Neonics Are Hunting Bees and Other Living Things
By now, we have all heard about the dire die-off hitting many species of bees. Although some of this problem can be traced to mites, virus and fungal diseases and the loss of foraging habitat, much focus has been on NEONICOTINOIDs (“neonics”). These chemical pesticides began to be used in the 1990s on agricultural crops and on nursery plant materials (shrubs, trees, flowers, etc.). Since 1999, they have become the most used pesticides in the world.
Previous research suspecting toxicity has been confirmed: neonics pose both acute and chronic risk to aquatic life and birds and are highly toxic to bees. Because they are water-soluble, they can move through the environment to nearby plants and water bodies if applied as a drench, and they can drift to surrounding areas if sprayed. They can also persist for months and even years and can accumulate from one season to the next. Their action is systemic, so they reach into all parts of the plants including the pollen and nectar of flowering plants.
For the past few years, much attention has been focused on this issue in the US. A study in 2014 showed that 51% of pollinator (flowering) plants sold at Home Depot, Lowe’s and Walmart contained problematic levels of neonics. So, instead of helping the bees, butterflies and humming birds by bringing home pollinator/nectar plants, gardeners were unknowingly serving up toxic chemicals! The EU released a comprehensive assessment in March 2018 and is suspending the use of most of these neonics on agricultural and organic food crops. Canada has already instituted bans. Our EPA is dragging its feet: a January 2017 review with primary input from the chemical industry concluded neonics pose “no significant risk” and the EPA seems ready to reregister their use for another 15 years.
Due to pressure from Xerces, Friends of the Earth, other organizations and consumers, some progress is being made: Home Depot will phase out plants containing neonics this year, Lowe’s will phase them out by Spring 2019, and BJs did so in 2014. Maryland and Connecticut have banned retail sales of these pesticides, as has Dover, NH, Ogunquit, Maine and many other cities.
Backyard gardeners can help in several ways:
- Avoid use of all pesticides around your home. Instead, seek out non-chemical alternatives
- Ask your nursery if potted plants—especially species that support pollinators—have been treated with neonicotinoids. Do not buy. When possible, purchase organic plants.
- Ask your local nursery to stop selling neonicotinoid products. Avoid products that include: imidacloprid (i.e. Merit), clothianidin, thiamethoxan, and acetamiprid.
- Request that landscape and gardening companies not use pesticides on your property and ask them to plant organic plants.
- Increase the pollinator habitat in your yard, including plants, water, and nesting areas.
- If purchasing seeds for planting, make sure the seeds have not been coated with neonics.
- Read up on the topic and actively advocate for regulations to limit/prohibit the use of these chemicals. Support research on organic alternatives.
Resources for more information:
- Pollinator Plants for the Northeast—with pictures and growing information.
- Attracting Native Pollinators---a wonderful resource book.
- How can neonics kill bees? Report.
- Beyond Pesticides Best newsletter for current regulatory information and action.
- Pollinator plants.
By: Maria Bartlett
Environmental Awareness Committee
Andover Garden CLub
How To Conserve Water And Still Have An Amazing Yard
Part of being a homeowner means you get to take care of your yard. Whether you’re really into landscaping or just want to keep your home’s value up, it’s something you have to take care of through maintenance and watering.
It’s the last part that’s becoming a problem. More communities are facing drought restrictions that last a while. How can you conserve water and still have an amazing yard? There are several ways, such as picking the right plants and using drip irrigation. But you first need to understand why conserving water is so vital right now.
Why Water Conservation Matters
Are things at the point where you really have to start changing the landscape around your home? That depends a little on where you live, but the overall answer is yes.
You know that you need clean water to drink, but so do the plants and animals that people depend on. Without enough water for irrigation, the food supply will dwindle. And as the population of the world grows, livestrong.com shows there’s more demand for water for all purposes.
But saving water is about more than just food. The more water you use for your yard, the more you pay for it. As communities use more and more water, you also spend more energy needed to pump the water from deeper and deeper in the ground. This starts to dry out more land, again putting crops and animals in jeopardy.
Things are bad, and they’re getting worse.
Then what can you do to help? Thankfully, you can still have an attractive outside while conserving water. First, you need to know a few terms.
Home Advisor has an excellent glossary of landscaping terms you need to know. For example, xeriscaping is designing a landscape perfect for drought-stricken areas. In other words, xeriscapes use less water while still looking great. Knowing these terms can help you work on a landscape on your own or with professionals.
Another key term you need to know is drip irrigation. Traditional watering sprays water over the grass and plants, allowing it to soak into the ground and support the plants. However, a lot of water is lost to evaporation or wasted on driveways.
With drip irrigation, you run pipes under the ground that slowly release water — it literally drips out. This gives your landscape the needed water while conserving it so you can save water (and money) while keeping your lawn green.
Other Landscaping Tips
Even with drip irrigation, there are additional ways to conserve water while maintaining your yard. HouseLogic explains that you should pick plants native to your area whenever possible because they’ve already adapted to your local climate. That means less water is needed to keep them green. You also want to pick plants that don’t grow as big. Again, this saves water. Other tips include:
● Use plenty of mulch to reduce evaporation and control weeds that steal moisture from your yard.
● Make paths out of porous materials so rain can soak deeper into the ground.
● For grass, pick Bermuda or buffalo varieties since these use less water. Also, mow less often so the grass’ roots have more shade.
● Water in the early morning so less water is lost due to heat, especially in summer.
Save Water & Your Lawn
Drought restrictions aren’t just annoying — they’re a sign that something bad is happening to the water supply. You need to do something, not just to help the planet, but to help your yard and wallet. Start by knowing some landscaping terms, especially drip irrigation. Then pick the right plants, set up the right landscaping, and enjoy saving water and your lawn.
