5 Reasons to Leave the Leaves

Fall is officially upon us, and with the changing colors and the falling leaves come the rakes and giant plastic bags. But wait! Fall lawn care can be a real drag – but what if I told you it’s actually better to skip the task altogether?! That’s right – Mother Earth sheds her leaves not only to prepare the trees for winter, but also to prepare the many animals in nature for the winter ahead. For example, many animals use leaves to wrap up inside and protect them from harsh winter weather. The ground is protected from the cold, wet elements, and emerges renewed and nourished from the leaves’ protection and nutrient infusion from the natural compost created by decomposing leaves.

Here are 5 more reasons to leave the leaves:

  1. Prevent landfill buildup: The bags you fill with all these leaves end up in a landfill – adding even more pressure and weight to an already too-compacted area that ends up emitting harmful gasses into the environment (which in turn contribute to climate change and other not-so-fun environmental consequences). What’s more, is most of the bags you’re stuffing full of leaves aren’t biodegradable, and can end up harming wildlife for years to come. According to the National Wildlife Foundation, yard remains including leaves make up 13% of landfill space– that’s 33 MILLION TONS A YEAR!
  2. Natural lawn care: The leaves’ natural decomposition add several nutrients into your soil. Healthy soil means less need for chemical-laden fertilizers in the spring, which results in a happier yard and healthy pollinators (which we all know make the world go ‘round!). Mother Earth’s protective layer of leaves also protect your lawn against weeds. We’ve written about reasons to get rid of your lawn here, but if you’re not ready to take the plunge, at least utilize natural weed management practices!
  3. Provide a home for pollinators and other insects: Here at Simply Bee, we love our pollinators! Many pollinators and other insects rely on the leaves falling from trees for shelter, protection from the elements, and even food sources when resources are scarce in the winter.
  4. Give shelter to animals: Other animals rely on fallen leaves for shelter throughout the winter, too, such as turtles, frogs, and many other yard dwellers. Birds also use leaves for nest building. Having a pristine looking yard isn’t worth taking away the homes of many creatures. Coexist with nature! We’re all here to share in nature’s bounty.
  5. Reduce Pollution: as we covered in our article 4 Reasons to Get Rid of Your Lawn, lawn care produces a lot of pollution. Leaf blowers and lawnmowers produce a lot of pollution into the air – according to the EPA, 5% of air pollution in the United States is a result of lawn care equipment. This equipment also makes a lot of noise, which scares or deters wildlife from your yard. Several species are already pushed to the edge of their native habitats because historically, humans haven’t been very good sharers. Let’s change that. Be kind, and create a habitat for wildlife in your yard.

Share your reasons to leave the leaves below!

How Do You Know If The Honey You’re Buying Is Real?

I recently wrote an article about the healing benefits of honey. But before you head down to the grocery store to buy some of this liquid gold, make sure it’s real honey. That’s right, just because it’s in a jar that’s labeled honey doesn’t mean it’s real honey collected from your local beekeeper (or, even someone’s local beekeeper).

It’s been officially established by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States (FDA) that if honey does not contain at least trace amounts of pollen, it doesn’t constitute real honey. The FDA reasons that without pollen traces, there is no way to determine that the source of the honey is safe to consume. This is because if scientists are unable to view the pollen under a microscope, its source cannot be known. Moreover, higher concentrations of pollen can indicate that the honey is less refined, since pollen is a natural side effect of making honey (and being a bee in general).

The FDA has made this rule about pollen, but they reportedly do not enforce it due to understaffing. To prove the amount of questionable honey sold on the shelves, Food Safety News conducted a study of the makeup of several honey jars collected from various stores, and what they found was that most of the honey sold in stores is of the watered-down, additive variety.

Often times the pollen is intentionally filtered out so that the source cannot be known. When this happens, it is usually because the honey is coming from China. Imported honey isn’t regulated with the same standards, and often contains high volumes of additives like high fructose corn syrup. This also makes it impossible to tell if the plants pollinated were treated with pesticides, or how heavily the bees are medicated with antibiotics.

