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Ditch the Pesticides to Save Pollinators

30% OF THE WORLD'S CROPS WOULD NOT EXIST WITHOUT BEES.

Cherries, apples, melons, almonds, and blueberries, are on the long list of foods that would be gone from our earth forever without pollinators.

A recent survey of beekeepers reported colony losses of 44 percent from April 2015- April 2016 last year. This number has risen from the previous year.

The exact reason for continued loss of honeybees is still a hotly debated topic in the beekeeping world. Suffice it to say that parasitic mites, weakened genetics, viruses, bacterial resistance, and pesticides, have all proven part of the problem. There is great information to be had for the Googling if you'd like more detail on the full scope of the issue.

What's the #1 way you can help our pollinators without becoming a beekeeper? STOP USING PESTICIDES. PERIOD. Not just sometimes. ALWAYS. (Hey, I didn't say it would be easy!)

I get it. I really do. Having a lawn full of crab grass is ugly. Big patches of grubs under the soil are nasty. You want your yard free of ticks, bugs and weeds. You want it to be beautiful, thriving and safe for your pets and family. There are ways, healthy, chemical free ways, to do this. I'll go into that more below. But for now, here is the really, most important point: DITCH THE CHEMICALS.

Most of us don't want to think about the negative effects of chemicals we are dumping on our lawns, spraying on our flowers, or pumping into our soil. We just want stuff to look pretty and be easy and we DON'T WANT TO THINK ABOUT THE CONSEQUENCES.

Also, in our defense, the chemical and lawn companies want us to believe their stuff is safe. They want us to believe lies such as, "Safe if used according to label." Or, "Won't affect anything but the treated plant." But the FACT is, these chemicals are POISON. They are NOT safe for the soil, for the water, or for your family. The EPA won't even allow companies to CLAIM they are safe on the label. Many of these chemicals were developed during WW2 for use in warfare. Does that sound like something you want in your backyard?

Particularly bad for bees is anything labeled "systemic" and/or using a chemical family called NEONICOTINOIDS. These chemicals are sucked up by the plant roots (sometimes even treated on the seed) and make the entire plant, INCLUDING POLLEN AND NECTAR, toxic to all bugs, good or bad. And the effect lasts YEARS. Neonics, as they are called by beekeepers, may not kill the a honeybee, butterfly, or beneficial bug immediately. But they damage the nervous system, making them more susceptible to illness, disorientation, and early death. (Neonics are a neurotoxic to everyone with a brain, not just pollinators.)

Maybe it's true that in small amounts these poisons wouldn't harm the earth. Perhaps if only one person per town, or even per street, was using them. But Americans dump 100 million pounds of pesticides on their home lawns and gardens every year. Just think about that for a second. Every perfect lawn, every weed free yard, every street, every block, multiplied over and over and over? You're in major denial if you think that's not causing damage!

Here is a great article with detailed information about how toxic this stuff really is. Bottom line? Would you spray it on your dog, cat, or grandma? No? THEN PLEASE STOP USING IT.

So, what can you do instead?

Here are a some great alternatives:

  • CORNMEAL GLUTEN, which you can buy online, is a great weapon against annual weeds such as dandelions, crabgrass, and chickweed. It costs about the same as a big bag of pre-emergent lawn treatment, is used about the same way, and won't hurt established grass or plants, just annual weed seeds.

  • PLANT ALTERNATIVE LAWN in some areas, such as non gmo wildflower mix, clover, borage, cosmos, zinnias or poppies. Mix early and late bloomers for a season long show that your pollinators will thank you for! American Meadows has some gorgeous options (in bulk or smaller amounts to suit your budget) to get you started. The best part? NO MOWING. EVER.

  • PUT OUT SOME JAPANESE BEETLE TRAPS. Japanese beetles are the jerky parents of lawn grubs. The traps contain a harmless pheromone which attracts beetles like crazy. Dead beetles can't make nasty grub babies! They also make great protein for my chickens.

