There’s no doubt that bees are crucial to the smooth functioning of our environment as they pollinate plants, fruits, and vegetable gardens. However, most gardens, plants or crop fields are treated with heavy use of pesticides to keep them safe from unwanted insects or pests.
These pesticides protect plants, but at the same time, they are a risk to the lives of bees. If bee poisoning takes place when the flowers are blooming, it may directly, and severely, impact the pollination process.
That’s why it’s essential to avoid such harmful chemical substances, instead go for something more eco-friendly. All you need to do is understand the relative toxicity and the effects of the products you are using.
Pesticide toxicity is the ability of the substance to cause harm or illness, measured as acute contact toxicity values.
Pesticides are set as slightly toxic, moderately toxic, highly toxic, and nontoxic to adult bees.
The EPA prohibits the use of all pesticides that are toxic to bees at the time of pollination. Simply read the label behind the products, and avoid using toxic pesticides that are determined to have toxicity levels less than 11 micrograms per bee.
Also, when we have a range of alternative products that serve the purpose without causing any toxic effects on bees while being easy to use and budget-friendly at the same time, why not avoid harmful pesticides that are lethal to those little creatures?
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How Pesticides Affect Bees
As stated above, chemical pesticides are extremely hazardous for bees. When a bee sits on flowers that are treated with pesticides, the harmful elements of the pesticides attack the nervous system of the bee in a way that disorients it, further damaging the bee’s memory and thought process. This poisoning leaves them in a struggling state wherein they can’t even find their way back to their hives, thereby collapsing their colony. Different pesticides impact the physical well-being of the bees in different manners, eventually proving fatal for them.
If you find high numbers of bees dead in close proximity to their hive or at the opening of the hive, it is a major sign of bee poisoning – wherein the underlying cause for this mass death is chemical pesticides. Another major symptom that the bees have been poisoned, and are suffering from the harsh effects of pesticides is when they move in a very jerky motion.
In cases where the bees don’t die, they may be affected by the action of the pesticides, further transporting it to their colonies in the form of contaminated nectar, or poisoned pollen or simply carry the pesticide on their body. As a result, the whole colony gets affected by the adverse effect of the pesticide, ending up in the death of a complete colony.
Pesticides that are not safe for bees
Belonging to a category of chemicals known as organophosphates, Diazinon is a strong pesticide that has been used in the USA since the year 1956. The residential use of the chemical was banned back in 2004 for getting rid of garden insects and pests. It still is being used in commercial fields and gardens in various forms and under many names. It can be formulated as granules, dust, liquids, seed dressings, concentrates, and cattle ear tags.
It is toxic to bees and strongly affects their nervous system. The chemicals that allow the smooth functioning of the nervous system of the bees get affected immediately when exposed to diazinon. As a result, bees lose control over their brains and nervous system, which eventually ends up in death. Apart from bees, Diazinon is harmful to birds, and most other insects too.
Permethrin is a chemical that’s effective against a variety of insects. It’s a manmade chemical that looks quite like the pyrethroids, i.e natural substances with insecticidal actions. They quickly paralyze bees by harming their nervous systems and creating a knock-down effect on them. It’s poisonous for their stomachs when ingested while being a contact poison when touched. It kills their eggs, larvae and even full-developed bees.
Acephate or Orthene
Acephate is used on citrus trees, food crops, as a seed treatment, and more. Sold in several forms including powders, liquids, tablets, granules and water-soluble packets, Orthene kills insects on touching or eating it. Acephate affects the nervous system of the bees, leading to over-activity in their brain, muscles, and nerves. It is actually absorbed into crops and plants, thereby entering the body of the bees via nectar when they feed on those plants.
Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is effective in killing insects but is also harmful to bees. Bees can even die on coming in contact with the same. When they try to remove the chemical from their bodies, their exoskeletons are cut by the action of DE, eventually killing the bees.
However, when DE is applied to plants, the bees usually avoid the blossoms that have been treated with the pesticide. But the chances of DE getting on the bee’s body are still high, covering it with slick hair that is responsible for preventing dehydration of body fluids. A safe way to use DE is to sprinkle it on the ground around the plants that need to be treated.
Neonicotinoids, or nicotine-like, are pesticides that have been widely used for the past 50 years for keeping crops safe from insects. However, it’s highly toxic and addicting for bees. It’s harmful to their health and affects their central nervous system to hamper their movement, disrupt memory, or even kill them.
The fact that bees are more driven towards neonicotinoids than their food source makes it even more harmful. The Environmental Protection Agency has recently banned 12 neonicotinoid pesticides manufactured by popular brands, including Valent, and Bayer.
Pesticides that are safe for bees
Vinegar is highly a very efficient weed killer due to its acidic composition. Whether it’s white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar, you can apply them to weeds you want to kill. Simply put the solution in a spray bottle or in a plant watering can, further applying it to the desired area.
Apart from being totally safe for the bees, Epsom salt is a non-toxic fertilizer that boosts pepper and tomato plants. It’s rich in magnesium, while also effective in keeping snails and slugs off your plants. All it takes is to sprinkle salt around the base of the plants. For the leaves, go for a solution of water and salt to get rid of beetles and other pests.
Neem is no less than a boon for the gardener! The fact that it doesn’t put bees and other pollinators to harm while working at removing mites and aphids, as well as preventing fungal infections like powdery mildew makes it a great option. Unlike most artificial pesticides, it breaks down easily, leaving no lasting residue. Make sure you don’t go for a solution that constitutes more than 3% oil as neem is quite powerful in its action.
Chrysanthemums have got pyrethrin, i.e. a strong compound that keeps pests away. One can plant it in the garden or simply make it into tea solution and spraying it onto the plant leaves once it cools down.
Eucalyptus oil has been used for a long time as a natural insect repellent that’s perfect even for the human body. Similarly, it works amazingly well when it comes to keeping unwanted bugs away from plants due to the pungent smell. Some other effective essential oils are rosemary, orange, and peppermint. You can apply essential oils directly on the plants or sprinkle them using a spray bottle by making a solution of oil and water.
A few helpful measures to take
A few simple measures will help you keep your plants safe while making sure you don’t harm the bees at all.
It’s always an option to install floating row covers that float over your garden, allowing sunlight to reach the plants but stop the pests from entering. Another hack is to go for bug traps, throwing them away when they get full of bugs. By keeping your garden weed free it offers less for bugs to feed on and makes it harder for pests to hide.
Aluminum foil can be very effective in repelling aphids. All you need to do is cut it into smaller strips, further wrapping them around the plant bases that seem to be affected with pests. Another idea is to mix small pieces of foil with the mulch, allowing the light reflections to drive pests away by confusing them.
If you can’t avoid the use of pesticides completely, you can still be a little careful and ensure the safety of bees. For example, you can spray the pesticides at times when the bees are in their hives, mainly during very early mornings or at night.
If a specific plant seems to be infected by pests but sits close to a plant that your bees eat from, try not to treat it all the way around. Bees eat only from blooming plants, so you can freely treat plants that haven’t bloomed yet with whatever pesticides needed to save it from pests.
Also, always make sure that you dump out the sprays instead of letting them form a puddle on the ground or in a water source that the bees drink from.