By Peg Keenleyside
The Ontario government recently announced that effective this July it will introduce the first regulatory restrictions on neonicotinoid pesticide use for agricultural application in North America.
“Neonics,” as this group of chemical-based pesticides are commonly called, were introduced in the 1990s and have now been definitively linked to high death rates in commercial honeybees, as well as a range of harmful effects in native bee species, bumblebees, birds, butterflies and earthworms to name a few.
Gardeners and organic farmers are celebrating the good news, the first in a while for a beleaguered environment where bees and other animal pollinators have the critical human food security task of pollinating about 60 percent of the world’s crop plant species.
The list includes the majority of the world’s fruits, many vegetables, seed crops and animal feed plants.
Recently published meta-analysis studies of global scientific research tell us that neonic insecticides – among other toxic outcomes for pollinators – affect bees’ brains, compromising their ability to forage, learn and remember navigation routes to and from food sources, according to the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides Report 2014.
Imidacloprid, a widely used name brand neonic, is currently used as a seed treatment on 95 percent of U.S. corn and canola crop seed, the majority of cotton, sorghum and sugar beets and about half of all soybeans.
It’s also being used on many North American fruit and vegetables, including apples, cherries, peaches, oranges, berries, leafy greens, tomatoes, potatoes, cereal grains, rice, nuts and wine grapes.
Neonics – mostly in the form of foliar spray – are widely used in the ornamental plant industry as well, and home gardeners are advocating for change in this practice.
A recent Vancouver Sun article notes Art Knapp’s Plantland is one of the first large nurseries in B.C. to tell their suppliers they are responding to consumer demands for “neonics-free” home gardens and will no longer sell plants treated with Imidacloprid or other neonics.
Gardeners and food security advocates have also been campaigning for pollinator animal survival by encouraging the planting of bee-friendly and other pollinator-feeding plants wherever possible, from industrial wasteland sites to highway roadsides to vacant city lots.
It’s been called “guerilla gardening,” and you can find out what kind of seeds and plants will attract and feed pollinators by visiting feedthebees.org.
We can also actively advocate for pollinator survival by introducing a few mason bees to our backyards or properties this month. Orchard mason bees are small, non-stinging, non-honey-making bees native to North America that pollinate fruit trees and early season crops.
Just a dozen or so of these hard-working creatures can pollinate thousands of blossoms in your neighborhood.
Keeping mason bees is an amazingly easy and kid-friendly practice and begins with setting up a small nesting box with paper nesting tubes alongside a small group of bee cocoons in a sunny sheltered spot in your garden.
Find out more about getting started with mason bee keeping by visiting West Coast Seeds in Ladner, where you can also buy mason bee cocoons, or by visiting the beekeeping information page on their website, westcoastseeds.com.
For a U.S. mail-order mason bee-keeping kit, visit the Oregon-based Orchard Bees at orchardbees.com.