlings, and Planting Stock in Organic Crop Production (NOP 5029).

24. Hopwood, Jennifer, Aimee Code, Mace Vaughan, David Biddinger, Matthew Shepherd, Scott Hoffman Black, Eric Lee-Mäder and Celeste Mazzacano. “How Neonicotinoids Can  Kill Bees The Science Behind the Role These Insecticides
Play in Harming Bees.” The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, 2016: p. 45. Web. 23 Sept. 2017.

The Pollinator Stewardship Council, here, the Pesticide Action Network of North America, here, the Center for Food Safety, here and here and Earthjustice, here, are all, like the Xerces Society, doing critical work for pollinators and the threats posed to them by neonicotinoids.

25. Once the season is over, where is the soil from these poisoned hanging baskets going? Are ever-thrifty gardeners dumping it into their gardens? Placing it in the compost pile? Saving it for re-use with which to re-pot an indoor plant? Using it to pot up a treasured perennial to gift to another gardener?

How much neonic-poisoned soil and dead plant matter has entered the ecosystem of our individual backyards, gardens and neighborhoods (and public parks, gardens, nature centers, and playgrounds), year-after-year, over the last 10-12 years, just from neonic-coated seeds, neonic spraying and soil dousing of ornamental plants alone, plant treatments about which we gardeners knew nothing?!

Gardening organically now appears to be the only safe option.

26. Honey bees make propolis (“bee glue”), a sticky, antifungal, antibacterial substance used to seal cracks in the hive, from, among other things, the resin from conifers. With the Christmas tree industry now using neonics on its December products, it opens up yet another avenue for contamination of the honey bee hive by neonics.

27. Read about the June, 2013 killing of 50,000 bumble bees in Oregon after foliar spraying of trees with a neonic: Scientists Call for an End to Cosmetic Insecticide Use After the Largest Bumble Bee Poisoning on Record.

28. Kegley, Susan, PhD, Tiffany Finck-Haynes and Lisa Archer. “Gardeners Beware 2016 Bee-Toxic Pesticides Found in “Bee-Friendly” Plants Sold at Garden Centers Across the U.S..” Friends of the Earth U.S. Friends of the Earth, August 2016: p. 17. Web. 10 September 2017.

29. Ibid, p. 17.

30. NOFA-NY: I am currently looking into the meaning of ‘certified organic’ plants  & seeds, as defined by the USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) and, additionally, if there are any NYS regs. which may apply to the labeling and sale of ‘organic’ plants and seeds sold in NYS. The Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY) is the place to go to for questions like this. (And please consider joining!)

Here is, by the way, NOFA-NY’s 2014 Policy Resolution on Neonicotinoids.

New York farmers may also join the NOFA-NY Farmer’s Pledge program. “The Farmer’s Pledge™, [is] a separate and distinct program from USDA Certified Organic … A Farmer’s Pledge certificate displayed at a farm market stand shows customers a farmer’s commitment to responsible growing and a willingness to be transparent to their community. It shows that a farmer takes an environmentally responsible, ecologically sound, holistic approach to farming. This is a wonderful program for farms transitioning to certified organic, small start up farms, and farms that are already certified organic.

Certified Naturally Grown: Would purchasing ‘Certified Naturally Grown’ (CNG) seedlings and plants provide a 100% guarantee that pollinators won’t be harmed from neonics? I don’t know. It needs looking into.

More and more small family farms, which value organic principles but which can’t afford the time and expense of USDA National Organic Program (NOP) certification, are choosing ‘CNG‘ as an option. Here is CNG’s FAQ.

You should read the Cornucopia Institute’s NOP exposé, to understand the threats to small farms: The Organic Watergate—White Paper Connecting the Dots: Corporate Influence at the USDA’s National Organic Program.

How does the USDA NOSB ‘certified organic‘ differ from the NOFA-NY Farmer’s Pledge™ differ from Certified Naturally Organic (CNG)? We have now reached the point of absolute confusion for your average consumer and gardener in NYS, including me. I cannot clarify this for you, because it appears very murky. Until I understand the difference, I am sticking to purchasing plants and seeds which are ‘certified organic.’

31. Before there was (almost) anybody, there was Johnny’s Selected Seeds; many of us relied upon Johnny’s! There are, thankfully!, many more companies selling organic, non-GMO seeds. As I uncover reputablecertified organic‘ seed company lists, I will post them here:

Here is NOFA-NY’s list of sources for organic seed.

Here is Beyond Pesticide’s list of Companies That Grow and Distribute Organic Seeds, cited at the Friends of the Earth website.

Here is The Skinny on Seeds and Seedlings from Certified Naturally Grown (CNG).

The Pollinator Stewardship Council has wildflower seeds for sale here as well as pollinator “houses”.

Here are two seed company recommendations from the Xerces Society: Ernst Conservation Seed Company. “Ernst is one of the largest native grass and wildflower seed producers in eastern North America…” and Pollinator Conservation Seed Mixes.

I love this SmallFootprintFamily’s The Ten best Seed Companies for Heirloom and Non-GMO Seeds. For example, this blogpost alerts us that, “Seeds of Change was acquired by the Mars company…” (Be sure to scan the comments!)

For your information, Dr. Phil Howard at Michigan State University, has been keeping track of seed industry structure and the consolidations which have occurred between 1996-2013. Please view his other Info Graphics, as well, especially his “Organic [Food] Industry Structure” Info Graphic.

