By Executive Director Brooks Paternotte
In previous posts I have encouraged the parsimonious use of things like ice melting salts, yard fertilizers and weed killers. But today I want to direct your attention to something we really should consider not using at all if we want to sustain the diversity of fresh foods we eat.
The media has recently stepped up coverage of a serious problem facing not only us here in North America, but also anywhere else where domesticated bees are used for the pollination of crops. Bee colonies around the world have been failing at an increasingly alarming rate over the last several years. As a result, we could see dramatic impacts on food crops in the future unless this problem is addressed.
So what’s the problem and how do we fix it? It is both simple and terribly complicated. We are using a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, neonics for short, which are now regarded as harmful if not fatal to insects like bees (they are after all insecticides). By weakening the bees with exposure to such chemicals, they may become more susceptible to other common bee killing diseases like Varroa mites and Nosema or suffer from Colony Collapse Disorder. Some bee keepers saw 50% of their commercial hives fail over the last couple winters.
It would be a simple solution to just not use such chemicals as they have started to do in Europe, but the fact is that many of the plants sold today are grown in soil soaked in neonics – even ones marketed as “bee friendly!” Fortunately some retailers are starting to label plants grown in neonic laden soil and that is a good start. But that may not be enough.
As a bee keeper, I can certainly avoid using such products or buying them for my yard and garden. I can’t, however, have that same expectation of everyone – including residential neighbors, nearby farmers, or other businesses – that are within flying distance of my hives. All it takes if for my bees to find a neonic tainted nectar or pollen source close by and they will return to their hive and expose others to the toxins, including developing larvae.
If you want to help save our bees, make sure to look for neonic labeling on plants and if you don’t see it, ask; start a colony in your yard to help increase local pollinator populations; plant pollinator friendly, neonic free plants in your yard and garden; encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same (I suggest sharing some of your honey with them after harvest); and support local legislation that may start to restrict their use.