If you've been following my blog for a while, you know I have three gardens: one is my front landscape, one is specifically for butterflies, and one is for veggies to feed my family. The landscape and butterfly gardens are also a favorite haunt of many different kinds of insects, including bees.
I get excited when I see bees these days, because worldwide, they're in decline, just like butterflies. Beekeepers have been reporting a 30 to 50 percent loss of their hives. That's staggering, and it means trouble for our food industry. We are much more dependent on bees than most people realize for our fruits and vegetables. Losing them would mean a huge hole in the food web, and we could find ourselves quite literally starving.
Research is pointing at systemic insecticides called neonicotinoids, which infiltrate all parts of the plants on which they are used. That includes the pollen which bees collect and eat. This mass application of a pesticide is having a ripple effect that, ultimately, harms our food supply rather than helping it.
Pesticides are not a new threat. In 1962, Rachel Carson published a book called Silent Spring, which addressed the negative effects of pesticides on birds. More than fifty years later, we're still fighting this fight, and it's hard to understand why.
Bee-ing the Solution
What can you do? Well, you can do what I did: plant native-plant gardens, and vow to go pesticide-free. There are many articles and resources on environmental gardening, and the results are healthier for you and your planet. Share your yard with insects and wildlife, and form a mutual respect for your wild neighbors. (Most bees are actually quite docile - too busy dotting your flowers in search of pollen to be bothered with you!)
There are caveats to bee- and butterfly-friendly plant claims. A recent article in Organic Gardening caught my attention on this subject, and I did some investigating. The environmental group Friends of the Earth tested a small sampling of plants purchased from major chain stores like Home Depot and Lowe's. They found neonicotinoids in over half of the plants tested, even though the plants were labeled "bee friendly." So, a warning: although that species of aster might be favored by bees, the specimen you're looking at could poison them.
Your best bet is to find plants from reputable garden centers that use no pesticides on their bee-friendly stock ... or from a friendly, local gardener who does the same. Neonicotinoids can stay present in plant tissue for several years, so you could be doing harm to the bee and butterfly populations without even realizing it. Make sure that what you put into your garden is truly organic and pesticide-free. The bees will thank you by making sure your flowers, fruits and vegetables come back fuller and more robust each year.