32. Co-op Member-Owners, please read Fedco Seeds’ founder CR Lawn’s Fall 2003 article, Where Have All the Co-ops Gone?, about the demise of US consumer co-operative food distributors (wholesalers) and consolidations with United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI). 14 years later, where have all the (retail) co-ops gone?

33. Tallamy, Douglas W. “Gardening for Life.” Web. 24 September 2017.


This blogpost is referenced at EcoBeneficial!


Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner


Today, my usual quote from 1790 by John Philpot Curran, about “eternal vigilance,” [1] is replaced by this – clearly derivative – quote about “incessant vigilance” from 1859:

“At the outbreak of the Civil War, bindweed was becoming quite troublesome … William Darlington (1782-1863) [made] this comparison in 1859: ‘We are told that incessant vigilance is the condition on which alone the rights of freemen can be maintained…I believe the farmer will find a similar condition annexed to the preservation of his premises [from bindweed].'” [2]

REMINDER: Please attend tonight’s May 3, 2016 HWFC Board meeting at 5:45pm at HWFC. Attend & remind others, too. See you there!

REMINDER: Don’t forget to see this month’s Co-op Voice, here.


          I am a gardener. So were my Dad and Mom and they taught their children well! My worldview, when push comes to shove, always comes down to a gardening metaphor. Think about it, anything that happens to you in life …is also happening in a garden.

I adore gardening books, with their exquisite botanical drawings – some of which I inherited from my Dad’s wonderful collection  – books I remember flipping through when I was a child. Dad’s well-thumbed 1957 edition of Geraniums Pelargoniums by Helen Van Pelt Wilson, with water colors and line drawings by Natalie Harlan Davis; The Nursery Manual from 1896 and the 1910 Manual of Gardening both by the famous Liberty Hyde Bailey and the 1926 Garden Guide The Amateur Gardeners’ Handbook by Alpheus T. De La Mare (whose wife, Mrs. A. T. De La Mare, had a rhododendron named after her!)

I would recommend not using Garden Guide  The Amateur Gardeners’ Handbook, if you need help narrowing down choices for your garden. I salivated over these descriptors:

the geranium … well deserves its commanding place among the most satisfactory of old-fashioned flowers. …its magnificent trusses of  single, semi-double or double flowers, surmounting a wealth of bright green, healthy foliage … never fails to gain the highest admiration. (p. 115)

The hardy Pinks [Dianthus] rank with the time-honored gems of the old-fashioned garden. Splendidly adapted for beds and borders, they deserve a place in every garden, not only on  account of their great beauty and free-blooming qualities, but also for their usefulness as cut flowers. (p. 133)

The Poppy [Papaver] should be given a place in every garden, it is so graceful and delicate and beautiful. There is nothing more fairy-like than a bed of these grand single poppies, with their long, slender stems surmounted by silken blooms of the most charming tints. (p. 134)

Could the real beauty of the coloring of the Iris [Greek for rainbow] be expressed in words, such a description would be a masterpiece. …it is most dainty and elegant and surpassed by few other flowers. (p. 118)

It is very interesting to grow amusing looking flowers; the Snapdragon is such, for each flower is a lion’s head; one must merely press the sides of the head and the mouth opens. (p. 135)

I remember the time when my father surprised & delighted my brother and me when he expertly snipped off a pink snapdragon bloom for each of us – their fragrance was powerful on a winter’s day in the warm, moist greenhouse! – and taught us how to make the lion roar. Although I do remember pondering at the time, why wasn’t the flower called a snaplion because weren’t we – in point of fact – making a lion snap, not a dragon? (Dad had, quite clearly, read & studied Mr. Alpheus T. De La Mare’s book!)

Totally devoid of color drawings, simply reading De La Mare’s chapter – Some Garden Favorites and How to Grow Them – will fire your imagination, scratch your plant collector’s itch, and have you running to your local nursery (come to HWFC and buy beautiful, local, organically-grown perennials!), spending your annual garden budget in one fell swoop!

Two of my favorite modern gardening books, notable for their exquisite art nouveau artwork, layout and enchanting essays are edited by Ferris Cook: Remembered Gardens and Garden Dreams. And, of course, the 2004 Bungalow Details: Exterior by Jane Powell, with Linda Svendsen, photographer [the bungalow author/photographer team to read] and Paul Duchscherer’s 1999 Outside the Bungalow: America’s Arts and Crafts Garden, are treasures for the owners of modest bungalows & homes who wish to create welcoming outdoor rooms & quiet sanctuary for our guests & friends. [3]

Published in 1870, the short My Summer in a Garden by Charles Dudley Warner, an American novelist, essayist and onetime co-editor of the Hartford Courant, is a must-read. Warner says,

To own a bit of ground, to scratch it with a hoe, to plant seeds, and watch the renewal of life – this is the commonest delight of the race, the most satisfactory thing a man can do. [4]

Warner was a Hartford, CT neighbor, friend and co-author with humorist & author Mark Twain, who contributed this gem to our base of American horticultural knowledge:

A cauliflower? Just a cabbage with a college education. [5]

(As as aside: can you imagine if, every Sunday morning over your cup of tea or coffee, you could read Mark Twain’s blogpost?! O.M.G. ROTFL!)

Of course, the beloved children’s book The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – a tale of healing through gardening – cannot be missed by both young and old!


