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Saving Bees

Save the Bees: Saving Bees Saves People

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is the name given to the sudden and unexplainable disappearance of adult honeybees from a hive. It leaves behind a queen and immature larvae. This problem has occurred ever since apiculture (the raising of bees for honey) began, but not until late 2006 did it occur in such huge numbers. About 25% of beekeepers that year reported CCD.

This is an incredibly important problem for farmers because honeybees are responsible for pollinating some $15 billion in crops each year.  Honeybees are not the only native pollinators – there are over 4,000 species of bees. Butterflies (also in record low numbers) and other insects contribute to pollination.

Researchers are trying to determine the cause of CCD. Currently, the leading theories involve varroa mites, viruses, fungus (such as Nosema ceranae), pesticides, hive stress, and insufficient habitats. Certain pesticides have been created which deter plant pests, but still give the bees a non-lethal dose. Insufficient rainfall will also reduce feeding grounds.

One researcher believes diet may be a stress factor for the hive. Bee colonies are routinely shipped from one area of the country to another, from one farm to another, providing pollination for the crops. One day the bees may be full of almond pollen and a week later it may be watermelon pollen. In between, in the “holding yards,” they are fed sugar syrup.

Some companies are very active in bee preservation. Bee Raw, Burt’s Bees, Haagen-Dazs, Me & the Bees Lemonade, Justin’s, and Droga Chocolates, They help spur community interest in native bee and honeybee populations through donations, websites, and public-awareness programs. They encourage people to not use pesticides, to plant bee gardens, to make bee homes, to leave “weedy” areas and bare ground spots near gardens for nesting places, and to tell others to do the same. Native bee populations in urban areas have been seeing small increases due to such efforts of home gardeners.

Want to help?

Make a bee house! Some native bees live in dead trees or elderberry stems. Drill starter holes into one end of a dried, 1-2 ft. long elderberry stem. Sharpen the other and stick it in the ground near a shed or barn. Bundle drilled elderberry stems (unsharpened) and hang from tree branches.

Using scrap lumber (4”x 6”x 6” or 6” square pine post or blocks) and various size drill bits (1/4” to 3/8”, 5/16ths works well for Mason bees and Blue Orchard bees), drill holes 3 to 5 inches deep but not all the way through the block of wood, about an inch apart. Nail your bee house, with tunnels horizontal, in a secure, secluded area, such as under building eaves. Best time? Early spring. If placing houses on posts in a pasture, nail a “roof” across the top to keep rain from entering the tunnels.

Bundle paper straws together and glue them into the bottom of a paper milk carton or a coffee can. Place in protected, dry, shady areas in the spring. 

Make a bee garden in your backyard!

You can provide nectar and pollen for the bees by making sure you plant local flowers and bushes that bees in your area love. Try not to use any insecticides in your yard. Provide some shelter for the bees. Make sure to include a small watering area for the bees. Choose a shallow container and place rocks and pebbles of various sizes in the container. Put in enough water to not cover the rocks. This allows the bees to get a drink without drowning. In the fall, you can put out sugar water drizzled on a flat baking pan with a short lip all around. Mix one part white sugar to one part water, stir well. Pour a small puddle into the pan, leaving dry areas so they don’t drown. Or, you can place rocks in the sugar water for them to land on.

If we all pitch in and do one small thing to help our fuzzy friends, we can make a big difference. We need bees in order to survive, and they need us. So next time you’re tempted to swat a small bee, shoo it away instead. Because every bee saved means more flowers pollinated, more gardens that will thrive, and more food for the planet.


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How Pretty is Pretty Litter, Really?

Pretty Litter And Other Silica Litters

Pretty Litter is a silica-based litter for cats that is used to also help warn owners about potential health based. So, let’s take a closer look at this type of litter and see how beneficial it is and whether or not there are any unmentioned side effects.

What is silica?

