Do you enjoy biting into a crisp apple? Snacking on sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts or cashews? Is dinner not complete without a side of squash, peas or green beans? Would you miss munching on a cool slice of melon or having the bright flavors of berries burst on your tongue? None of these foods would exist without the help of a pollinator. Pollinators transfer pollen from one flower to another, fertilizing the plant so it can grow and produce fruit. "Honeybees, among other pollinators such as bats, birds, butterflies, and bumblebees, are responsible in one way or another for the pollination of approximately 100 crops," states conservation biologist, Dr. Reese Halter, Ph.D.
Most pollinators are beneficial insects such as bees, butterflies, flies, beetles, wasps, ants, and moths. Their existence is invaluable for without them our food supply would end. According to E.O Wilson author of Forgotten Pollinators, "Every third bite of food you take, you can thank a bee or other pollinator for." Without the work of bees many plants, including many of our food crops, would die off.
But the times they are a changing… Corporate giants are in the process of poisoning the environment, killing our pollinators and putting our food production in danger. On March 10, 2011 scientists working for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) cited in a report titled Bees Under Bombardment (1) that the collapse of honey bee colonies had become a world wide phenomena and would continue unless humans worked to restore habitats for bees and stopped using harmful pesticides. The report called for profound changes in how humans manage the planet.
"A new class of systemic, neurotoxic pesticides – neonicotinoids – is known to be particularly toxic to bees. And since their introduction in the 1990s, neonicotinoids have rapidly taken over the global insecticide market. Neonicotinoids like imidacloprid and its successor product clothianidin are used as seed treatments in hundreds of crops from corn to almonds, as well as in lawn care and flea products. These products can persist for years in the soil, and, as systemics, permeate the plants to which they are applied to be expressed as pollen, nectar and guttation droplets (like pesticide dew). In other words, this class of pesticides is nearly pervasive, and honey bees are exposed in many different ways." (2)
"Two prominent examples, Imidacloprid and Clothianidin, are used as seed treatments in hundreds of crops, and virtually all of today's genetically engineered Bt corn is treated with neonicotinoids. Bee colonies began to vanish in the U.S. shortly after the Environmental Protection Agency allowed these new insecticides on the market. Even the EPA itself admits that "pesticide poisoning" is a likely cause of bee colony collapse." (3) Yet, they refuse to act.
Birds are being affected too. According to a report written by Pierre Mineau, a retired senior research scientist at Environment Canada, published by the American Bird Conservancy. These chemicals are dangerous not only "for the most vulnerable bird species, they found, consuming even two corn seeds coated with Bayer's blockbuster neonic clothianidin can have lethal effects." His conclusion: Neonics are highly mobile and persistent once they are unleashed into ecosystems, they pose a serious threat to birds and the insects they feed on. The EPA has severely underestimated the danger and in other cases simply ignored it. (4)
Numbers of moths and butterflies are also suffering... On March 13, 2013, a story by Michael Wines in The New York Times (5) cites that the Monarch Migration Plunged to the lowest level in decades, a staggering 59 percent decline from the 7.14 acres of butterflies measured in December 2011. The decline in the North American monarch butterfly population has been linked to increased plantings of herbicide-tolerant GM crops, and overuse of the herbicide glyphosate, which is the key chemical in Monsanto's Roundup. Glyphosate is killing milkweed plants, upon which monarchs rely for habitat and food. Chip Taylor, director of the conservation group Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas and Omar Vidal, the head of the wildlife group’s Mexico operation both find the explosive increase in American farmland planted in soybean and corn genetically modified to tolerate herbicides alarming. “This is one of the world’s great migrations,” Taylor states. “It would be a shame to lose it.”
