By Meredith Hughes Sowing to the edges, with no hedges, is an agricultural approach that has decimated what one gardener has called “linear nature preserves,” which once nurtured all manner of creature, including bees. In Britain, once fabled for its healthy hedgerows, this created soil erosion, more impact from wind, and far less biodiversity. Thankfully, a return to hedgerows and their preservation is turning this around. Traditionally Americans grow hedges, not hedgerows, which tend to be comprised of one shrub, rather than the mixed plantings of a hedgerow. And yet bee expert and pollinator promoter Anita Amrutz of Albuquerque thinks it’s possible hedgerow plantings in the Southwest could well aid threatened bees, and other creatures, providing nesting, forage and shelter. And inviting predators, too, to hunker down. Amrutz summarized a recent article in The New Yorker magazine that profiled Jake Fiennes, who has taught himself to encourage “the messy,” to re-wild the land. He took 1,000 acres out of food production on one huge estate for that purpose, and the result was a major increase in farm production on the remaining land. Fiennes decries “Taliban farming,” wherein hedges are slashed low instead of pruned intelligently. And is promoting restoration of wetlands. Amrutz recently completed a short documentary on the Rio Grande watershed, which focuses on Lorenzo Candelaria, a South Valley farmer who has lived along the acequia for most of his life. He considers bees “the most essential creatures we have in our agriculture,” with water the key to their and our survival. The film is titled Harvesting Consciousness, and Amrutz prefers you view it by going to her website on this page: thinklikeabee.org/2019/ 12/09/christmas-for-the-bees. Following her eclectic talk at the New Mexico Organic Farming Conference last month, a farmer from the Belen area approached Amrutz, saying he had been considering planting cactus along his fence lines, as a beginning response to the benefits of hedgerows. Possibly, prickly pear. This mixed in with other arid country plants might well come together as a new western American hedgerow. When a hedgerow is planted perpendicular to the prevailing winds, it can reduce wind speeds by up to 75 percent at distances up to ten times the height of the hedgerow on flat land, according to Jude Hobbes, an agroecologist, permaculturist and hedgerow specialist based in Oregon. Buffering the wind is not as easy to accomplish in the high desert, but still, one can try. And hedgerows/or mixed hedges do much more. According to Amy Stross, of Tenth Acre Farm in the Midwest, if you’d like to see more beneficial insects patrolling your garden or more pollinators coming in for a visit, “a hedgerow can do more than a wildflower planting all by itself.” “That’s because mixed hedgerows consist of trees, shrubs and ground covers in addition to herbs and wildflowers, all of which flower and fruit at different times and provide a variety of options for pollen, nectar, food and shelter. More leaf litter will increase habitat for important insects, and more insects may increase the bird and bat populations. Butterflies will also be attracted to hedgerows for protection.” The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the United Kingdom reports that “hedges may support up to 80 percent of our woodland birds, 50 percent of our mammals and 30 percent of our butterflies. The ditches and banks associated with hedgerows provide habitat for frogs, toads, newts and reptiles.” The Audubon Society here in the United States is not particularly hedgerow oriented, but its focus is firm on native plantings and their benefits to birds, bees and us.
Its Native Plants Database is a remarkable resource: audubon.org/plantsforbirds. Just type in your zip code and up come detailed listings. The zip code 87048 yielded 67 “best results,” and 437 “full results.” Advocate Amrutz of Think Like a Bee took her deep dive into bee-ness a few years back and discovered that “pollinators, including some 20,000 species of wild bees, contribute to the growth of fruit, vegetables and many nuts, as well as flowering plants. Plants that depend on pollination make up 35 percent of global crop production volume with a value of as much as $577 billion a year. The agricultural system, for which pollinators play a key role, creates millions of jobs worldwide.” And fairly recently she also learned of the millions of bee deaths in California’s almond fields, because professional beekeepers bring in their hives to pollinate the trees there. A Guardian newspaper report in January 2020 stated that “a recent survey of commercial beekeepers showed that 50 billion bees —more than seven times the world’s human population— were wiped out in a few months during winter 2018-19. This is more than one-third of commercial U.S. bee colonies, the highest number since the annual survey started in the mid-2000s.” “Beekeepers attributed the high mortality rate to pesticide exposure, diseases from parasites and habitat loss. However, environmentalists and organic beekeepers maintain that the real culprit is something more systemic: America’s reliance on industrial agriculture methods, especially those used by the almond industry, which demands a large-scale mechanization of one of nature’s most delicate natural processes. “Environmental advocates argue that the huge, commercially driven proliferation of the European honeybees used on almond farms is itself undermining the ecosystem for all bees. Honeybees out-compete diverse native bee species for forage, and threaten the endangered species that are already struggling to survive climate change. Environmentalists argue a better solution is to transform the way large-scale agriculture is carried out in the United States.” Why so keen on almond milk? There is so much water involved, but, true eco-edible patriots can make their own, at home. The link is here: minimalistbaker.com/how-to-make-almond-milk/ Meanwhile, much as the honey bee is appreciated and loved, maybe we need to learn more about native bees, in particular the blue orchard mason bee, Osmia lignaria, This is the dark blue bee that gathers pollen on its belly, not its legs, and is a highly efficient pollinator of native crops, according to the U.S. Forest Service. There are 140 species of the genus Osmia in North America, and Osmia lignaria is the bee for whom you might have bought that bee hotel on line… the one filled with the hollow bamboo tubes. Maybe this spring its “No Vacancy” sign will go up. To read The New Yorker piece, get the issue of February 17/24 2020, or visit the website newyorker.com/magazine/2020/02/17/can-farming-make-space-for-nature. For the Tenth Acre Farm writeup “10 Reasons to Plant a Hedgerow,” go to: tenthacrefarm.com/10-reasons-to-plant-a-hedgerow.