Home > Great Big Greenhouse Blog > July 2014 > BONNIE GARDEN--Save the Bees!

BONNIE GARDEN--Save the Bees!

As I sat in my garden the other day, suddenly something struck me—how still it was.  Not a bumblebee, honey bee, butterfly or even hummingbird in sight.  I have a patch of Bee Balm that is about 4 foot around.  Normally there is a traffic jam of insects trying to get to it.  My catnip was in full bloom—usually another butterfly/bee magnet.  Nothing.  And I double-checked my squash—all those tiny little baby squash that I saw had shriveled and dropped off.  Because they did not get pollinated.  And I felt a little scared. Since then I’ve seen a few bumblebees.  Not one single honey bee.  Not one.

About seven or eight years ago, the bee population began to die out in a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder.  Since then, it is estimated that some areas have lost as much as 70% of their bee population.  While experts are finally beginning to point the finger at commonly used pesticides called neonicitinoids, we compound the problem when we fail to read the directions on garden products.

For example, did you read the news story in 2013 about the massive bee die-off in Wilsonville, Oregon?  It seems a landscape company incorrectly sprayed trees that were in bloom.  Experts estimate over 50,000 bees and other pollinators were killed. 

Not even a week later, a beekeeper in Elmwood, Ontario, lost the bees in 600 hives—that’s 37 million (that’s right-MILLION) bees.  This time experts point the finger at pesticides used in nearby corn fields. 

When I read stories like this, I get worried.  Most of my very favorite fruits and vegetables need bees—almonds, peaches, pears, walnuts, grapes, apples, strawberries, watermelons, cucumbers, squash, cantaloupe, blackberries, raspberries.  As a matter of fact, one-third of our food supply comes from plants that need to be pollinated in order to set fruit.  And this is just food we’re talking about.  It gets even scarier when we add flowers into the mix.

Part of being an organic gardener is to minimize my impact on the environment so the first thing I do is try to plant a lot pollinator-friendly flowers.  Planting a wide variety of pollen producing plants will attract more bees (and hummingbirds and butterflies).  Although this is not a complete list by any means, some good attractors are:  Bee balm, aster, goldenrod, sunflower, marigold, zinnia, butterfly bush, cosmos, coneflower, black-eyed Susan, milkweed, salvia—even vegetables like cucumber, squash and melon.  Most herbs--like mint, lavender, oregano, chives, thyme—should be allowed to bloom as they are also very pollinator attractive.

Since bees also need access to a water source, I keep a birdbath filled.  If I had a pond or fountain, that would work, too.  Even a light misting of small trees and shrubs first thing in the morning can help.

Most important of all, however, I minimize my use of pesticides and always read the label directions.  Even mild organic products can kill bees if used improperly or at the wrong time.  On the rare occasions that I can’t keep on top of an insect pest and find it necessary to use an organic product, I always spray either very early in the morning (before 8 a.m.) or very late in the day—usually just about sundown—to avoid killing any bees.  If you choose to use a chemical pesticide, remember that systemic pesticides are absorbed into the plant and can make it into the pollen.  From there a bee can take the contaminated pollen back to the hive where it is fed to just hatching bees who are the most vulnerable to its effects.  So perhaps systemics are better used on non-blooming plants.  A non-systemic powder pesticide can also cling to a bee who takes it back to the hive.

I can’t control what big corporations are spraying in their fields, but I can control what I do in my own yard.  My yard is as wildlife friendly as I can make it—and yes, bees, hummingbirds, ladybugs and butterflies are all wildlife.  Do I really want a bug free rose bad enough to kill all the bees?  Or do I rely on things like hand-picking which may not get all the bad bugs but certainly doesn’t kill any good ones?


Posted: 7/5/2014 by Bonnie Pega | with 2 comment(s)
Bonnie Pega
I know. It's scary, isn't it? Of course, it's not only the bees that suffer from what we unthinkingly spray, dust, or drench our plants with.
7/12/2014 12:18:24 PM

Mary Faggart
As I was deadheading the monarda this morning, hoping for another flush of bloom, I realized I haven't seen many butterflies this year either. The dill is usually stripped by the feeding caterpillars, but there's nothing. Only yellow jackets and a few bumblebees.
7/11/2014 7:59:09 AM

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