Recently I posted about the plight of butterflies, especially that aerial tiger, the monarch butterfly. I mentioned that I’m trying to certify our backyard as a way station. But while I’m at it, bees also play a vital role in planning a pollinator garden.
You may be aware that bees have been disappearing over the last several decades. And we haven’t known why–that is, until now.
But let’s go back to 1958, when marine biologist Rachel Carson received a copy of a letter her friend, Olga Huckens, had sent to the Boston Herald, describing the aftermath of mosquito spraying in Duxbury, Massachusetts, the previous summer: the wipeout of songbirds, bees and other helpful insects. Ironically, the mosquitos returned in full force. Olga asked Rachel if she knew anybody in Washington, DC, with influence who could halt the spraying.
Out of this came Silent Spring, perhaps the greatest American nature classic since Thoreau’s Walden. It would catch the eye of the youthful president, John Kennedy, who would meet Rachel Carson with his team of advisors. Ultimately, her book would lead to the banning of DDT.
Unfortunately, other countries didn’t join the ban and its use continues abroad. But now there are new, perhaps even more devastating pesticides at work called neonics, sprayed on hundreds of crops you and I eat. Seeds get coated with these pesticides, infesting both soil and pollen, killing off bees, butterflies, and other insect friends.
The good news is that in 2013, the European Union enforced its newly imposed two year ban on some of the leading neontics.
The bad news is that in America, the EPA has been dragging its feet, despite President Obama’s directive to prioritize its review of neonics.
Let me expand on the fallout of neonics, since they threaten not only our insect friends, but you and me.
When you resort to neonics, not only do you kill off bees, for example, but you impair their immune system, making them vulnerable to disease.
But it doesn’t stop there. Neonics linger in the soil, water and plants for many years. As such, they threaten whole ecological systems that include earthworms, amphibians (under severe threat), and birds.
Neonics, according to the European Food Safery Authority, “may affect the developing nervous system” of children.
What may surprise you is that you may be harboring neonics in your own yard when you purchase plants at box stores like Lowes and Home Depot, According to a study launched by Friends of the Earth, on whom I’ve drawn for some of my information, “many of the so-called ‘bee friendly’ plants we grow in our gardens have been pre-treated with bee-toxic neonics at doses up to 220 times higher than those used on farms.”
Unfortunately, we’re facing an uphill fight, with giant petrochemical and seed corporations like Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer devoting huge sums to divert attention and pedal influence.
The EPA, for example, recently gave the green light to Bayer, based on a study primarily funded by the corporation!
I haven’t even talked about the exponential use of GMO’s used massively in soy and corn production with their built-in resistance to powerful herbicides, thus allowing for their use.
There’s so much more I’d like to say, but let me end with some sobering facts regard lhoney bees:
Pollinators are essential for our crops. Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are the grand masters, one hive of 50,000 bees capable of cross-pollinating twenty-five million flowers in a single day! No other insect comes close.
Now think about what you maybe had for breakfast: cereal, fruit juice, toast? Maybe you had almonds or berries topping your granola. Hey, honey bees made that possible.
For supper, cukes, zukes, squash?
Or how about that cream in your coffee from clover-foraging cows?
Or maybe your beef?
Bees helped put these foods on your table!
In nature at large, some 250,000 known plant species exist. Of these, three quarters rely on pollinators to reproduce.
Bottom line is that more than 100 crops comprising 90% of our global food supply rely on bees for pollination.
You get where I’m going with this. No bees, no food, unless you like eating bark.
Now I hate to tell you this, but our bee population has declined as much as 70% just in the last several decades. Given the stress imposed on bee colonies by neonics and GMO’s, we may have reached the tipping point.
While other factors weigh in like electromagnetic radiation–think cell phones—and climate change that encourages pathogens, organic bee colonies aren’t experiencing these huge losses in bees or collapsing colonies. In short, pesticides appear to be the villains.
Rachel Carson not only warned us 45 years ago of a world in which there would be no birds to serenade spring, but of a world in which “there was no pollination and there would be no fruit.”
What can you do?
Beautify your landscape with bee friendly indigenous, organic plants using organic starts or untreated seeds.
Shun products with neonicotinoids. Read labels carefully.
At your grocery and garden centers, opt for organics plants and produce.
Together, each of us doing what we can, we may be able to avert beemeggedon and a fruitless fall.