So, then what’s the ‘fake’ honey? It starts out as real honey but then is watered down and mixed with other artificial additives.

How can you make sure that your honey is real? Head down to the local farmers’ market or co-op in your area. Look for brands that you recognize as being local or reputable.

The more we support local beekeepers, the less susceptible our markets are to cheaper chemical-ridden alternatives.

 

7 Healing Benefits of Propolis

Propolis: a mysterious, sticky substance with amazing healing power.

Propolis is an ancient healer that has been used for centuries by Greeks, Egyptians, and more. In the Western world, the benefits and healing powers of propolis are becoming more commonly explored. The healing benefits of propolis can be applied to something simple like a holistic salve to heal a cut, to powerful tinctures that can prevent, reduce, and even eliminate cancer cells.

So, what is propolis? Propolis is resin that bees collect from tree buds. The bees bring the resin back to their hive, where the resin is unloaded and mixed with pollen, wax , and other bee goodness to create a sticky substance called propolis. Propolis has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. Because of these properties, bees use propolis to disinfect and seal their hive from predators, germs, and other environmental stressors.

But it turns out that many of these healing and disinfecting properties can extend beyond bees: research has shown there are some serious healing properties of propolis when taken by humans. Propolis can come in the form of a salve to be applied topically, or as a tincture that can be ingested orally. So, what are some of these amazing healing benefits of propolis? Read on to find out more!

  1. Oral Hygiene: the antibacterial and antimicrobial properties of propolis can reduce the development of plaque and cavities. Essentially, propolis is able to mitigate the effects of sugars and bacteria on teeth.
  2. Skin Care: Again, the antibacterial and antimicrobial properties in propolis mitigate the effects of bacteria on the skin, thus combating acne. This can be accomplished by taking propolis orally or applying it to the skin. Since propolis contains healing properties that are often used to treat cuts or burns, it’s ok to use propolis on acne that may contain open pores or areas – it treats inflammation and kills bacteria. What’s more, is that propolis can be used to treat acne in a preventative manner, too, since it can inhibit the different oils that can clog your pores. Propolis also improves skin’s immunity, so you can simultaneously build up your skin’s own defenses against breakouts.
  3. Oral Healing: Because of the same properties discussed in #2 and #3, propolis is also incredibly effective in other oral health issues, from healing canker sores to speeding up healing after surgery.
  4. Heals Burns: Propolis has been shown to lessen inflammation and increase circulation on burn victims who consistently applied a salve containing propolis. Propolis is also great for keeping the area disinfected while it heals. This applies to both cuts and burns.
  5. Cancer: Due to its nutrient-dense combination, propolis has been shown in studies to significantly reduce or eliminate cancer tumors in the body. Moreover, propolis acts as an anti-angiogenesis that can inhibit cells adopting their own blood supply as well as spreading to other organs. What’s even more amazing is propolis can be used to prevent cancer in the first place. Propolis can also be effective in cancers that develop a resistance to chemotherapy. Not convinced? Propolis can also taper the side-effects of chemotherapy for those going through treatment.
  6. Respiratory Ailments: Propolis is chock-full of antimicrobial properties, which means that it can protect the respiratory system preventively, or be used to soothe symptoms of asthma and the common cold.
  7. Skin Outbreaks: from herpes to eczema, propolis can ease the symptoms of an outbreak and in some cases heal the Herpes virus altogether. This is due to the antiseptic and antiviral properties (and other amazing qualities discussed above) of propolis.

So, how can you get some propolis? It’s available as a tincture, cream, salve, and even a capsule.

*These articles are not meant to provide or replace medical advice. Before beginning a new treatment plan, please consult your healthcare provider.

Photo Credit: Flickr.

5 Ways Monocultures Are Bad For The Planet

Taking the ‘culture’ out of Agriculture

Monocultures: you’ve probably seen them. They account for the majority of those squares you see on the ground when flying in an airplane. But monocultures are more than agricultural art: they are the crux of agricultural production in the United States. Interestingly enough, though, they could simultaneously prove to be the downfall of the agricultural system as we know it.

