Protecting Pollinators At Home And Afield

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More Ways To Safeguard The Food Chain

Bee friendly gardening is gaining momentum as awareness of pollinator problems becomes more widespread. The good news is that even a small patch of wholesome food and safe habitat can be of service to a surprising number of pollinators, especially if there are other hospitable patches nearby. On any scale, the basics are the same: don’t use toxic pesticides, do use safe, organically certified materials and products as needed, don’t plant anything that’s been treated with neonics, and do find sources for bee-safe plants and seeds.

These days, many independent nurseries can tell you with assurance whether their suppliers do or don’t use neonics and other toxic treatments. Box stores are another matter (see below), and caveat emptor most certainly applies. This applies both to plants and to supplies, since both pony-pack plants and weed-and-feed products are not always labeled in ways that make their contents plain.

Warnings That Look Like Reassurance

Home Depot is now asking suppliers to tag all plants treated with neonics (which are systemic, so every part of the plant is affected). The new tags say “This plant is protected from problematic aphids, white flies, beetles, mealy bugs and other unwanted pests by Neonicotinoids.” Ummm. What the new tags do NOT say is “This plant is potentially deadly to bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.” In plants grown from neo-nic-treated seeds and in some ‘simply’ treated with neonics, the neonics are even expressed in pollen and nectar, and thus their harmful effects do in fact impact visiting insects as well as hummingbirds, frogs that happen to alight on a leaf (where even more neonics are expressed), etc., etc., etc.

Again, it’s not news that gardeners can help create safe havens for bees and their buddies by not using toxic chemicals. The problem is that it’s not easy to know what’s in that spray bottle. For one thing, most pesticides available to homeowners are far more concentrated (as much as 120 times) than those allowed to farmers, making them that much more damaging. Because neonic products come in many guises and the chemicals come under many formulations, thus names, it’s not always clear that these toxins are included. Many lists of dangerous products exist (see the Xerces Society website below for a good starter guide).

Know The Enemy (And The Friends)

One way we can avoid at least some of this confusion is to buy plants only from sources that can assure you the plants are not treated with neo-nics. This goes for seeds too, since neo-nic damage continues even beyond the use of sprayed pesticides. Field exposure to the dust from agricultural use of treated seeds proves fatal or seriously damaging to bees and other pollinators, as well as to other beneficial insects that become by-kill. Since nearly all 90 million acres of US grown corn is from neo-nic treated seed, that’s not a minor issue. The EPA has developed new warning labels and procedures that could reduce risks and damage if followed, but there is no reliable way to make sure the new protocols are actually practiced.

Another way to keep our homes and gardens safe is to only use garden products that are OMRI certified. OMRI stands for Organic Materials Review Institute, an international nonprofit based in Eugene, Oregon. Producers of organic products pay to have products reviewed by OMRI’s team of experts. If the product is deemed eligible, the producer can use the OMRI seal of approval on all packaging, and consumers can trust that the product is safe.

So What Can I Doooooo????

How else can we help? For starters, support organic farming at farmers’ markets, in grocery stores, and by attending land use planning meetings when zoning issues threaten small farms with extinction. Join a land trust, support the American Farmland Trust, and/or local farm protection groups like PCC Farmland Trust here in the Northwest. Choose organic products of all kinds whenever possible. Voting with our wallets has always been the consumers’ most effective tool for making change.

Doubt that? Just check out the proliferation of organic foods and products in grocery stores and even pharmacies as well as nurseries and hardware stores. Not just boutique companies but even the huge corporations are getting onboard, albeit slowly. This sea change did not come about because some corporate department head decided it would be good for the planet. It happened because you and I made our values clear in the market place.

But Wait, There’s More!

Want to know more? For more practical, small-scale ideas that we as homeowners and gardeners can apply, check out these websites:

Of especially interest is Beyond Pesticide’s info link to help you find local pest services that offer safe alternatives to deadly pesticides and/or to manage the problem yourself using safe techniques:

Need some help with follow through? Take the pledge and join others in doing all we can to keep bees and other pollinators safe:

Upcoming EPA Webinar

The EPA will present a risk assessment of pesticide use (specifically for imidacloprid, the most heavily used systemic neo-nic worldwide) in a webinar on February 18th between 1:00 pm and 2:30 PM EST and you can catch it here:

For more information on what our government is doing to protect bees and other pollinators, check out the EPA’s website at

This entry was posted in Nutrition, pests and pesticides, Pollinators, Soil, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living. Bookmark the permalink.

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