In The Honey Connoisseur, the book that Marina Marchese and I just finished, we examine 34 popular, and in our opinion excellent varietal honeys, along with the plants the initial nectar is gathered from. We look at where the plants grow, a bit about their botany, issues with their lifestyle, and especially we look at the effects that weather, soil, altitude and any of the many environmental aspects in their particular location have on the honey that is produced. There are two real stories here…one about where the plants are – it’s called terroir, a sense of place. And it is what that place does to them and for them and the net effect that place has on the honeys they provide we are interested in. Particularly, this is important when comparing honey from the same plant but growing somewhere else…the plant is the control, the environment is the variable and the honey is the result.
And the other story is also about the plants…but it is about where they call home. Of these 34 honey plants we examined, there are eight that physically don’t grow in the U.S., but 11 of the remaining 26 did not begin their evolution here and are non-natives – that’s almost half – and in fact, most of those are downright invasive, nasty creatures. They may make perfect honey, and in fact lots and lots of it, but sweet they are not.
When I realized the influence these imported plants actually have on the US honey crop I was amazed. I still am. They are responsible for a huge amount of the honey crop produced in the U.S. EVERY year. Imagine what our annual honey crop would be like if they were not here…no apple or orange blossom honey. No loosestrife or buckwheat, either. And a life without clover or alfalfa honey, so common, so pedestrian, so much, yet so delicious would be worse for the loss. For all the curses of kudzu, we have all the blessings of thyme. And even if you simply love star thistle, it can be a mean and nasty plant. But all of these plants make all of these honeys that are the best honeys there are. And only 15 have always lived here. Of these, blackberry may be the best, but so would tupelo, and maybe sourwood really is the best of the best. Of them all, only one reigns supreme. Or maybe two, or three.
This non-native thing is important though and I found out more when I had the opportunity to listen to a lecture by Dr. Doug Tallamy, a Professor and Chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, and Director of the Center for Managed Ecosystems at the University of Delaware. Among other things his interests focus on looking at food webs in our environment, particularly those in what he calls managed landscapes…the massive lawns and ornamental plantings so common in residential, corporate and public landscapes. He discussed how the vast expanses of lawn in our communities have virtually destroyed much of any support systems native animals, including insects, once had.
And all that grass…from here to everywhere, and never, once, ever produced so much as a drop of honey. Now, I’m not including the clovers and dandelions (both invasive, by the way), and ground ivy that grows in my lawn, yours and others that don’t partake in intensive lawn management. But grass…nada in the honey world.
But there’s more bad things about non-native ornamentals hanging around. Almost all birds feed their young caterpillars for protein. Where do native birds get native caterpillars for this food? From native plants, of course. Those adorable, but environmentally useless ornamentals out there are nearly worthless as far as all the rest of the wildlife is concerned. And speaking of worthless…grass. It sucks up fertilizer by the ton. And it is a toxic waste dump in many places due to the insecticides and herbicides and fungicides applied at least twice annually. It sucks up water…a waning commodity certainly, that keeps the grass alive but then soaks into the groundwater, taking fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides with it. Or it runs off site and though is returned, eventually, to the system, is wasted to use by humans. Add to this the amount of fossil fuel used daily to keep this toxic spread looking sort, trimmed and neat and pretty – all in the name of pampered lawn care.
Think of the benefits to the environment, to the native fauna, to your home landscape, to the global warming phenomena, to almost anything positive about where we live if we got rid of half the grass we grow. And think of the time you’d save to do other, more productive activities, like harvest the honey crop you made off the plants now growing where the grass was, if you didn’t have to mow the lawn, or at least as much lawn.
So here’s my thought. Let’s get rid of all that grass. Or at least half of it. I’ll settle for half. Let’s plant native plants, honey plants, non-invasive ornamentals…whatever is good, and turn all that grass land into pollinator and honey land. Not gonna happen, you say? Well, let’s add some incentive to get folks to do this. Let’s institute a Grass Tax. For every 1000 square feet of lawn, the city’ll ding you $100.00, every year. They re-evaluate property values every so often, so they could do the same with your lawn. Don’t want to pay that tax? Plant Natives. No grass, no tax.
What do you think?
Tried doing this at our home; planted a whole front lawn of black eyed susies since we raise butterflies and wanted to get back to nature minus all chemicals.
What we got in return was the city coming to our house with threaths and a day to show up for court. We were told that the susies don’t belong in the front of the house. They even came with guns and prisoners to mow everyting down. They were even asking the city police to find any excuse to put my husband in jail.
Check it out in the Daily Press news about two years ago around August 17, 2011.
I just love the idea of the grass tax!
I think that would be a good idea if that money went to conservation projects (but I doubt that would happen). In principle I like it but I think the government should take a stronger stand on how land is distributed and used. Taxing doesn’t necessarily solve the problem, whereas established land use guidelines (i.e. for every 1,000 acres of land, you have to have 1 acre of plant life) would produce a better result. That’s just my opinion though. What do you think about my comments?
With this blog you really took our attention to the points that we never thought about. Thanks for sharing this with all of us. All the best, way to go
I work in the out-of-doors in southwest cuyahoga county. It is suburbia gone to extreme with every house bordered by a deep green carpet of grass. An army of lawn sprayer guys contantly prowl the streets too. To wit: this season I have only see one honeybee in this suburban “eden.” that’s why I’m raising my own bees…some 15 miles away…in the city!
The whole concept of taxation as a blunt force to mandate behavior must leave our minds or we are in much bigger trouble than too much lawn… Taxes must be source of government funding and as such as fair and even leveled across society for everyone and anyone to simply participate in the governing. We must think of “behavioral” taxation same as of pesticides – something unnatural intended to change environment. Goal of DDT to kill malaria mosquitoes is equally well imagined as a goal to reduce amount of lawns by taxing them… In both cases there are inevitable bad consequences. (Ex. my bet is that most reduction in lawn area due to such taxation would be to gain paved surface… way, way worse than lawns – people want flat open areas).
What should be done is to win hearts and minds and popularity of lawn alternatives. Popularizing their lower actual upkeep costs, look,… Popularizing “lawn based” but richer environments – ex. planting a low maintenance orchard over the lawn. Popularize by looks and practicality and cost… But never a force of regulation or taxation. That always backfires.
A swirl of encourage
And broken drought
Brings wings lurid
Brightest spots doubt
Honey, my honey, are u of the past
Please keep your legs loaded
Not with furry poison