So, what exactly is a monoculture, and how can these neatly trimmed squares you wonder about in the air have such an impact on the surrounding environment? Well, monoculture refers to the massive, cultivation of a single crop in a designated area. We’re talking acres and acres of growing and harvesting one crop for years and years – monocultures make up 442 million acres of land in the United States.

There are some advantages to the system of agricultural production using monocultures, namely convenience. By planting monocultures, the planting, watering, harvesting, and – if you’ve read my other articles, you probably knew this was coming – pest management of the agriculture can be standardized and completed in a significantly shorter amount of time.

The advantages of monocultures seem pretty legitimate, and in many ways have revolutionized agricultural production. Key word: seem. Upon further investigation, the results of agricultural monocultures are actually quite harmful to the environment.

Here are 5 ways monocultures are destroying the environment:

  1. Monocultures destroy the soil. By planting the same plant in the same soil for years, the soil becomes more depleted over time. This in itself would be an issue – as it would lead to the production of lower quality plants. But, that doesn’t happen, because we have fertilizer and other chemicals that can (synthetically) restore the quality of the soil. Sort of. With monocultures being so popular, we end up using A LOT (that’s a number) of fertilizer that actually pollutes the air and surrounding water sources.
  2. Monocultures eliminate biodiversity (which indirectly increases the need for pesticides). When a system is in place that discourages or eliminates biodiversity, two things happen: one, there is no organic pest management – different species of insects cannot create natural population control of themselves or other insects – which leads to the second problem: because there is no natural aid in pest management, more pesticides are needed in order to control the pest populations.
  3. Monocultures promote pest infestation. Because monocultures are acres of the same plant, the entire monoculture attracts the same types of pests. Because there is no biodiversity to mitigate these effects, and because the pests can so easily obtain food and multiply, the pests can infest an entire monoculture. In order to deal with the infestations, even more pesticides are used.
  4. Plant disease is easier to spread. Plant disease is easier to spread in a monoculture because all the crops in a monoculture are the same, making it very difficult to stop disease once it has spread. How do we stop the spread of these diseases? That’s right, more pesticides.
  5. The influx of pesticides and chemical fertilizers that are used to maintain monocultures are incredibly harmful to pollinators, as I’ve talked about here. When bees and other pollinators are exposed to pesticides, especially neonic pesticides, they become more susceptible to other environmental stressors to which they are normally immune. Further, the decrease in pollinator populations caused by neonic pesticides means that there is a decrease in pollination, which can ultimately lead to a shift in agricultural variety and economic balance (Economically, pollinators are responsible for over $150 billion globally in agriculture, with over 70% of food sources in the United States dependent on pollinators1. Further, the disruption of ecosystemic balance caused by the decrease of pollinators affects issues like biodiversity and disrupts the food chain.

A move away from monocultures could in part drastically reduce the need for pesticides in the first place. The lack of crop rotation and thus nutrients in the soil poses its own set of problems that are cause to move away from monoculture agriculture as well. Agriculture is just that – a culture. It is not a piecemeal existence that can be understood without the other components (both in terms of thriving and possible demise): “Part of the instability and susceptibility to pests of agroecosystems can be linked to the adoption of vast crop monocultures, which have concentrated resources for specialist crop herbivores and have increased the areas available for immigration of pests. This simplification has also reduced environmental opportunities for natural enemies. Consequently, pest outbreaks often occur when large numbers of immigrant pests, inhibited populations of beneficial insects, favorable weather and vulnerable crop stages happen simultaneously.”2

The movement against pesticides should be accompanied by a movement away from destructive monocultures that require the increased use of pesticides, decreasing not only the use of, but the need for, systemic pesticides. This movement should also include a proclivity toward organic farming practices and an interest in devoting resources toward long term solutions for pest management that complement the ecosystems, rather than destroy them.