Why Care About the Bee Crisis and How You Can Help
You may have noticed that there has been an increase in talk about bees in recent years. Statements are being made about how there is a very real and credible threat to their existence, with scientists, conservators, and agriculture experts in agreement. Multiple species are experiencing record decreases in population throughout the world, and the situation is bad enough that the European Union formally issued a ban on the usage of insecticides harmful to bees in 2013. Colony collapse disorder, which is a phenomenon that is basically wiping out entire hives with no clear cause, has slowed down since it began ten years ago but the rates are still alarmingly high.
As horrible as the situation is, many people do not understand why this is an issue that humans should care about. A significant portion of the environment and everything in it is tied to bees, and that includes people. Bees are pollinators who play a crucial role in agriculture and food production; fruits and vegetables, as well as honey and wax products, are major parts of our way of life. Around one-third of our food supply is dependent on pollinators like bees. So, if it’s on your plate and it came from a plant, you likely have bees to thank for it. Animals also get much of their food from plants that are pollinated by bees, so bees are indirectly responsible for your non-vegetable meals as well.
It’s not just food sources that depend on bees either. Plants that are not consumed also need pollination for things like reproduction and genetic diversity, which helps them exist. They also help create the beautiful landscapes that are found throughout nature. Do you like greenery and flowers? Ever enjoy the sight of a rose, lily, or a peony in full bloom? Bees, yet again. There is just so much that would not exist the way it does without their involvement and that is why it is so important to care that they are in grave danger.
So what can YOU do to try to help bees in their time of need? Quite a bit actually, and right from the comfort of your home, too! As of late, the easiest thing that anyone can do is plant bee-friendly plants in their yards and gardens. These often include flowers and herbs that are native to your area, which are going to be more comfortable and tolerant of the climate—and therefore will be noticeably durable compared to non-native species. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has lists of plants that are pollinator-friendly by state or region. You can also talk to experts at your local plant nurseries for advice and tips.
If you don’t have a green thumb or the space to host plants, you can still help out. You can put “bee baths,” little plates or shallow dishes of water, outside for bees to get a drink and cool down. You can volunteer with or donate to conservancy groups like The Honeybee Conservancy, the Pollinator Partnership, the Xerces Society (mentioned above), or a local group in your area. Habitats like bee blocks or hotels, which you can purchase or build yourself, can be put out for bees to move in and set up a colony. Just make sure that you give them enough real estate around the habitat so they’re not bothered. You can also support your local beekeepers by buying locally grown produce and honey when you go grocery shopping—check your local farmers’ market for a variety of fresh options.
We may see them as pests at times, but in reality, bees are key to human survival. The time is now for us to show them our appreciation by helping them thrive again!
Fall Means Winterizing Your Garden and Lawn
Autumn is the time to get your lawn and garden ready for winter, as well as prep for next year’s bounty. That means there are a few small chores you need to do before it gets cold in your area.
First, assess your results. Take a walk around your yard and gardens to see what worked well and what didn’t. Did you try something new that worked? Did a vegetable produce less than you expected? Write all this down so you’ll know what to plant next spring. Note which plants have overgrown their space, as you may need to divide them.
Keep an eye out for bare spots in mulch that might need a bit of replenishment, and look at the plants and determine if there are any diseases or damage. Replace your summer annuals that have finished their cycle with new cool-weather annuals, such as asters, chrysanthemums, pansies and cyclamen. You can add compost and peat moss to replenish nutrients.
Be sure to mark your perennials. Put sticks in the ground where your perennials will come back so you don’t forget where they are. Now is a good time to fertilize them, too. Look for a fertilizer with a high potassium content, which will promote root growth, making your plants more hardy.
If you have house plants to bring in, do so before you turn on your furnace and remember to them to get rid of pests.
Transplant your fruit plants, such as strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb. They can deplete the soil of nutrients, so they need to be moved every three or four years.
This is when it’s time to plant your bulbs. Shop early for the best selection, then get them in the ground six to eight weeks before the first hard frost. In the spring, you’ll have beautiful tulips, daffodils and more blooming in your yard.
Rake leaves -- but not all of them. Leave some under trees and bushes, as they become much-needed compost. Make sure to get the leaves scattered in your perennial beds and lawn. If left behind, they can cause crown rot and attract fungi and insects.
Put your raked leaves in your compost pile so you can use it for your plants later. If you don’t have a compost pile, they’re really easy to start. It’s basically layers of dirt, leaves, food scraps and shredded newspaper to make the richest soil additive there is.
Keep mowing, and when it comes time to finish for the season, lower your mower blade to the lowest level for the last two cuts. This way, more sunlight will reach the crown of the grass. Fall is also the time to aerate the lawn. You can rent a gas-powered aerator, which will poke holes in the ground. This allows water, oxygen and fertilizer to reach the roots.
Your cool-season grasses are now recovering from the summer heat and drought and getting ready to enjoy their best climate. Fertilize your lawn with a slow-release all-natural fertilizer, ideally around November, when you’re finished mowing but the ground isn’t frozen. You might even want to put down a second application of pre-emergent herbicide. This will take care of weed seeds that fell during the summer months. In the spring, you’ll do an application to get rid of weed seeds that spent their winter in your lawn, making your lawn grow more lush and beautiful next year.
The fall may seem like the end of your garden’s peak beauty and growth, but it’s a time to extend its beauty and prepare for a more fruitful next year. It only takes a little work to be prepared for the winter dormancy and help ensure a beautiful sprin