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Bees in the Environment and Insecticides

How You Can Help Our Small Garden Creatures

Bees, Wasps, Butterflies, Moths. These tiny creatures are essential to our well-being. They pollinate fruits, nuts, vegetables, alfalfa, and even spices by feeding on the plants’ nectar and pollen. There is a lot to know about bees. There are more than 300 species of native bees in Minnesota! Virtually all bee species are non-aggressive, if undisturbed, and many cannot sting at all. In contrast to native bees, Honey Bees are bred and cultivated in bee hives for pollination and honey. Yellow jackets are wasps, not bees, and are the ones attracted to sweets at our picnics but they are also beneficial to the environment.

You may have heard that both Native bees and Honey bees are in decline.

There has been much debate about the causes of the decline. There is no one cause cited but the widespread use of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, is at the forefront in the debates. A recent article, “Beyond Pesticides: Protecting Health and the Environment with Science, Policy and Action, http://bit.ly/1eWlf0e, outlines the concerns. When bees are exposed to this insecticide, it makes them forget how to forage and navigate. They get confused and cannot get back to their nests. These insecticides are now banned in Europe, but they are still used extensively in the United States agriculture and in products found for the home garden.

But, as in every debate, there is a flip side to that coin. Researchers are just beginning to understand what is affecting the bees and we can’t pin it on just one cause, as expressed in an article by Forbes Magazine http://onforb.es/1mYDju9.

The truth is you seldom need insecticides in the home garden. Japanese beetles have declined 95% in recent years because of our harsh winters. If you find a pest you really cannot tolerate, spot-spray the pest itself, not the flower.

If you want to attract more pollinators to your garden, here are a few tips:

  • Use native plants and plants not treated with neonicotinoids. Blue, purple, white and yellow are the favorite colors of pollinators.
Echinacea

Echinacea

  • Include a variety of plants that will flower all season. There are dozens!
Goatsbeard

Goatsbeard

  • Buy grass seed that includes clover, and don’t use herbicides to kill broadleaf weeds like clover. Pollinators love clover.

Let’s not be afraid of bees, but rather welcome them and other pollinators like butterflies. Together, we can create both a healthy ecosystem and beautiful gardens!

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