Have you noticed all the attention bees have been getting lately? A lot has been written about the plight of bees in North America, both in the press and social media. We have heard about:
– bee keepers losing their colonies due to suspected poisoning from chemicals used by farmers
– residual chemicals left on flowering plants meant to encourage bees into our gardens that are being sold at big box stores
– a new term called Colony Collapse Disorder
Is it all true and what does it mean for us, the average homeowner with a typical front and back yard garden?
First let’s go back to science class and let me explain about the chemicals being used. They are called Neonicotinoids. They are a class of synthetic insecticides designed to kill insects that are harmful to crops and they are widely used in the US and Canada. The chemicals attack the central nervous systems of the insects and are very effective on hard bodied pests.
I have learned that the difference with this type of insecticide is that there are many ways it can be used. Often is applied to the soil and then absorbed by the plant which then kills off key sap sucking insects and/or root feeding insects that can potentially damage the plant. Many thought this water soluble solution was a good one as it prevented over spray and concerns about insecticide spray drifting to other areas. Another even more cost effective method is to apply it directly to the seeds
contributing to the fact that the residual chemicals are found in the plants and therefore their pollen, nectar and leaves.
At first it appeared to affect bees on a low level and not kill them directly and since hive populations have fluctuated over history it was difficult to see a direct cause to the insecticides. But in recent years many bee keepers and environmentalists have been noticing the slow decline of honey bees and other pollinators.
After more studies it certainly appears, at the very least, to affect their forage for nectar and also affects their ability to locate their hives or nests therefore severely decreasing their effectiveness.
A challenging situation has been created since the plants need these very bees to pollinate the crops but in order to have a successful and profitable crop, farmers are forced to use these insecticides and in some cases they are unable to purchase seed that isn’t already treated.
This brings us from our food to our flowering plants. Many gardening enthusiasts, myself included, upon hearing about the decline of bees, have added a few of our favorite plants into our garden as well as into my designs for my customers. Then we learned that the plants carried by the big box stores have been grown by seeds also being treated by Neonicotinoids, leaving gardeners wondering if we are helping or hurting. Many retailers have agreed to better labeling of their plants to help us with our choices.
Some good news is on the horizon in Ontario. The province is stepping in to reduce the use of Neonicotinoids. An 80% reduction is planned for 2017 on our corn and soybean crops. With the increased pressure, Ontario is also looking at introducing new rules regarding the treated seed by July 1, 2015. While it is not the aggressive stance the European Union has taken in banning the chemicals, it certainly is a step in the right direction. I think it is important for all of us to stay informed and aware of this topic. The bees have been an indicator for our health. These changes are important to the bees but also to our food and ultimately our health. It’s not all about the bees!