What can you do? 1. Stop poisoning your environment. Have you noticed large numbers of bees dead and dying on the ground? This is the result of pesticide use. Ban personal pesticide and fungicide use. Instead opt for organic solutions. You don't have to poison your environment to combat unwanted blights. Fight insect attacks with Neem Oil Extract Concentrate, an all natural, effective fungicide/pesticide made from the oil of the Indian Neem tree. Soap-Shield is another natural alternative. One of the oldest fungicides and bactericides, this fixed copper fungicide is a soluble copper fertilizer combined with a naturally occurring fatty acid that is PCO approved and will protect your plants from aphid attacks and other garden blights like powdery mildew, rust and black spot.
2. Support businesses that respect the environment. Buy organic brands. Selecting the organic choice not only supports companies that respect the environment, it keeps more pesticides from being introduced into the environment and encourages sustainable farming practices.
3. Buy Local and grow your own. Most smaller-scale farmers practice conscientious methods and engaging in practices that comply or exceed the requirements of organic farming. And you become god of all small things when you take on a garden of your own. The act of working with the earth, under the blue sky and helping something grow is very therapeutic. To witness the seed that you planted, peek through the soil as it becomes a young sprout is a joy everyone should experience. Tending a garden as your plants grow, flower, fruit and seed, is a way to forge a connection with nature that allows us to become grounded in the turning of the seasons. And what a better way to know what is being used in your environment and on your food?
4. Plant flowers. Provide a safe haven by planting plants that encourage bees and butterflies. If you have the space, leave a wild corner in your garden creating a habitat for birds and insects. Remember the definition of a weed is any plant that grows where you do not want it to grow. Milkweeds are the host plant for the monarch butterfly. Without milkweed, the monarch cannot exist. Contact the Live Monarch Foundation for a pack of free seeds. Simply send a self addressed stamped envelope to their address. Live Monarch Foundation – Seeds 3003-C8 Yamato Road #1015 Boca Raton, Florida 33434 OR visit their website livemonarch.com/free-milkweed-seeds.htm
5. Provide a home for your garden's pollinators by hanging a bat house or a bee box. Bats not only will pollinate your plants, they eat insects. In fact, one bat can eat between 600 and 1,000 mosquitoes and other insect pests in just one hour. The National Wildlife Federation has posted plans for making an inhabitable bat box at this link: Build a Bat Box
Many wild bees do not live in a hive but in small holes. Solitary bees, Mason Bees and Leafcutter Bees find holes that already exist and use them as homes. You can encourage these bees to live in your garden by providing nesting places. Hanging a bee box or providing hollow pieces of bamboo will welcome these small creatures to your garden. And there is no reason to be afraid of these bees. If left to themselves, they will not bother you but go about their work making honey and pollinating the flowers in the area they live. Check out this site for directions. Build a Bee Box
6. Host a Hive. Teem up with Habitat for Honeybees by allotting a place in your yard for a hive. Not only will this grant you the benefits of having healthy pollinators in your garden, it will provide a safe place for the hive to thrive. Hive hosting is gaining in popularity as more become aware of the plight of the honey bee and laws are being rewritten to allow urban beekeeping. New York City, Santa Monica, San Francisco, Seattle and Chicago all have lifted the ban on urban beekeeping.
7. Educate yourself. Stay in the know. The time to act is now so add your voice, sign petitions and vote for change! April 16, 2013 the biotech seed giants Monsanto and Bayer signed a series of cross-licensing deals to share certain crop biotechnology for weed and pest control. (6) These giants are not working for the good of the environment but for a profit. They need to be closely monitored by the public who is acting as their guinea pigs. (7) The EPA has grown increasingly lenient when it comes to regulating big Agra. It's time we hold them accountable. On March 18, 2013 the American Bird Conservancy called for a ban on neonicotinoids citing "significant environmental concerns" (8) forcing the EPA to reevaluate its registration of this class of insecticide. Manufacturers claim the American Bird Conservancy report depends on suspect science, and that a ban would be destructive to global agricultural production. The fight is on! Now is the time to add your voice. Write your congressman. Enlist them to act. Use this letter Congressman Ed Markey, Massachusetts 5th District wrote questioning EPA's Lisa Jackson as an example.