       These old garden books teach our families in words that are as relevant today as they were almost 100 years ago. Once again, looking to the 1926 Garden Guide  The Amateur Gardeners’ Handbook we food co-op people find sage advice:

The hygienic value of fresh vegetables and fruits is beyond question; their value to the family cannot be estimated in terms of money. The writer knows this and thousands of fortunate suburbanites will testify to its truth. A good garden is Nature’s antidote for all ills flesh is heir to; it certainly does not make for a source of revenue to the physician. Fresh fruits and vegetables, each in their season, taken from your garden, are something quite different from the much handled and frequently stale products one buys in the city. [6]

If you have not yet read Jean Giono’s 1953 The Man Who Planted Trees, go now and order it from your library. This book will inspire you to remember that every seed you plant, every plant you tend, matters.


          Now, one of the things gardeners are good at is observing and being aware of patterns: spring comes after winter, for example – that’s an easy one – or the plants which get more than enough sun, thrive, or if you forget to pinch off the tips of your plants they get leggy.

We all know that the plants with the best compost & growing conditions, seem to always grow the biggest, sweetest, juiciest vegetables & fruits.

Patterns that harm are also noticed by the attentive gardener, for example: not enough sunlight, too much water, poor soil, not enough bees, too little NP or K, or an invasive doing its level best to take over …these can all threaten the beauty, the charm & delight, the stability & function and the co-dependence of things in a well-ordered garden.

A striving for balance is most important.

Since I was a kid, my father taught me to look for patterns, to seek for data & answers and to draw comparisons …that’s the gardener’s daughter training in me. Simile and metaphor were Dad’s favorite teaching tools. He regularly questioned my brother and me:

Why do seedlings need their potting soil loose? Why do air bubbles pop up when you water a pot? Why is that good for the roots? Why do tomato plants have prickly, spiny hairs on their stems? What happens when you forget and leave water lying in the soil around roots? What happens to this geranium cutting if you plant the stem too deep? Why did these plants die and these plants live? Why do flowers smell? What’s the first thing you should always do after you transplant any plant? What’s turning these leaves yellow?

What happened when you forgot to water these plants on Friday, Laura?

The most important questions inevitably involved soil, worms (a gardener’s best friends) [Thank you Jessica, for those composter redworms!] …and gold. Gold, as in What’s ‘black gold,’ oh daughter o’ mine and people of my people?

This daughter knew Dad meant – not the shiny, golden metal! – oh, no, he was referring to the deep, dark, rich, moist stuff created, like magic, from garden scraps: the treasure piles tucked away somewhere in a garden’s corners, silently created by heat, micro organisms, decay …and time.

My favorite lesson involved strawberries. Why do these strawberries taste better than those strawberries?

Now this was something I was an expert at. My berry-red tongue could easily distinguish the best strawberry plants, and often did, especially when picking quarts of strawberries for hours on end, for Dad to sell. He kept telling my brother and me we were eating into his profits, we were worse than the bugs. We didn’t care! For my Dad grew a damned good strawberry.

My mother’s chiding of me, as her adult, married, daughter, didn’t touch on the nuclear topics like Are you sure he’s the right man for you? or my delinquent housekeeping habits with Geez, Laura something stinks in your refrigerator, you didn’t notice?

No, as we sat together on my front porch one sunny, summer’s day, Mom’s fingers busily moving, expertly dancing over my baskets of petunias, she gently poked Gee, Laura, you behind on your deadheading, or what? Your poor plants!


          One spring day, I was about 10, a question came up about invasives in a garden. What were they?


The subject came up while Dad, my brother and I were kneeling around some seedlings. I had just picked up a moist flat of – something, some annual, marigolds, portulacas, alyssum? – shaded next to the greenhouse (Dad had my little brother and I schlepping flats from here to there, and there to here – something we seemed to do a lot of as kids) and underneath my fingertips I felt a mass of wet, thick, cool, gushy, slimy blobs. Like lightening, I quick-released that flat straight down to the ground which, of course, smashed my flip-flopped toes, making me jerk sideways, causing my glasses to fly off, while I screamed in pain. This was followed by me jumping up and down, dancing around and howling, while I wiped my slimed fingers rapidly up and down my shorts. Yeecchhh.

My father and brother stopped dead. In unison, they both turned and quietly stared up at me.

Yes, alright so I got all girly-girl but come on. Gushy? Wet? Slimy? Cold? Can’t see ’em? You know there’s more lurking? A girl simply has to draw the line somewhere.

Anyway, I’m wiping slime off my hands, glaring at the eight market-pac mess of seedlings at my feet, and there goes Dad – squatting to help me rescue my dirt-smudged glasses (and his seedlings) – launching into teaching mode: why’re there slugs on that particular flat bottom? How do you get rid of them? Is there any place you can think of where they really could be a beneficial, Laura? [No.]

You see, most everything – from a gardener’s standpoint – can either be classified as an invasive …or a beneficial.

You know where slugs shake down.


          Another favorite “it’s gotta go” conversation around the gardener’s cottage was, “THAT damned woodchuck.” It involved a woodchuck who had taken up residence in the compost pile behind the greenhouse one spring. He just appeared out of nowhere, beady little eyes glinting as he waddled here and waddled there. Waddled because he was getting fat off the tasty morsels Dad threw in that pile every day! All he had to do was roll out of bed every morning, open his mouth …and eat! Woodchuck heaven!