Crystalline Silica is one of the most common minerals found in the earth’s crust. Glass, sand, and quartz are all examples of silica. Chemically speaking, silica is generally colorless, sometimes white, and is not water soluble. It is not usually found by itself. Typically it combines with oxygen or other elements to form silicate materials. Silica combined with oxygen, is known as Silicon Dioxide.

There are also water-soluble forms of silica, called silicic acid.  Humans have one of these silicic acids in our bodies – Orthosilicic acid. Silica is actually very important for bone health, because a deficiency of it can cause skeletal deformities, reduced collagen, etc.

However, as beneficial as some forms of silica may be, crystalline silica is toxic, especially when inhaled or breathed in.

Crystalline silica can cause severe respiratory problems for animals and humans alike when subjected to the dust. It is also a known and definite cause of cancer in humans. Breathing it in can cause the formation of scar tissue in your lungs, permanently damaging them. This kind of damage, over time, can lead to chronic and potentially life threatening health problems like COPD or lung cancer.

There is another type of silica that is not toxic. Amorphous Silica. That is not to say that it won’t hurt you, it is just not as damaging as the crystalline silica. If you’re exposed to enough amorphous silica fumes, it can cause coughing, flu-like symptoms, and even lung damage. Getting the dust in your eyes can cause irritation and repeated exposure can cause permanent damage.

Silica-Containing Cat Litter

Pretty Litter is a Silica Cat Litter. However, it is made from a super absorbent silica gel. So, rather than producing a crystalline silica dust, it produces amorphous silica dust, which isn’t as unhealthy for your pet. It can still cause lung and eye irritation and possibly worsen any pre-existing respiratory conditions your cat has. There are some benefits to this litter though too if the dust doesn’t bother your pet. It has helped several customers catch UTIs, etc., very early on. There have been reports of false positive readings, leading to some pet owners paying for some expensive tests that were not necessary, but, it also helped catch some health problems for other pets before they got worse.

An interesting downfall I found for the crystal cat litters is – the crystals are not fun to step on. For humans or animals. In my research for this article, I read numerous reviews from pet owners who complained about stepping on the crystals their cats tracked out of the box. My initial thought was “If you don’t like how it feels, I wonder what the cat thinks!”. Then I read some reviews about how the cats didn’t like it because it was hurting their paws. So, while that may not be the case for everyone, it is definitely an issue for a lot of people.

Another not-so-pleasant side effect of the silica cat litter (like Fresh Step and Pretty Litter) is the dust. I use Arm and Hammer’s Platinum Slide cat litter. There is no dust, it clumps together very nicely, and it has great odor control without being overwhelming for my cat. Some customers, from some of the other brands, were commenting about how their cat litter would produce large poofs of dust whenever they refilled the box or even just cleaned it out.

I never have that problem, ever. You can dump an entire 20lb box of litter into her litter box and you might get a tiny bit of dust, maybe. I can clean her box, push the litter from one side to the other, smooth it out all nice, etc., and never have any dust. So, if switching from a clumping, dust-free cat litter to a crystal litter means lots of dust and mushy crystals, I think I’ll stick with what I’m using. Thanks.

What To Do?

Now, something that some cat owners do is, they use their regular clumping litter, and just put a little of the crystals mixed in with it. To help with odor control more than anything. This is a great compromise because there aren’t enough crystals there to hurt your cat’s little paws or your feet. There certainly aren’t enough crystals there to create the big clouds of dust some reviewers were complaining about.  So, you get the odor control without the health and feet/paw hazards. Me? I’m sticking with the litter I use now. It works great, keeps the odor controlled beautifully, and I don’t have to breathe in any dust.

The dust from Pretty Litter, Fresh Step, and other amorphous silica litters may not be toxic. But it’s still not healthy and it can still cause lung and eye irritation. If you can pick a litter that doesn’t cause any irritation at all, and you take your pet for regular checkups, then why switch litters?

Just my two cents worth.


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