Wednesday, October 19, 2016

“Nature is not competitive. It is ruthlessly collaborative” - Spencer Smith

How can responsible land stewards teach people how much more complex and sophisticated the designs found in Nature are compared to our own ?
Kew Royal Bontanic Gardens - Rhizotron Tree Museum

(Project grade 11)
Unfortunately, it's tough teaching new things to adults who have already been through an educational system where the green revolution industrial complex as mandated by the State has indoctrinated & moulded them into obedient little Soylent cracker eaters. Let's be honest, as you watch adults worldwide, they are having a tough time with the idea of "Multiculturalism" [even from it's supporters] let along understanding the true concept of biodiversity in Nature. You have to start with youth, who surprisingly grasp far more than adults give them credit for. I mean seriously, look how expert almost every child is using a computer as compared to adults ? Who are best at hacking these days ? Indeed, one of the biggest obstacles may well come from detaching kids from their electronic gadgets. But Children do love and thrive off challenges. So approaching things from a technological innovation viewpoint should help them visualize just how biological mechanisms found in the natural world actually work. Hopefully instead of hacking computer code, they won't try a hand at cracking the genetic code to find out what kind of mutated critters they can come up with. I can almost visualize the next #1 popular gift showing up under Christmas trees being a Bio-Rad GMO Starter kit. Ah yes, but I'm sure it'll be something that'll be fun for the whole family.

Image - Bio-Rad
If we look at things from a agricultural  standpoint with older generation farmers, they are old school and the saying which goes, "cannot teach an old Dog new tricks" is certainly accurate for the most part. Not too many older farmers around like Joel Salatin or Gabe Brown who actually get to change later in life and become successful. Something else came out recently about how imperative it is to pursue biodiversity with regards to agriculture as compared to monoculture. Both the University of Californa Davis and Michigan State University came out yesterday with research on how crops grown as a monoculture attract a plethora of all kinds of pests. More pests mean more synthetic inputs into the farm field system. The only winners in that are Agro-Chemical companies. But I truly believe kids would all grasp the concepts of ecology and biodiversity if exposed to the right kind of education at a young age. Now both articles were extremely interesting and informative, aside from being logical. But how do parents and teachers communicate these important grownup things to kids ? Aside from dumping the usual intellect speak, use illustrations from familar situations common in every day life that can teach. Also, absolutely use Animation and videos

Animation - Mother Earth News

Braconid Wasp -- Caterpillar

Image - Julie Johnsen
Most of what nature does goes unseen to most people. Not just kids, but adults too. Take this Braconid Wasp in the animation above. These are not the common every day better known larger wasps we see building those paper or mud nests in the rafters of our cover porches or eaves of our homes. No, these wasp are so tiny, many of them would barely would fit on a U.S. dime. This tiny wasp at left is a Mason or Potter Wasp. Most of the beneficial work they do also goes unseen. Mason wasps are a predatory insect whose young feed on the larva of other pest insects and build nest with mud but at times will dwell in holes of wood for nesting purposes. They may capture and paralyze as many at 15+ caterpillars just to feed their egg or larva before they seal the chamber inside the wooden post or tree snag. They probably use preexisting holes for their nests, but they are not particularly harmful. Teach kids that they are beneficial as they prey on critters like tent caterpillars/army worms, and other problematic larva on your garden plants. Teach your kids how important it is for you to plant a variety of flowering plants to feed these tiny wasps. Explain that though the adults capture and sting other insects, they do not eat these as food, only their babies do that. Teach the kids that adult wasps need pollen or nectar from flowers to feed upon and benefit from a good diversity of wildflowers or flowering shrubs. Here is an excellent example by insct photographer, Marc Kummel, who photographed a mating pair of beneficial parasitic wasps on a California Fuschia (Epilobium canum aka Zauschneria californica)

Image - Marc Kummel (San Marcos Pass - Oct 2016)

Here is a mating pair of tiny "parasitic wasps" (Hymenoptera) on a new
flower of California Fuschia (Epilobium canum aka Zauschneria californica)
in the Onagraceae plant family.
Chaparral hedgerows are ideal in attracting all sorts of beneficial insect pollinators & predators. Replacing disturbed invasive non-native weedy fields with the original chaparral plant community will increase predators and decrease habitat for pests who thrive on weedy areas. Now let's focus on one particular chaparral shrub, California Coffeeberry, which is plant number one at beneficial insect attraction.