Every evening that spring Dad would tractor home from the greenhouse for dinner, muttering and cursing as he came through the front door, replaying his latest scheme to get rid of THAT woodchuck. He tried everything. You name it. He had to because THAT woodchuck had discovered the wooden sill, above the fieldstone foundation of the greenhouse, and he was bent on eating the whole thing, stem to stern.

The compost pile just wasn’t tasty enough for him anymore, he had moved on to bigger and better things – or maybe he was just sharpening his teeth, I dunno – but anyway this now directly involved him cutting into Dad’s time and profit. And that had to stop.

Well, “everything” didn’t work. I know it involved poisons, traps, schemes, and lots of cursing and reading up at night, because we were told, in no uncertain terms, Kids, stay away from THAT compost pile!

Dad’s solution (the one which worked) – we ended up hearing second-hand from Mom, because Dad refused to talk about it at dinner that night – involved his grandfather’s shotgun …and a firm resolve to move THAT compost pile when he had time to get around to it. (Which never happened, gardens and greenhouses and priorities being what they are.)


          Now, weeds, I won’t even go into the subject of my Dad and weeds. Practical, he was a huge fan of black plastic and, also, straw mulch – which he grew and harvested – and an even bigger fan of one’s children being roped in (as often as possible) after school got out.

Benevolent – rather, damned wily – he (rather, Santa) provided my brother and me one Christmas with portable, battery-operated transistor radios you could hook on your bike’s handlebars, the hottest thing! (Oh, how innocent and thankful we were in December …and oh how jaded by May).

But, the world now opened up to us! We could each tune into our favorite rock & roll station…

…in the greenhouse, that is.

After school, all the other kids had their transistors perched next to their school books on their desks at home. My brother and I, on the other hand, had to search for ours …pushing aside market pacs, fresh with new seedlings or digging with soil-encrusted fingers among the piles of dying weeds we had just pulled, trying to fine tune the dial to AM 77 WABC’s Scott Muni [scroll to 1′ 57″ for a promo to join the Beatles’ fan club] and Dan Ingram [scroll here to 3′ 36″ for a “W A Beatles C” Beatles’ hits promo] and Cousin Brucie [click on the Airchexx icon below the article] and The Beatles.

…Listen, doo dah doo, do you want to know a secret, doo dah doo, Do you promise not to tell? Wo-o-o-oh, Closer, doo dah doo, let me whisper in your ear... [7]

Nobody could stop me from jumping up and practicing my twist moves among the strawberries, when Twist and Shout [scroll to 4′ 51″] came on, lemme tell you!

Yes, my brother and I were among the generation of kids who anxiously awaited each new Beatles’ hit as it came out and listened over & over (driving our parents’ crazy!) ’til we got all the words right (or not). When Hey Jude first aired, I thought it was the most beautiful song I had ever heard. Ditto, Let it Be. [This is the first time I ever saw this Beatles’ Hey Jude clip; it has 19+ million views on YouTube! It first aired in the US on October 6, 1968 on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.] [You  gotta just love musicians, don’t you?]

I remember Mom – who always had the radio on, singing while she worked in her flower shop – singing Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. (Most parents at that time tried to ignore the youth phenomenon that was Beatlemania and the Beatles. Not Mom.)

There she is, tinny radio blasting into the hot, humid greenhouse, watering the coleus & begonias, alternating swinging her hips with pulling the hose, as she smiles over at her shy, teenage daughter and belts out …life goes on, La la how the life goes on.. [8]

My mom and her beautiful, sweet voice could have been a singer with the band!

And I secretly (I can now finally admit) also adored the Monkees (Micky was my favorite). I lay that shame to rest as I join the Monkees singing Neil Diamond’s I’m a Believer and point you to this 2011 version of them singing Neil Diamond’s A Little bit Me, A little Bit You! [I love the sax player, one of the rare female instrumentalists in an industry rife with boys’ bands.] And here’s WABC’s Cousin Brucie, in 1967, introducing the Monkees’ #1 hit, Daydream Believer [scroll to 1′ 20″] from a special Christmas Show taped and sent to “thousand of guys in Viet Nam…”


Slugs & woodchucks & weeds, oh my! We do have a long history together!


          My favorite invasives’ story – as an adult, now – involves a thing of great beauty. It is a plant – a weed, actually – which is one of the twelve weeds featured on my set of “good dishes,” the “company” and holiday dishes. (Yes, I feed my company on weeds.) It’s a pattern from Portmeirion from Stoke-on-Trent called the Queen’s Hidden Garden. It includes six different patterns, with two different flowers in each pattern, for a total of twelve …weeds.

You will not, however, find these twelve weeds in any old garden. They all reside uniquely and together in the Queen’s garden at Buckingham Palace in England: weeds as treasure which pleases a Queen!

The book, by Sir David Bellamy, called Queen’s Hidden Garden: Buckingham Palace’s Treasury of Wild Plants, tells the story and includes the exquisite botanical paintings by Marjorie Lyon, used to adorn Portmeirion’s lovely dishes.

So, a few years back I was in my garden, in the morning, and I notice this beautiful, delicate, viny kind of plant. Thin, elegant leaves. It had trumpet-shaped blossoms that looked just like a morning glory, with paper-thin, delicate white petals and a blushing, light pink tinge toward the center.

The blooms appeared in the morning – unraveling exactly like a morning glory – and faded as the day waned, just like a morning glory.

I admired the plant, assumed it was some kind of a wild morning glory, decided to let it alone, and moved on to weeding down the row.

