There is a ton of information out there about the possible causes of the high mortality rates of bee hives, often referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). After the EU banned neonicitinoid pesticides, the noise has gotten even louder from both sides of the argument about possible causes for bee deaths. I am not a bee expert, but I am a farmer and avid gardener. Honey bees and bumble bees are critical in the pollination of some of the most valuable crops in the U.S. such as almonds and apples, but it doesn’t stop there. The seed supply for almost every fruit and vegetable we eat requires some help from insect pollinators to complete the plant life-cycle, allowing for the harvest of seeds to be replanted the following year. So we aren’t just talking about poor pollination affecting the the price and availability of the trendiest super-food; we are talking about the sustainability of our entire food supply.
The EPA is citing many causes of bee decline other than pesticides; most experts agree that there are several several contributing factors. You have to ask yourself: if you are primarily a home gardener, why do you need to use a pesticide that MIGHT be killing bees?
The popular products of concern used by home gardeners have the active ingredient Imidachloprid, a systemic insecticide (meaning the plant absorbs it like a nutrient). It is found in Bayer Advanced, Scotts MiralcleGro, and some other brands of pesticides. The only way to be sure is to read the “active ingredients” on the front of the label. Most Imidachloprid-containing products will be marketed as “season-long” or “rain-proof”, which is a characteristic of the Imidachloprid systemic mode of action.
With more awareness of bee-harming products, home gardeners can change their horticultural practices, without disrupting the global food supply. Below are some immediate actions you can take to help protect the bee community in your neighborhood.
Action: Stop using season-long grub control in your lawn. You may have the best intentions, “I’m not getting the chemical in my flower beds, so the bees aren’t exposed.” Remember that the mode of action is systemic, so the roots from your neighboring flower beds could easily soak up some of the insecticide from the lawn.
Alternative: Compost and over-seed your lawn every year. A stronger lawn can tolerate some grub damage. There are available grass seed mixes that will toughen up your lawn and make it less desirable to grubs. You may find that you didn’t even have a grub problem to begin with.
Action: Avoid using any season-long or rain-proof insecticide products on your flowers. The systemic chemical can contaminate the flower’s pollen, and then be carried back to the hive by the pollinating bee.
Alternative: Plant low-maintenance native wildflower perennials of which there are many. Not only will these plants have fewer insect problems than non-natives, but the bees and butterflies will love them! You will be providing a preferred food source for your local bee community.
Action: Stop killing clover in your lawn. Bees love clover; just look at the label of most of the honey in the grocery store for proof. Eliminating clover eliminates a major food source for bees.
Alternative: Calm down about the clover. Most clover is low growing, soft under foot, and also acts as a nitrogen producer for your lawn. Have you ever noticed your lawn is greener around the clover? If you are doing the aforementioned over-seeding of the lawn yearly, the clover shouldn’t get out of control, and you’ll know that your doing your part for the bees.