 

Sources:

1. Miller, G. Tyler, and Scott Spoolman. Sustaining the Earth. 11th ed. N.p.: Cengage Learning, 2013. 97.

2. Altieri, M.A. and P.M. Rosset 1995. Agroecology and the conversion of large-scale conventional systems to sustainable management. International Journal of Environmental Studies 50: 165-185.

The Healing Benefits of Honey

Honey has been regarded as a sweet treat for thousands of years. But, honey’s nutrient and vitamin dense makeup also makes it a great remedy for some common issues.

So, what is honey? Honey is collected nectar that is stored, transported, and regurgitated by bees in the hive. Because of the multiple (natural) refining processes that honey goes through before collection by a beekeeper, honey can be stored indefinitely.

Healing Properties Of Honey

Natural Allergy Remedy: Honey can treat allergies in two ways. First, the anti-inflammatory properties of honey can soothe congestion and coughs. Second, honey can act preventatively against allergies as a sort of vaccine: honey contains pollen from the plants in the area. To utilize this trick, make sure you buy raw honey that is local to the area in which you experience your allergies.

Natural Sleep Aid: Honey is chock-full of amino acids, including tryptophan, which converts to serotonin and then melatonin. The sugar content in honey also raises insulin levels, which makes this process more easily absorbed by the body.

Reduces Symptoms of Cold and Flu: Honey’s syrupy texture (combined with the anti-inflammatory and relaxing effects discussed above) make honey a safe, natural, and yummy way to whether the cold or flu.

Salve for Burns and Cuts: Honey naturally consists of a small amount of hydrogen peroxide, which (among other nutrients) makes honey antibacterial! The antimicrobial properties in honey protect a wound from bacteria while also promoting healing.

Acne: The same antimicrobial and antibacterial components in honey that protect and heal wounds work on acne, too! Covering the effected area with a thin layer of honey and then covering with a bandage or dressing of your choice can work wonders overnight, especially if applied consistently (I aim for a few times a week for a breakout or particularly stubborn patch). Sometimes, I even do a mask where I cover my face in a thin layer of honey and read a book for an hour while it sits. The honey also hydrates your skin, so you won’t be left with a super dry feeling post mask application.

Blood Sugar Regulation: Honey’s unique combination of glucose and fructose actually counteract extreme spikes and dips in blood sugar that other sugars can cause.

Athletic Performance: Honey helps athletic performance by maintaining glycogen levels (as discussed above). Honey also provides a constant, steady source of carbs to muscles (which gives us fuel to perform our best). Honey also speeds up recovery time from athletic activity by readily replenishing your body’s glucose levels that were depleted during the workout.

As an important note, never feed infants honey – their systems are not developed enough to process certain components of honey.

This article originally appeared on http://www.basmati.com

4 Reasons to Get Rid of Your Lawn

Since the 1950’s, lawns have become engrained in American tradition – a rolling lawn is about as American as the white picket fence it sits behind. But lawns can actually be quite taxing on the environment – from pollution to dissolution of habitats for wildlife. This article will explore the ramifications of lawns and the care they require – and how to mitigate the effects while still enjoying your lawn.

Lawns in general are working against the environment in terms of habitats and pollution:

Habitats: Lawns provide little-to-no habitat for insects, birds, or other wildlife. There is significantly less shelter and food on a lawn, and the chemicals used to maintain the lawns drive away or poison potential nesters. Insects are the unsung heroes of many environmental functions – from pollinating flowers and vegetables, to providing an organic pest management system, to creating your own little ecosystem in your backyard. But, since the 1950’s there has been a massive influx of lawn care (both of the DIY and commercial services variety). Manicured lawns actually do a number on the population of these critters.