Image - Pete Veilleux (2008)

One of my native favourites for attracting beneficial insects is California Coffeeberry (Rhamnus [or Frangula - whatever] californica). Favourite cultivars are "eve Case" or "Mound San Bruno." In my personal experience, from a shrub satandpoint, this is the earliest bloomer of all the native california shrubs and mostly it goes unnoticed. Why ? Well, look below.

Image - Greg a. Monroe

Flowers of California Coffeeberry are admittedly not the most showy as compared to other well known popular garden variety flowers. So how does a parent or teacher instill appreciation for something considered, perhaps, even ugly (by flawed human standards) ? I've never considered these flowers ugly, just sort of neutral from an outward appearance standpoint. Humans by nature judge almost entirely by outward appearances first. They do this to each other starting as kids in school. But the teacher and parent has to counter this by demonstrating the Coffeeberry flower's main virtues. Unseen to us, these flowers manufacture a potent powerful cologne or perfume that only insects can sense. It's a pity that back in the late 1980s, I didn't document this more with photography.

image - Brian Marlow
 Insect Paparazzi
Of course, there were no digital cameras back then, everything was expernsive and old school compared to now. But gardeners planting and documenting this most beautiful feature of Coffeeberry's usefulness in Nature could be a fun thing when it comes to gardening photos. Planting a chaparral hedgerow, then documenting just how effective these coffeeberry flowers are at attracting mostly beneficial pollinators/predators into your landscape would not only be fun, but also provide something that even the researchers have yet to provide us with. Seriously, do a google and most references to this Coffeeberry insect relationship come from Master Gardener blogs or other private individuals. They do mention the chaparral plant's importance to wildlife & domestic animal browsing, but the importance of it as a pest control component is referenced only by a few. Usage in farm field hedgerows for pest control is being more researched, but it's not the kind of good science getting as much publicity as genetic engineering or other industrial versions of  agro-chemical advances in science.

Image- Town Mouse & Country Mouse

California Coffeeberry: Biodiverse Insect Magnet for Pollinators & Predators (Think Hedgerows)
I've created this link above to an article I finished yesterday which further illuminates California Coffeeberry's insect magnet attracting  abilities.. I've taken time to research as many beneficial insect photographs as possible linked to California Coffeeberry. I've also included some research being done by researchers from California State Berkerley's Kremen Lab Group on the potential for pest control by beneficial insects on a commercial farming scale by the creation of California Chaparral Hedgerows along all farm fields. Much like the one in the photo below.

Image - University of California - Agricultural Division & Natural Resources

This post and information above should go along well with the latest research news below on using biodiversity as an insect pest control. Children and all youth in general need to understand just how successful Nature has been for 10s of 1000s of years prior to humans coming along. Biomimicry should be considered a normal scientific pursuit. The articifical industrial conventional way of practicing agriculture with it's chemicals and genetic engineering should be the view as it truly is, abnormal. None of this junk was ever needed in the first place. Kids need to understand that and will with parent's and teacher's guidance.
BioDiversity as a Natural Pesticide
“Farm fields can create monocultures where pests may find the perfect nutrition to be healthy and reproduce,” said Wetzel, who conducted the research during his doctoral work at the University of California, Davis. “Planting fields with higher plant nutrient variability could contribute to sustainable pest control.”
Rather than my further elaborating on this subject at length, these two links below should be enough to get you started. Then in your mind's eye, simplfy the language to a point where a child would understand the biodiversity concept. It may be a challenge for you as most adults globally are often unaware themselves. If the majority were aware, our planet would look totally different.
Michigan State University: Plant Diversity could provide natural repellent for crop pests
UC Davis: Why Insect Pests Love Monocultures, and How Plant Diversity Could Change That
Teaching kids these days is always easiest with video animation. Seriously, since I was a kid in the 1960s, cartoons and animated films shown at elementary school always captured my attention. So such  animated video instructive technology can and should be used when teaching kids about the importance of biodiversity over the ecologically failed choice mankind's failed leadership has been mandating for over the past 50 years. Take a look below.