A few days later, I wandered over to that same area of the garden. This time, that beautiful, delicate plant seemed to have spread. And there was a defined thickish web of vines present now. No matter, I admired the blooms – again, this time so many more of them! how lovely! and made a mental note to come back in a week and tackle this area.

In the back of my mind the subtext is Beautiful flowers, multiplying effortlessly …and I didn’t have to do a thing. Jackpot!

I was taken in: I got schnookered. Bamboozled! Conned!! Flimflammed!!!

Well, three weeks later I made it back. Talk about muscling in! I, literally, could not find my garden. (And, you have to understand, my garden consists of perennials which – my gardener girlfriend “C” and I both agree on this – have to pass the litmus test of can’t kill ’em with a blowtorch before we’ll ever plunk down hard-earned cash: hostas being just one example of same.) I could, however, beneath a 2″ impenetrable mat of thin, delicate, viny, green stems, see the tips of what once was my garden …layered atop with an absolute profusion of glorious, smiling, delicate morning glory blossoms, beckoning and waving gently in the morning breeze, singing Come Hither! to any bee wandering the neighborhood.

Something clicked in my brain. Something looked familiar from somewhere.

I threw off my gardening gloves, ran into the house, and opened the corner cabinet with my good dishes and searched among the six different dinner plates ’til I found the one I was seeking. (Yes, in my family we run to dishes to check horticultural facts, as opposed to the more customary pages of a plant encyclopedia.) Clover blossoms and the corolla of those morning glories, paired so beautifully together, thank you God for artists like Marjorie Lyon!

There, in front of me, blooms painted in pale pink colors with grey-green, arrowhead-shaped leaves, was my morning glory plant. Or, I should say, that plant that looked like a morning glory, behaved like a morning glory and charmed like a morning glory. So innocent looking! So, delicately drawn! A flower a Queen adores! One of twelve. [Carolynn, that one is for you.]

Its name, my book now informed me, is: Lesser bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis L.).

(In other words, it ain’t what it’s called but what it is that counts)

Byndweed…is as it wer[e] an [imperfect] worke of nature learning to make lilies.
1562 [10]

          Lesser bindweed is also know as Field bindweed or European bindweed, Withy wind, Withwind, Bellbine, Corn-bind, Sheepbine, Bearbind, [Anythingbind!], Creeping Jenny, Devil’s guts, Laplove, and Possession vine. The ancient Romans called it volucrum majus,  literally meaning “a large worm that wraps itself in vines.” Its scientific name, Convolvulus arvensis, comes from the Latin verb, convolvere, meaning “to roll together” or “to entwine,” and arvens, Latin for “of the field.” [11]

A 1710 herbal, Botanologia The English Herbal or History of Plants Adornd with Figures The whole in Alphabetical order, written by William Salmon, M.D. (and dedicated to, who else but The Queen), gives us woodcuts of bindweed, including Bindweed Common (looks very familiar doesn’t it!) and informs us,

This Great Bind-weed is so like unto Scammony [a bindweed native to Eastern Mediterranean countries], that … one would think it to be one of the kinds of Scammony, whose many slender winding Stalks run up, and wind themselves upon whatever stands next, or near to them. [12]

What?! Stalks that run up and wind themselves on whatever stands near to them? You mean the names “Sheepbine” and “Bearbind” may actually have a basis in reality? I suspected as much.

Being a curious soul, I decided to check further back in history, maybe this 1710 citation was an aberration. Let’s go back 100 years or so, to the most popular 17th century herbal. This 1597 London herbal, John Gerarde’s The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes dedicated To The Right Honorable His Singvlar Good Lord And Master, Sir William Cecill Knight, Baron of Burghley [etc. etc. etc.] … and Lord High Treafurer of England (of course, the Lord High Treasurer of England …not the Queen, but Gerarde knew where his bread was buttered) had this to say about Blew Bindweed:

Blewe Bindweed bringeth foorth long, tender, and winding branches, by which it climeth vpon things that ftand neere vnto it, and fouldeth it felfe about them with many turnings and windings, wrapping itfelfe againft the funne contrarie to al other things whatfoever, that with their clafping tendrels do imbrace things that ftand neere vnto them… [13]

So, in 1597 Bindweed’s clasping tendrels embraced things; not quite so bad as in 1710 when the stalks ran up and wound themselves around whatever stood nearby! Not much else new here, except I am a teeny bit worried about “wrapping itself against the sun contrary to all other things whatsoever,” and that term “fouldeth it felfe” (which is probably “foldeth itself”) but – I’m now thoroughly jaded – sounds a little too close to “soldereth itself” for my comfort.

Gerarde’s 16th c. woodcuts of some “Rough Bindweeds” and some “Great smooth” and “Small gentle” bindweeds are … well, as viny then as they are now!

Gerarde informs us that Plinie (C. Plinius Secundus or Pliny the Elder who died in 79 CE [AD]) knew of Bindweed; Gerarde states: [Plinie] “who writheth in his 24. booke 10. chapter, that it is also surnamed Nicophoron.” (BTW, Pliny’s book was dedicated to the Emperor Titus. QueenLord High Treasurer of EnglandEmperor. I’m beginning to recognize a pecuniary pattern here, as an author.) [14]

Well, I went back and checked Pliny’s Natural History, here and here. Some scribe got something wrong – unless I got it wrong, more likely; I couldn’t find Nicophoron in Chapter 10 of book 24. (And BTW, the first click-on is the 1847-1848 re-publication of the first English translation done by Dr. Philemon Holland in 1601. The second click-on is the more complete 1855 English version translated by John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. and H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A.)

