I recently read an article about a small group of Canadian beekeepers who were refusing to loan out their bee colonies to blueberry farmers in British Columbia. The reason, they explained, was that they were concerned about the impact on the health of their bees of pollinating only one single crop.
This news article struck me on two fronts.
Firstly, the very fact that bees need to be transported to those blueberry farms in order for pollination to take place should be ringing alarm bells. This is a scenario replicated in parts of the USA, where crops like almonds rely entirely on truckloads of bees that have to be driven from other parts of the country simply to allow pollination to happen.
Why is this transportation of bee swarms necessary? Why are there not sufficient bees on and around these farms already?
The answer to that question is short and simple: monoculture.
Where once our farmers would have grown multiple crops on their land, now they confine themselves to one or maybe two, just as the Canadian blueberry farmers have done.
Monoculture by definition means a loss of plant variety and thus a loss of year-round food sources for bees.
Another problem with monoculture is that the intense concentration of a single crop in one place acts as a magnet for pests. This in turn leads to the widespread use of pesticides, some of which have been strongly linked to the recent alarming decline in bee health.
A few generations back, our farmers would have used natural fertilisers, in the form of cover crops like vetch, clover, field beans and alfafa, to put nitrogen and other nutrients into their soils. Those cover crops would also flower, providing additional food sources for bees. Now most farmers rely instead on industrial fertiliser, adding more harmful chemicals into the environment and removing those vital food sources.
Our industrialised, dysfunctional system of farming has systematically eliminated many of the food sources upon which bees used to rely, to be replaced them with vast fields of single crops.
This leads me on to the second point that struck me when I read the article about the Canadian beekeepers. I think many of us don’t appreciate that bees don’t pollinate plants for our benefit. Plant pollination is an entirely coincidental activity as far as the bee is concerned: its sole purpose is to forage amongst flowers for food, in the form of nectar and pollen. When we remove their food sources, or replace them with one single crop, the bees die off or go elsewhere. Hence the need for those imported truckloads of bees to pollinate those vast, soulless monocultured fields.
It is no coincidence that the healthiest bees are those found in the cities, where there is a varied, year-round supply of food. Like humans, bees need a varied diet to maintain good health.
That leads me on to three easy things each of us can do to support the health of our bees, which in turn will benefit us. These suggestions might not seem like much, but the more of us that do these things the greater the collective difference we can make:
1. Plant bee-friendly flowers and crops in your garden, on balcony, or on your windowsill. Alternatively, go in for a bit of “guerilla gardening” by scattering wildflower seeds on grass verges or common land. This will provide important sources of food across the seasons.
2. Don’t use pesticides on any of your plants. They will completely negate any benefits planting those flowers would have created.
3. Wherever possible, buy organic produce which has been grown without harmful pesticides and fertilisers. This will encourage more food producers and retailers to turn to organic sources. The tide has been turning for several years now. More and more of us are opting for organic foods. Let’s do everything we can as individuals to help step up the pace of change.
On to the recipe, which I have created in association with Suma Wholefoods Cooperative.
Under the terms of our arrangement, every couple of months I select products from the Suma Wholefoods range which Suma provide free of charge. It is a range which includes plenty of organic and ethically sourced products. Using the products I have chosen I then create an original recipe which appears on the Suma website as well here, on the Circus Gardener’s Kitchen.
This is the latest result of that collaboration: a delicious, vegan, gluten-free dessert, fit to grace the table of any dinner party.
Use ripe bananas for the ice cream, which are naturally more sweet.
I used organic crunchy peanut butter as I like the texture, but you could easily substitute smooth if you prefer.
vegan peanut butter and chocolate tart with roast banana ice cream
1. Pre-heat the oven to 170°C (325°F, gas mark 3). Peel and slice the bananas. Place the slices on a baking tray and scatter over the coconut sugar and the sea salt. Toss to combine. Place in the pre-heated oven and roast for 25 minutes, or until the bananas have coloured and started to caramelise. Leave to cool for a few minutes.
2. Tip the roast bananas, together with any syrup and caramelised bits from the sugar, into a food processor. Add the coconut milk and the maple syrup and blend until smooth. Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker, and churn. Once it has set, tip the ice cream out into a freezer proof container. Cover the container with a lid and freeze for at least 4 hours. Remove the ice cream from the freezer and leave to stand at room temperature for 15-20 minutes before serving.
3. Meanwhile, make the base of the tart. Pre-heat the oven to 150°C (300°F, gas mark 2). Place the dates in a food processor and blend until they have broken down into a sticky ball. Add the peanut butter, ground almonds and melted coconut oil and mix together into a dough.
4. Press the almond and date mixture firmly into the base and sides of a flan dish. Cover with kitchen foil and baking beans and “blind bake” in the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Trim the edges of the tart with a sharp knife.
5. For the filling, put the peanut butter, coconut cream and maple syrup in a bowl and stir to combine. Bring a pan of water to a simmer. Reduce the heat to its lowest setting. Put the chocolate pieces in a bowl and place over the pan of hot water. Stir until the chocolate has dissolved, then pour into the bowl and mix with the other ingredients. Pour this mixture into the tart base and then refrigerate until needed.
6. Serve the peanut butter and chocolate tart in slices, each accompanied by a scoop of the roast banana ice cream.