  • PULL POISON IVY BY HAND, OR GET A GOAT! This one is a tough one. I stopped using round up a few years ago and really found this one a challenge. But it can be done. Wear a disposable painters "onesie" or some easy-off long pants and shirt, with disposable gloves. Yank out all the poison ivy vines, bag them up, and trash them. If you get vines out by the root, they won't come back. It's a lot of work initially, but it beats having to spray over and over every season. Wash all clothing alone in HOT water and warm dryer. DO NOT BURN OR COMPOST WASTE. DO NOT TOUCH ANY DOORKNOBS, TOOLS, ETC. WITH CONTAMINATED GLOVES. You can also borrow or rent goats from a nearby farm. They love poison ivy and invasive vines/weeds! There are even companies that offer goat-landscaping, or "goatscaping" for this exact purpose. This option is a little more expensive, but its fun to watch the "work" and is a great environmentally friendly option. An average team of 4 goats can clear an acre of land in a long weekend. Just make sure they can't get near the plants you DON'T want eaten!

  • PLANT BENEFICIAL (OR SACRIFICIAL) plants. Introduce plants to your garden that repel pests, attract the bugs that eat them, or plant some "sacrificial" plants in an out of the way spot to attract bad bugs AWAY from your prized veggies or flowers. Here's a partial list of plants that fill the bill. Organic gardening books and websites will have more ideas for you.

  • Basil - to repel mosquitos and deter potato beetles

  • Borage - to repel tomato hornworms and deter squash bugs

  • Calendula - to deter cabbage moths and aphids

  • Chives - to deter aphids and Japanese beetles

  • Cilantro - to attract hoverflies

  • Dill - helps cabbage family and attracts beneficial insects

  • Radish - to deter cabbage beetles

  • Marigold - to repel cabbage moths, potato beetles and squash bugs

  • Nasturtium - to repel aphids, potato bugs and squash bugs, but also to attract a lot of bugs away from your other vegetables

  • Oregano - to deter a wide variety of insects

  • Parsley, Flat Leaf - to attract hoverflies

  • Rosemary - to repel bean beetles, cabbage moths and carrot flies

  • Sage - to deter cabbage moths and carrot flies

  • Sunflower, Autumn Beauty - to attract bug eating birds

  • Thyme - to deter cabbage moths

  • Zinnia - to attract Japanese beetles away from your beans

  • MULCH YOUR GARDEN with grass clippings, leaves, or old hay. (New bales may have weed seeds in them.) This will save water and prevent weeds from sprouting. You can also use store bought mulch, but the former stuff is more budget friendly and puts beneficial vitamins back into the soil as it breaks down. For added protection, put a layer of wet cardboard or newspaper down before mulching. Be sure not to mulch/paper too close to plant centers, or crowns. Leave an inch or two around the plant.

  • MAKE YOUR YARD MORE BAT, BEE, AND TOAD FRIENDLY by installing special houses for each critter. You can either buy these online or find instructions to make your own. (I'll be sure to post if we make some in future.)

  • USE POLLINATOR FRIENDLY PLANTS IN YOUR LANDSCAPE. (Check that the nursery doesn't treat with Neonics.) Shrubs and trees such as witch hazel, willow, poplar, cherry, plum, blueberry, and dogwood are all great sources of early pollen and/or nectar, when other forage is scarce. Planting a variety of plants and flowers which bloom in all four seasons also helps ensure "the good guys" have consistent food.

  • PROVIDE CLEAN WATER such as a shallow bowl, birdbath, or saucer, filled with pebble or decorative stones to prevent drowning.

  • LEAVE SOME AREAS NATURAL. Accept that some plants may not look perfect. Leave some piles of sticks, brush or even logs/stumps on the edge of your yard to give wood nesting beneficial bugs a place to stay.

So there you have it. Some of the many pesticide-free ways to keep your yard safe and beautiful all year.

Please share (constructive and kind) comments or feedback. I'd love to know your thoughts!

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