Pliny’s Natural History was among the first of the classical Greek and Roman texts to be printed (mass produced books using moveable type, as opposed to being hand-written in manuscript form) during the Renaissance; it was published in Venice in 1469! (The Gutenberg Bible was first printed by moveable type in 1454 or 1455, so you can see how important Pliny’s book must have been to Renaissance culture.)

Pliny, himself, was born in 23 CE [AD] in Verona, Italy; Verona is the same city which Shakespeare memorialized in Romeo and Juliet roughly 1,574 years later!

Now, did you happen to notice what you and I  have just, together, done? We stepped into the equivalent of the Ancient Library of Alexandria, built in the 3rd c. BCE [BC]!! Indiana Jones’s we are, indeed! Lured by the tantalizing trail of books and manuscripts, which begins when you but open to a page… …or click on your browser!


          Do you realize what we just did? We just jumped from a 21st c. blog, to a 1710 book, to a 1597 book, to a 1601 English translation of a book (in Latin) started in 77 CE. (Yes, I said 77.)  That book’s author, Pliny the Elder, died in 79 CE during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius at Pompeii!

We were just perusing the words of an author who started writing his book 1,939 years ago!

Marvel at this for just one moment.

Up until very, very recently, you  could only view these books at a physical library, maybe somewhere far, far away. You had no chance in your life of ever seeing these books and, as important, of reading & studying their contents.

Now, here we are thumbing the pages of books and manuscripts, going back 2,000 years, virtually!

I’ll bet you never thought you’d end up taking this kind of a journey when you started reading a blogpost about flowers and invasives, did you!

You have simply got to love libraries and the librarians, who are the most unsung heroes I know of! Thank you to all librarians out there for the work that you do for all of us, including all the digital librarians out there! (Especially to David Lasocki, music librarian & recorder researcher extraordinaire!)

Please consider donating to the 501 (c)(3) Internet Archive, here, which is one of the groups responsible for digitally archiving books & manuscripts from many centuries, so that we all may benefit. Brewster Kahle is the Founder & Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive. Support their work!

See also the awesome Project Gutenberg which “offers over 50,000 free ebooks … free epub books, free kindle books…” here; read about its founder, Michael S. Hart, and consider donating to Project Gutenberg.


         That 1562 quote, above, (“Byndweed…is as it wer[e] an [imperfect] worke of nature learning to make lilies.[10] ) even earlier than Gerarde’s 1597 herbal, doesn’t pull any punches; it states right out there that byndweed is a mistake of nature.

In a future blogpost I will report back what Shakespeare himself, who lived from 1564-1616 (and who was two when somebody astutely deemed Bindweed a mistake of nature), had to say about Byndweed. He can’t have ignored a plant so rich in metaphoric possibility!

Trust me, he didn’t, and what I uncovered is truly very, very interesting for those interested in horticultural history!


          Any gardener who has ever had to tackle Lesser bindweed knows that what you see on the surface is only 1/1,000th  of what’s going on underground. In fact, that last time I saw the profusion of blossoms – making a mental note to get to it – I remember thinking: Jeez Luise, this plant spreads like it has roots all over the length and breadth of our backyard and down to China!

Turns out I was not too far off. The hidden root structure of lesser bindweed is famous for just that pattern. It starts out its life – just six weeks in – with tap roots down to 2 feet and six lateral roots, for good measure (a belt & suspenders kind of a plant). One lesser bindweed plant can spread outward ten feet in just one season. Three seasons unchecked and its roots spread laterally 18 feet and penetrate to a depth of 30 feet!

If you thought I was kidding about the bindweed root system, see Gerarde’s 16th c. woodcut of the roots of the Rough Bindweed of Peru.

Now, that’s just one plant! What about the seeds?

The seeds of C. arvensis may remain viable in the soil up to 50 years and around 144 hours in the stomachs of some migrating birds. [15]

A bird, traveling up to six days from somewhere, can fly over your garden, deposit some bindweed seeds on the fly, behind your back, and with you none the wiser?

So, although this plant is featured as one of the twelve weeds beloved in the Queen’s hidden garden by the Queen of England herself, and I greatly admire its beauty in my hidden garden (hidden, at the moment, by Lesser bindweed)…

…as a gardener I know to ruthlessly rip it out when I see it beginning to wind its innocent, delicate, thin fronds and tendrils up to the tippy tops of my tall vegetables, herbs, best-loved perennials and, especially, roses (those things with thorns which draw my blood when they and lesser bindweed meet). I don’t waste a minute, I don’t fret or mourn, I simply strip it away from the garden plants I cherish …and deep six it in a hot compost pile. Burning it is an even better option because when your back is turned, bits of its rhizome can re-sprout – repeatedly!

I don’t have the luxury of a bevy of Under and Over and Head Gardeners, tending to the Twelve Royal Weeds. If its gotta go, its gotta go now, while it’s in front of my nose!

Seeds, rhizomes, lightning-speed growth, birds spreading its progeny from the air, and monster tap & lateral roots: coupled with its innocent & fetching beauty, this plant is a force of nature, evilly propagating itself into eternity here on earth!

