Saving the Bees

The puzzle of recent years—what’s killing the bees?—appears to be close to solution.

Scientists have said that the cause of the bees’ mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) could be a combination of factors. The possible explanations, however, always include uses of pesticides that have some beneficial effects in agriculture, but that are toxic to both bumblebees and honeybees.

Both kinds of bees are essential to the success of about one-third of U.S. food crops. As the bees die, our food supply is subject to very serious threat.

Increasingly, the focus is on neonicotinoids, a class of chemicals that are used as systemic insecticides in both commercial agriculture and residential gardening.

This year, an estimated 500,000 bees were found dead or dying in Oregon. Ironically enough, this largest known incident of bumblebee deaths, occurred during National Pollinator Week, an annual celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture soon confirmed that a neonicotinoid insecticide, dinoterfuran, caused the bee die-off and announced a temporary ban on its applications on landscape trees and shrubs, nursery and greenhouse plants, turf grass, forests and agricultural crops.”

Despite the growing evidence of the negative impact of these pesticides on bee populations, and the European Commission’s continent-wide suspension of neonicotinoids, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been looking for other explanations of CCD and has established a 2018 deadline for completing its reviews of the major neonicotinoids.

Earlier this year, commercial beekeepers and environmental groups petitioned the EPA to suspend uses of these pesticides, and, early in July 2013, a coalition of environmental groups urged President Obama to direct the EPA to follow the European Commission’s lead by suspending uses of neonicotinoids.

This is high drama, indeed, with great consequences for our food supply and our gardens as well. There are of course several sides to significant issues, and this one is no different. Restricting applications of widely used synthetic chemical pesticides will impact farmers’ practices and constrict the revenue streams for manufacturers of agricultural chemicals. It will be interesting to see what arguments they will devise to justify the systematic killing of a critically important group of farmworkers: the honeybees.

To help save the bees, do your homework.

• Download and read “Bee Protective Habitat Guide” (www.beyond This free publication provides information on CCD and pollinator-friendly flowers.

• Download and read “Help the Honeybees: A List of Pesticides to Avoid”  ( This is another free publication with a surprising list of popular pesticides that contain neonicotinoids.

• Take the Pesticide-Free Zone Pledge and post a Pesticide-Free Zone sign in your garden ( Bees and other beneficial insects) will thank you!


Here are several websites with up-to-date information on CCD and related topics, e.g., pesticides.

Beyond Pesticides

Center for Food Safety

Melissa Garden

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation

Pacific Horticulture’s “Pollinators: An information and Action Guide for West Coast Gardeners” (scroll to the end of the article to click on “Pollinator Projects for Citizen Scientists”

Here is a 4:25 video clip of Nature’s pollinators at work: The Beauty of Pollination.




2 thoughts on “Saving the Bees

  1. Thank you for your Bee alert. I raise them on my property in Big Sur. I can see first hand their decline. It’s a National crisis with far grater negative effect than the loss of profit for chemical industry. More research is needed.
    Love your column, read it every Saturday in The Herald. Thanks for your leadership with the UCSC Arboretum Associates.
    Sam Farr.
    Rep. Sam Farr (CA-17)
    US House of Representatives
    Representative Farr,
    Thanks for your comments. I certainly hope that researchers will soon confirm the threats to the bees and federal regulations will protect these industrious farmworkers.
    I’d like to share your comment on my website . Please let me know if you have any objection.
    Tom Karwin
    Love your work, feel free to share. Bees are essential to productive agriculture, their sustainability is of national concern and importance. We will see that essential research is supported.
    Sam Farr.

  2. A grateful thank you for your column in today’s Herald. I especially appreciate the `“links” you provide at the end of the column so readers can better educate themselves on bee pollinators and pesticides to avoid.
    One of the most frightening practices I see in the residential garden is the use of the systemic rose care products. I have seen professional gardeners walk out of the retail nursery centers with carts full of Bayer 3-in-1 that I know will be applied to their client’s plantings with nary a concern for the habitat they will be disrupting.
    Some years ago I was moving to Neem Oil for control of insects on roses but was told that even the organic can be disruptive to bee activity. Now I try to use a mix of Peppermint soap and oil.
    I did pull up the list at on the pesticides to avoid and saw Merit. I have utilized the services of a licensed pesticide company to root-inject Merit on Birch trees for aphids and for spider mite and thrips on Myricas. Both have been very successful but now I am concerned. The applications have been once in the spring to coincide with the most susceptible new growth.
    Again, thank you for a great column.
    Grace Silva-Santella, Silva-Santella Gardening
    P.S. Cindy Lloyd reminded me of a great article in this issue of Pacific Horticulture that came in this weeks’ mail titled “Supporting West Coast Pollinators” membership, just $28, includes four great periodicals!
    Yes, Bayer 3-in-1 is on the Center for Food Safety’s list of pesticides to avoid. I see several widely used products on that list. No wonder the bees are having problems!
    Have you confirmed that neem oil is harmful to bees, and that peppermint oil is OK? (I don’t have any reason to doubt that.)
    Evidently, anything listed could be a problem, because they are systemics. Even something that’s injected into roots (like Merit) could get into the bees’ system.
    Best wishes,
    P.S. Yes, I read the Pacific Horticulture article yesterday. I like the citizen scientist approach for involving people.
    I occasionally write book reviews for PacHort.
    Even with peppermint soap I try to avoid spraying when I see any active bee foraging but that’s not always possible with my timing in client’s gardens.
    Though I don’t have readily handy the info I saw some time ago about the neem oil toxicity I know I read it in some credible sources. Perhaps someone in this forum can confirm or deny.
    I suppose the best practice is to educate ourselves, use “least” toxic products, even when labeled organic, and if there’s a problem plant that warrants ongoing spraying, get rid of the plant.
    Neem oil is toxic to bees if they are exposed to direct spray or wet residue.(it’s on the label as per law). Its best to spray at night so residue will dry before bees are out foraging. Another “soft” or organic product, Spinosad, has a similar warning on the label. Generally, read the label before using any pesticide, and check for potential hazards to bees or other beneficial insects.
    Greg Simmons, entomologist and gardener
    Grace, Greg,
    Thanks for your info! I learn more every day.
    I’d like to share this email exchange on my website . Please let me know if you have any objection.
    Tom Karwin
    It’s fine by me. Glad to help us all be better stewards of our natural environment. Grace
    It’s OK with me too.
    Last, and you may already have the UC IPM website on your blog, but it is excellent and has the most accurate information in terms of technical, legal and practical issues for controlling pests in California. I recommend everyone go there for information on both home garden and agricultural pests.
    Like Grace (and everyone in MTGC) I enjoy your columns too!
    Greg Simmons

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