Actually photographs are yet another venue to provide good teaching points and should also be used. I've written about these Chaparral Hedgerow and Biodiverse pollinator/predator strategies previously in these three posts below. This first one deals with the reasons why planting a biodiverse flower presence is so important to honey bee health. All plants create different types of pollen with unique chemical properties. These differing pollens are used by specialized nurse bees in the hive who apparently have a built sense of what pollen medicine to feed the sick worker bees with specific illnesses. Can kids really comprehend such scientific findings ? Absolutely, if you make the right real world illustrative comparisons that we humans can relate to:
Diversity of Flowering Plants Imperative to Pollinator & Predator Health
This next link deals with actual planning, designs and construction of Chaparral Hedgerows along California's agricultural fields to provide habitat living quarters and variety of important food sources for pollinators/predators which would act an an important insurance policy against crop pests. The potential here is for greatly reduced or total elimination of synthetic (or so-called Organic) chemical pesticides. Could kids really grasp this reality ? Absolutely, especially with the beautiful colour photographs provided by the Xerces Society:

Image - Xerces Society
How to construct the best Insurance Policy for your Agricultural Business Venture
This final link deals with strategies in attracting good pollinators/predators to the landscape and commercial farming and how such strategies are not only a good business model, but also a good insurance policy. Can kids graps this concept of bugs being something good ? Absolutely, but then need adult attitudes to change and lead by example. Again the photos from the Xerces Society are very helpful in this learning process:

Image - Xerces Society
Attracting Wild Bees & Wasps to Landscapes & Farms is the best Insurance Policy

Aside from planting a diverse variety of  native shrubs & wildflowers, here is a project parents or teachers can do with kids. 
(This kind of stuff gets burned into young memories)

photo credit - Donald C. Drife (2016)
June 20-26, 2016 has been designated National Pollinator Week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior. Our yard is pollinator friendly. We use no insecticides. We provide plants that produce pollen and attract pollinators to our vegetable garden.   
This year, we put up a bee hotel now called the “Buzz Inn.”  Our plans came from a helpful guide, Managing Alternative Pollinators: A Handbook for Beekeepers, Growers and Conservationists, SARE Handbook 11, NRAES-186 by Eric Mader, Marla Spivak, and Elaine Evans.
Donald C. Drife

Michigan Nature Guy's Blog: National Pollinator Week

"No one will protect what they don't care about, and no one will care about what they have never experienced."
David Attenborough, conservationist 
One final teaching point from your friendly neighbourhood Home Depot
Image - Susan Harris of  Garden Rant

Home Depot front door display as you enter Garden Center

If you aren't teaching and illustrating at a hands on level with your children, then someone else will. The photograph above was take by Master Gardener author, Susan Harris, from the journal Garden Rant. The visual teaching going on here is their marketing strategy for indoctrinating their customers that for a beautiful successful garden, you need synthetic Chemical weed and insect killers to eliminate Nature's flaws. Here is what Susan Harris wrote about Home Depot's front entrance killer chemical display:
"The other day I walked into the Home Depot near me and noticed this enticement to enter the gardening part of the store – Kill, kill, kill those plants and bugs!  Not a plant in sight but plenty of plant-killers.  And this photo hardly conveys the impressive array of killing products extending as far as the eye could see."
(Source - Garden Rant) 
Pollinators - Beneficial Insects - Native Plants
Michigan State University: Native Plants and Ecosystem Services
Mother Earth News: Enlist Beneficial Insects for Natural Pest Control
University of Minnesota: Scholars team up to show forest biodiversity is green in more ways than one
See Google Images of Mason & Potter Wasps

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