This noxious plant is, in fact, the evil perennial relation to the innocent annual Morning glory I tenderly baby in a south-facing bed near the porch. However well-camouflaged, however pretty, and however fetching, it is an enchantress, an invasive and a parasite of the worst order. Weak-stemmed, with no spine of its own, it grows up and over everything and anything in its path, gaining ground by stealing its support from other plants. It gains, I’m sure, 12″ a day, each & every hot summer’s day (of course snickering while your back is turned, like that monstrous, evil Venus Flytrap, Audrey II, in the 1986 movie Little Shop of Horrors).

It is a gardener’s worst nightmare. It will choke, smother and kill any patch of garden it attaches itself to. It will assume charge and take over. That is its nature as a parasite (well, technically it’s not a parasitical plant, it might be an epiphyte …well, technically it’s not an epiphyte …and since there are no agronomists to hand… …ahem  …oh, except my brother and he will know, when he reads this. Back atcha, bro!)

Not only is Lesser bindweed on the noxious weed list for 35 states, it

has an impressive array of survival techniques which has enabled it to become one of the world’s 10 worst weeds. [emphasis added] [16]

So, I have to do my job, and protect the plants I both need for life & health …and cherish for beauty.

Therefore, I weed.

It is an evil twist of fate that this plant is not called Greater bindweed, it is called Lesser bindweed. Lord help me, I wonder just how bad Greater bindweed is? Lesser is clearly the Greater of two evils and someone clearly misnamed it! (By the way, just like butterflies. Shouldn’t they be called flutterbys? Somebody got that wrong, too!)

Perhaps in the naming, that first gardener sought to provide needed camouflage to this deadly, invasive beauty. [17]

It’s name belies its power!

Lesser bindweed lives by supporting itself upon the backs of other plants, creeping, choking, twisting, entwining, binding, smothering, and killing to gain the upper hand.


The utter, destructive, planet-wide power of this camouflaged, invasive Lesser bindweed must have come from a curse: the Bindweed Curse, I’m guessing. (Do you have a better answer?)

Allow me drop into fantasy for just a moment: I’m imagining the hypnotic, powerful & frightening voice of the wizard, Gandalf the Grey (the beloved Ian McKellan – you did see him in Mr. Holmes?!), darkly and invisibly intoning a curse uncovered, placed secretly over the world – and my little patch of garden – centuries ago. (Please do not utter out loud, ever Ash nazg thrakatulûk   Agh burzum-ishi krimpatul. …One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind[weed] them In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.) [18]

Now, it did not escape my attention when I first read J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring when I was 12, that it was a gardener whom Frodo Baggins chose to go with him on his perilous journey to Mordor. Whom else? I’ll bet Master Samwise and his old Gaffer were old hands at dealing with the likes of Lesser bindweed in their Hobbiton garden!


          Well – here comes the gardening metaphor, you knew it was coming (thank you Dad) – there is a pattern of invasives emerging at our food co-op you cannot help but notice, once you pay close attention. There is camouflage: people, circumstances, events appear one way when they are, in fact, another. The invasive roots keep re-invigorating, popping up where you don’t expect them and where they do great damage.

Turn your back, and they’re back.

So, to fellow gardeners at HWFC – and there are a lot of us!: Notice. Be aware. Tease out patterns. Note anomalous behavior. Learn to recognize camouflage for what it is and seek what’s behind the camouflage. Observe repeated, destructive patterns. See when something just doesn’t fit …or when it fits like a glove.

For example, are you aware of the pattern of notable disruptions, which seem to keep happening, over and over and over again, keeping our co-op in a constant state of agitation and divisiveness?

Not hard to spot …once you start paying attention.

The fact of the matter is, we at HWFC, have a former Board which spent – very recently – $500,000 (!) to end Member-Owner control & ownership of our co-operative corporation. They invested this half-million dollars (our dollars!) – behind our backs, camouflaged by national .coop consultants, a local consultant, two law firms, and a Strategic PR  firm, in an attempt to re-structure our co-operative corporation.

The Bylaws Task Force (with its Bylaws Research Team advised by CDS Consulting Co-op who were also members of the Bylaws Task Force) and the Strategic Planning process – both appear now, in hindsight, to have been camouflaged operations of this former Board with a true motive of manipulating us and securing our buy-in so that we would, willingly & unwittingly, let go of our own corporate control and ownership.

A bloodless coup attempt.

An Organizational Change Agent was employed to shepherd the Strategic Planning process and, likely, “smooth ruffled feathers” should any co-operative corporation owners start seeing through the camouflage and ask uncomfortable questions (“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain![19]). This Organizational Change Agent could help create the bridge between the old corporate order…

…and the new one.

This amount of  planning and money being invested was not just a lark. They meant business.

And remember, we were never supposed to find out about these plans and the $500,000 utilized to implement them. It was just supposed to go down. We did find out because a bunch of us are “eternally vigilant” …and we saw through the camouflage of the invasives.

However, the influence of that $500,000 didn’t just end & disappear when two (former) Board members did not stay Board members on November 30, 2015, or when four (former) Board members resigned on January 5, 2016, when two (former) top Managers resigned (and one did not), or when a brand new Board of nine got reconfigured on April 17, 2016.

A half-million dollars – and all it purchased, both locally, as well as nationally, especially nationally – can leave behind a lot of roots, both tap & lateral roots, which then need some camouflaging…

…which will require constant uncovering if the garden is to survive.

Patience, observing patterns …and weeding out invasives with vigor, when needed, seem to fit the bill here.

