For those who read my story last week about the vanishing insects (without so much as one splattered insect on our windshield!), I have a couple of comments on how we might contribute to the existence of insects. I want to note that in China, citizens are being asked to visit the orchards and using small brushes, spread the pollen from one flower to another as the limited existence of insects is hurting their production.
On another note, I made a trip yesterday out to the area I had discussed in the previous article so I could visit an organic farmer’s market. Although my trip extended even further, only two bug splatters were observed. I know that I had mentioned the overall elimination of insects before, but I don’t think that I had mentioned any stats since it is different across different sections of the world. But, Costa Rica has a figure of 95% of the insects gone. If I were to compare what happened to me over the weekend to what would have happened 50 years ago, I had maybe one percent of one percent of insects on my screen. This is not a scientific measure, but because it is a recurring event everywhere I go, I am concerned.
As I made my trip, I noticed on the way back that a farmer had mowed a strip of grass that lay against his field of soybeans. This is not an uncommon practice of farmers and it makes their fields look neat. Of course, as I go through farming areas, it is not uncommon to see a farmhouse. Sometime they mow all the way down to the road and then in both directions.with their lawn mower, they have another half mile of closely cropped roadside grass. Of course, many of these farmers now have a several hundred dollar zero turn mower that they use to keep their selves busy in slack times.
In Missouri, as I suspect in most other states, the roadway edges are usually mowed sometime during the year. One time, we could expect two mowings a year to keep the roads looking nice and trim. I think a lack of money and /or help has slowed that down to usually a single mowing. In the farming areas, at one time they paid the farmers to do the mowing since they already had the machinery to do so. I remember back in the days of gas lines, the federal government limited mowing to once a year. As I remember it, the mowing was done after a certain date to allow wildlife to make nests and have enough time to raise their young.
So, I am driving down the road looking at the wide expanses of ground on either side of the road and on freeways, grass even in the middle. The areas are mostly grass and sometimes they are even sprayed to rid them of broadleaf weeds. Grass-covered land is good, but a regenerative farmer knows that if his pasture has a wide variety of plants, including some that we normally call weeds, the entire pasture will feed more livestock. There are two reasons that I am aware of what make this happen. One is that some of the other plants will be nitrogen builders which will provide for the existing grasses. The other is that with a wide variety of top growth, there will be a wide variety of microorganisms and the more microorganisms, the more nutrients…
What if we applied this principle to our roads? Instead of mowing and spraying, we would introduce other plants, especially including native plants. The result would be making the soil more porous so it would collect more rainoff. This might not seem like much, but considering how many roads there are in the US and how they increase the amount of water runoff, this could be a major factor. In addition, with our now healthy soil from not mowing and a diversity of plant life, the microorganisms have an ability to clean the soil. With runoff coming from fields containing excess nitrogen and toxic chemicals, every little bit helps.
I have seen pictures of some European countries where they are planting these adjoining areas of the highways with flowers. They not only make a pretty combination, but provide an area for insects. If we introduce native plants, many are nesting places as well as food sources for insects. In addition, ground-nesting birds and other small wild animals would have a natural place to nest and raise their young
With any project, especially with the government, costs must be considered and legislation for enactment. I will lay out a plan and I am sure that many an expert from different fields could improve on it, but for a start:
We have to consider an ecomical start. If all roadside areas were, in the first year, seeded with different clover varieties, they would sprout in the fall and by next spring put out flowers that bees and other insects love. The seeding amounts could be limited as they will reseed and replant on their own gradually spreading. Maybe with the next fall seeding, we could go with some deep rooted radishes and other cover crop varities. They are excellent for loosening the soil for wter retention. In the meantime, different native plants could be mixed in the seeding process and in most areas, by the second or third year, the roadsides would continue to establish their selves.
The DOT has the ability to establish the rules for Interstate and national highways without any imput from congress just as they did with limited mowing during the gas shortage. States could follow the lead of the national government. I am sure different groups of nature lovers would love to volunteer their time and native seeds. The cost would be offset with the cessation of mowing except where visibility is obscured.
In addition, railroads use a concentrated spray to keep their edges clean. Why not regulate them to stop this spraying and encourage, if not mandate, no more chemicals. I think there is a lot of support for this insect problem. We could encourage citizens to pass local regulations for empty lots and vacant spaces and without people giving up their beautiful lawns, expand space for insects to thrive. As a final note, we could mandate that weed control on city spaces be with a feed and weed granual. This will not solve the nesting of and feeding of insects on the yard, but the drift that comes from spraying may save other areas.
Maybe the Highway Beautification Act could be used to start this effort!
Most of all, insects would have a place to reproduce and feed that is not continually sprayed with toxic chemicals.
Just a start!
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