Problem: Excessive chemical use and the "manicured lawn" mentality
Many of the pesticides, herbicide, and fungicides on the market and readily available from home care centers, are just as deadly and potent as the chemicals farmers use and are required to be used with "applicators" certification. And when a homeowner mixes these chemicals as per the directions, many times they are used with much higher levels than what the label calls for. Most do not measure out some called for amount, such as two tablespoons per gallon of water. The homeowner simply starts pouring in some amount and then adds what is thought to be some "extra"...to do the job correct. Many times, extra does not do any better than the lower correct amount, and yet is much more damaging to the environment.
Excessive chemical use around the home to kill off every dandelion and clover, every insect, and every other incorrectly "perceived" problem, allows chemicals to run off into the waterways, and negatively impacts many unintended wildlife. Many homeowners who want that perfect manicured lawn with no weeds, no insects, and nothing but a carpet of grass, also should think about what the family pet, and perhaps even the grandkids, are walking on.
Solutions: Many problems in and around the house are simply not a problem. We are bombarded with advertisements about "keeping up with the neighbors" as if someone is handing out trophies for the best lawn on the street. We are sold this concept by huge chemical companies marketing their products. But those dandelions and clovers in the lawn are not all bad. They are beneficial to bees, butterflies, and other native pollinators. Can you imagine if every homeowner sterilized their own little piece of land?
Many unwanted pests and even weeds can be managed with friendlier and less environmental impacting solutions. Simple homemade recipes using soap or vinegar can "spot" treat the areas you want to treat. These treatments do not have the harmful "inert" compounds that many times are as bad as the active ingredients in pesticides bought on the market today.
Problem: Labeling every insect in the garden as a problem pest
Most love ladybugs. They fall into the same category as butterflies. We loved them as children and most have held them in their hands. But take a look around, and you may be hard pressed to find many. Did you ever wonder why? The answer may be due to those lovely roses and other flowers you take care of. Many plants such as roses, are great places for aphids. And who likes aphid? Well, for starters, ladybugs eat aphids and are the number one food choice. So comes along that rose loving gardener who wants perfect rose bushes with no aphids, so dust is applied to the plants on a regular basis. And goodbye aphids. And now the natural food chain is broken. The ladybugs are either killed off by the poison, or they can not survive without their food source as the aphids are killed.
Every insect, both harmful as seen by the gardener, and beneficial as we label them, are important to the food chain. As the example mentioned above, the killing of aphids, also impact the very insect that nature provides to control these unwanted pest, the ladybugs. Tomato horn worms have their own parasitic wasp that lays eggs on the caterpillar that controls their numbers. But kill off the ladybugs and parasitic wasps, and the garden pests become increasingly abundant, and the cycle of chemical treatments continue at increased rates. It becomes an endless cycle.
Start by asking yourself why you love gardening. Do you keep a garden to be more sustainable? For better produce untainted by commercial farming chemicals? Because you love the outdoors and this is your way of connecting with nature?
When we understand that a spot on your apple, a lost eaten tomato, or a few less berries, is not the end of the world, we can also take great pleasure in knowing we have a balanced backyard environment. The very reasons that most plant a garden are sometimes quickly forgotten once an unwanted pest shows up. Instead of killing aphids, know that you are providing food for ladybugs. That is a far better option than smelling your pretty perfect roses while snorting the spray you applied last week. And if the tomato caterpillar starts taking more than it's fair share, kill off the pest. They are not hard to find. Just don't kill the caterpillars with egg sacks on their backs. Nature has already come to the resue. So do your part to help also.
Problem: Timing of sprays and the deadly impact to pollinators
Many times, you can see farmers and orchard growers spraying trees and crops in the middle of the afternoon. As beekeepers, we know that bees collect many chemicals and pesticides and bring them back to the hive with the pollen and honey being collected. And the amounts are directly related to the wet residue and timing of sprays being applied. Drift of sprays onto weeds and other flowering plants is inevitable.
Most family farms in Pennsylvania range from 50 to 300 hundred acres. Pollination of most crops comes from a variety of insects that are from the tree line in the back of the farm, the hedgerow, or the open fields nearby. For most crops, at least 50% of the pollination comes from native pollinators such wasps, flies, and bumblebees. Even when honey bees can be moved or screened in a net to limit their exposure to pesticides, native pollinators are killed. Any good farmer realizes that protection of native pollinators is in their best interest. While honey bees ensure a steady reliable pollination year after year, healthy numbers of native pollinators is essential to quality crops via pollination.
Farmers should understand that early morning or late evening spraying is best for all involved. At these times, pollinators are less active as flowers are sometimes closed depending upon the species. A better coverage of the crops can be achieved with lower winds during early evening or morning hours. We can not expect farmers to not use sprays. But we can ask them to properly use sprays responsibly, and in practices that limit exposure to native pollinators and honeybees.
Problem: Thinking that herbicides, fungicides and other chemicals are harmless to bees and native pollinators
Some insight: Many times, when discussing chemicals with farmers or on those situations that you ask "Hey, what's that guy spraying over there?', you get the reply that "It's only a fungicide". We know that these are detrimental to honey bees. The idea that because something is not listed as a pesticide, that it will not harm insects is wrong. WD-40, hair spray, and dish detergent are all not listed as pesticides. But each will kill a bee very effectively. Labels only to show what the intended use is, and what it has been approved. Just because it says it's a herbicide and not a pesticide, does not mean it is any less harmfull to bees and native pollinators.
Environmental Impact: Recent CCD research has shown that fungicides that come in contact with other chemicals can be very deadly. Many insects, including honeybees, are sponges collecting pollen and nectar from many plants, then storing these food sources for feeding larvae and young inside the hive. One plus one, when it comes to toxicity of mixed chemicals, does not equal two. One plus one equals 5, or even 10. The compounding factor of toxicity is multiplied many times over.
Application of herbicides, fungicides, and other seemingly harmless sprays should be used with the same caution as sprays that are known to be deadly to bees. Farmers should not spray during daytime hours when honeybees and native pollinators are active. And the mixing of multiple chemicals in sprayers should never be an option.