Maintenance: The issue of maintaining a lawn is one of the most pressing reasons to replant your yard to make it a habitat for wildlife. Lawn maintenance is stressful on the environment for three main reasons:

  • Water: watering lawns uses massive amounts of water daily. What’s more is how many people over-water – how many times have you been out in your neighborhood and noticed the sprinklers are spraying into the streets only to run off into the storm drains. A lot of water is used, and a lot of water is wasted. Global temperatures are consistently rising and droughts all over the country are becoming more commonplace. In fact, if everyone with a lawn watered properly, about 200 gallons per lawn per day of drinking water would be used.
  • Lawn maintenance equipment: the equipment used to care for lawns pollutes the air. Lawnmowers and weed whackers use gasoline to operate – and are accordingly responsible for about 5% of all air pollution in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • Pesticides & Fertilizers: these chemical components of lawn care pollute the surrounding environment by both toxic air emissions and runoff into water sources. Moreover, pesticides are incredibly harmful to helpful insects and pollinators like honeybees and birds.

There’s a lot you can do to mitigate the effects of your lawn care as well.

  • Purchase green lawn equipment – this is becoming more accessible and popular!
  • Minimize lawn space to high traffic areas
  • Purchase sprinklers that save water
  • Make sure any automatic sprinklers are installed in locations that eliminate watering outside of your targeted area (like the street).

Do you have any other tips and tricks to mitigate the effects of lawn care? Share below!

Ready to turn your yard into a home for pollinators? Find out how here and here.

This post originally appeared on http://www.basmati.com

A Guide to Backyard Pollinators

 

How to attract and welcome pollinators into your yard

This blog is dedicated to environmental activism, primarily focused on the protection of pollinators. Most of the articles talk about the importance of these pollinators with a focus on honeybees. But, bees aren’t the only pollinators responsible for the pollination of over 75% of our food sources and flowering plants or the $200 globally in agricultural production. To give our due diligence to the other important pollinators, this week’s blog post will provide a guide to other backyard pollinators, and what you can do to make your yard a home for all pollinators.

All pollinators will need shelter and water – you can provide water by filling a shallow dish with marbles (to prevent drowning and attract pollinators with bright colors) and water. Shelters can be provided in various ways: piles of leaves/compost, bird houses, artificial nesting boxes, bat boxes, decomposing logs and/or trees, trees, and blocks of wood with holes drilled in them. Stay tuned next week for an article about insect and bee hotels!

As with any plants and flowers, make sure the seeds & plants you purchase are not treated with neonicotinoid pesticides. It is equally important to not use neonicotinoids in your pest management plans. If you have landscapers, talk to them about the importance of avoiding application of neonics. Lastly, get on your area’s ‘NO SPRAY’ list to avoid pesticides applied by the city or county in which you live (find out how here).

Butterflies: Butterflies are attracted to nectar-rich flowers, as this is one of their primary sources of nutrients. Some great flowers to plant for butterflies include Oregano, Sage, Lavender, Marigolds, Zinnia, Shasta Daisies, and Calendula. For caterpillars, make sure to have some Milkweed, Thistle, Willow, and Fennel. Butterflies are also attracted to muddy puddles, as this is where they get salt and other nutrients.

Moths: Moths have a similar pallet to those of butterflies. Moths, like bats, are nocturnal. Moths are particularly attracted to white and fragrant flowers, such as yucca (this makes them easier to find at night).

Bats: Bats are another important pollinator that you can welcome into your yard. Bats are nocturnal, so you probably won’t see much of them. However, bats are important not only as pollinators, but make a great natural pest management system: bats feed on mosquitos and other bugs that are in your yard as well. To attract bats, plant some flowers that bloom at night, like moonflower, four-o’clock, yucca, and evening primrose.

Birds: There are a variety of birds that can make your backyard a home! Birds, like bats, provide both pollination and an organic pest management system. Mixed seeds are a great option for birds, since the various types will attract more than one type of bird. A water feature, like a small fountain, can be helpful in attracting birds, since they may not know that water is available. Birdfeeders can also be a great way to attract and keep lots of birds in your yard. Just make sure to choose a seed that is specific to your region or yard to cater to the most birds.

Other insects: Other insects provide important pollination and food for pollinators in your yard. Some can even help with pest management. Having a variety of plants and flowers can help these populations do their part.

To learn how to accommodate bees, check out last week’s post here.

Like these topics? Next week, we will be exploring bee and other insect hotels that you can craft for your yard to create the ultimate habitat for wildlife!