By Chad Hobbs
Farmers have taken some dings in recent years over bee colonies collapsing. Studies show, however, that pesticides applied by homeowners, backyard gardeners, landscape professionals, golf courses, and industrial or municipal applicators pose as great a risk to pollinators as chemicals applied on farm lands.
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) states the greatest threats occur when broad-spectrum insecticides are applied to crops, weeds, or other plants while they are in bloom; when they are applied during the daylight hours when pollinators are foraging; and when chemical spray drifts onto colonies.
The KDA provides the following suggestions to help minimize risks to pollinators:
• Be aware of honey bee hives or habitats for other pollinators near fields to be treated with pesticides.
• Use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and economic thresholds to determine if insecticides are required to manage pests. When insecticides are required, consider using insecticides with low toxicity to bees, short residual toxicity, or repellent properties towards bees.
• Avoid dusts and wettable powder insecticide formulations if possible. Granular and liquid formulations are safer for pollinators since granules are not typically picked up by bees, and liquids dry onto plant surfaces.
• Pesticides toxic to pollinators should be applied when bees are less active. Pollinators are most active during daylight hours between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. and when the temperature is over 55 degrees.
• Avoid applying when low temperatures will allow dew formation. Dew may re-wet pesticides and increase pollinator exposure.
• Minimize pesticide drift. Do not spray on windy days, not only can this cause risks to pollinators, but it is not economical to the applicator either since the chemical is not applied where it is needed.
• Consider alternatives to talc/graphite in seed planters. The talc and graphite can erode the insecticide treatment off of the seeds, creating insecticide-containing dust that can drift onto flowering plants and into hives.
• Minimize spraying non-crop areas and buffer zones which provide both feeding and nesting habitats for native pollinators.
• Encourage or consider planting bee forage. Plant diverse, native flowering plants, trees or shrubs to improve pollinator forage, especially in non-farmable or non-crop areas. Doing so provides pollinator forage and may also lure pollinators away from areas being treated with chemicals.
• Consider interseeding pastures, selecting cover crops, and establishing pollinator forage plants in buffer zones to provide high-quality pollinator forage.
• If planting cover crops, consider adding flowering plants into the mix, including milkweed. Even a small percentage of flowering plants can provide a considerable amount of forage for pollinators. Milkweed species are the only hosts for monarch butterfly caterpillars.
• Alter mowing plans to provide cover for migratory birds and pollinators. This practice can be done by delayed mowing or reduced mowing or no-mowed swaths. This will enhance native flowering perennials, trees, and shrubs as forage and native pollinator habitats.
• Bees are attracted to dandelions. By mowing the grass first before spraying chemicals on your yard, you will remove the flowers which may attract bees to both their bloom and the chemicals applied to the yard.
One of the biggest things that back yard gardeners can do to protect pollinators is find an alternative to Sevin Dust. Not only does it kill bees, but they can take it back to the hive on them before it does. If it must be used, avoid getting it on vegetable or other plant blooms.
These are just a few of the things we can all try to do to help protect bees and other pollinators that are so crucial not just for farmers but for us all.
Over 90 crops in our country depend on pollinators for reproduction. Whether it’s 1,000 acres or 1,000 small gardens, chemical applications can have devestating effects when they fall into careless, misinformed hands.