We are a locally-owned food co-op tended for forty years by a bunch of – a veritable tribe! – of families down those four decades: a beloved, thriving, local community-owned food co-op. We have a long and strong history of families supporting other families, producing, buying, sharing and eating fresh, high quality, local, organic, real food, and working co-operatively and together.

Our food co-operative is a community institution …as are all the locally-owned food co-ops across the United States, started by families, farmers, grandparents, hippies, and economically-smart, ecologically-smart, community-minded people. We are part of the long and honorable history of American co-operatives (and farm granges, 4-H clubs, and the like) which have blessed & economically supported local groups of U.S. families since at least the 18th century. (And, as my study of history assures me, groups of families must have certainly been behaving co-operatively together for many, many more centuries before this, especially around the issue of food.)

It does so figure that Benjamin Franklin is credited with starting the first American co-operative in 1752 …a mutual fire insurance company which is still in operation! [20]

That this institution – locally-owned & operated American food co-operatives – is under attack is clear.

We owe it to all those HWFC families, to the institution of American co-operatives – and to ourselves – to continue to defend our independently-owned, locally-owned and operated food co-operative. Watch-dogging of our borders (“eternal vigilance“) is still very much needed.


          Most of us – I would say the great, large majority of us! – seek to create and maintain the beauty, the charm & delight, the stability & function and the co-dependence of things at our well-ordered food co-op: that is, we are striving for balance in our “co-op garden.”

Many, most of us at Honest Weight are gardeners of one sort or another: and gardeners are good folk.

However, it does appear that there is a camouflaged invasive doing its level best to gain ground. That’s what invasives do.

We do appear to have a bad case of Lesser bindweed, the Possession weed, going on.

With yearly sales of $24 million – one of the top-producing food co-ops in the entire United States – invasives, from a gardener’s perspective, cannot, I suppose, be avoided.

Like slugs and weeds, they need to be managed.

Eternal vigilance  – and weeding – truly are the tickets called for.


[1] See the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc. and Suzy Platt, ed., Respectfully Quoted, p. 200, #1054.

[2] See the website of the Weed Science Society of America, here. Quote from:
Darlington, W. 1859. American Weeds and Useful Plants. Orange Judd & Company, New York.

[3] Every gardener I know has a long must-get list of garden books. Mine includes: the 2010 Gardens of the Hudson Valley by Susan Daly; Jane Garmey’s 2013 Private Gardens of the Hudson Valley; the 2010 Landscape Gardens on the Hudson by Robert M. Toole; the New York Historical Society’s 2009 The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision and the brand new 2014 Historic Houses of the Hudson River Valley by Gregory Long. I can usually score affordable copies at Biblio or E-Bay.

[4] Warner, Charles Dudley. My Summer in a Garden. New York: The Modern Library, 2002. Page 5. (Originally published in 1870) Print.

[5] Ibid, [p xi].

Take a day trip! Go visit the Mark Twain House & Museum, in Hartford, CT.

[6] De La Mare, A. T. ed. Garden Guide  The Amateur Gardeners’ Handbook. New York: A. T. De La Mare Company, Inc., 1926. Page 8. Print.

[7] Lennon, John and McCartney, Paul. “Do You Want to Know a Secret” from Please Please Me. Perf. The Beatles. Parlophone, 1963. LP.

[8] Lennon, John and McCartney, Paul. “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” from The Beatles (also called the White Album). Perf. The Beatles. EMI Studios, 1968. LP.

[9] Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet, II, ii, 1-2. Print.

[10] See the website of the Weed Science Society of America, here. Quote from:
Simpson, J. A., and E.S.C. Weiner. 1989. The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

[11] See the website of the Weed Science Society of America, here.

[12] Read the chapter about Bindweed Common, from the 1710 Botanologia  The English Herbal: or History of Plants written by William Salmon, M.D. The chapter was proofread by Nick Jones and this electronic version of the translation appears on the website of Helsinki, Finland herbalist Henriette Kress. Thank you Ms. Kress for providing access to this wonderful 18th c. herbal! See the story about this online reference here.

See also this electronic copy of the book itself at the Internet Archive: here. Awesome! You can read this 1710 book and even more herballs from the 17th and 18th centuries! Please consider donating to the 501 (c) (3) Internet Archive, here. Brewster Kahle is the Founder & Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive. You gotta just love librarians!

 [13] You simply must study the delightful cover of this late 16th c. book!

The complete dedication continues: Mafter of the Court of wardes and Liueries, Chancellor of the Uniuerfitie of Cambridge, Knight of the Most noble order of the Garter, one of the Lords of hir Maiesties most honorable priuie Counfell, and Lord High Treafurer of England [NB: Working on this citation.]

[14] (NB: Working on this citation, as well.)

[15] See IDAO, “an open source plants identification software selected to be a part of the global PlantNet project,” here, and its page about C. arvensis here. What a fantastic tool!

[16] See the website of the Weed Science Society of America, here.

[17] Please also see endnote #11. The 1710 Botanologia, or The English Herbal written by William Salmon, M.D. makes a distinction between the Common Greater Bindweed and the Lesser Blew Bind-weed: “The Lesser is like the Greater in most respects, except the Magnitude.”

[18] Tolkien, J. R. R. The Fellowship of the Ring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1966. Page 60. Print.

[19] LeRoy, Mervyn, & Fleming, Victor. 1939. The Wizard of Oz. USA: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Also see IMBD for movie quotes, here.

[20] See the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Co-operatives website, here.

© Laura Hagen