Delisa White

Delisa White

By Delisa White, MATC landscape horticulture instructor 

Do you enjoy a sweet apple, crunchy almonds or a juicy tomato? If so, you owe a debt of gratitude to the hardworking insects who pollinated the flower from which your produce developed. Pollinating insects are crucial to our food supply. Most of us who read the news are aware that our pollinators are in peril.

One insect, the non-native European honeybee – the backbone of commercial food crop pollinators – has experienced a devastating decline in numbers in the past decade. Students in MATC’s “Plant Healthcare” class have read many scientific reports on the plight of the European honeybee. They have learned about the many pressures and conditions that, when combined, have caused a dramatic decline in the honeybee population. Some of these include extreme winter conditions, summer droughts, poorly managed commercial hives, lack of dietary diversity and a specific type of mite.

Another critical factor impacting the health of honeybees and native pollinators such as bumblebees, flies, wasps, butterflies and moths, is our society’s love of – and overuse of – chemical pesticides. One specific class of insecticide, called neonicotinoids, has been associated with the deaths of honeybees and bumblebees, and is now being removed from some insecticide products.

In mid-April, Ortho, a major producer of garden-care products, announced that it will begin to transition away from using chemicals that may be linked to the death of pollinating insects in its pesticides.

This is a step in the right direction. But as MATC’s students have learned, there are many other pesticides that have negative environmental and human health consequences, and specifically impact bees. Recent studies have found that pesticides such as herbicides (weed killers) and fungicides (used to control plant disease) have a direct impact on the health of bees and other insects, although they are not specifically targeted by the pesticide application.

Throughout all of their coursework, MATC landscape horticulture students learn that they must take a broad sustainable approach to stewarding our environment in order to preserve not only the European honeybees and native pollinators, but also our food supply and our own health and well-being.  By following some environmentally friendly recommendations, we can help create a better world for pollinators and for ourselves.

  1. Don’t strive for perfection! Learn to be okay with some weeds, a bit of plant disease, and many insects that find their way into your yard and garden.
  1. Appreciate those creepy crawlies! Only three percent of all insect species are “pests.” That’s right! For every 100 different kinds of bugs you see, only about three of them might cause damage.
  1. Put down the spray bottle! Or at least make better chemical choices. When controlling a garden pest becomes necessary, choose organic or less toxic methods.  If choosing a chemical, look for OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute)-approved garden chemicals.
  1. Go native and be diverse! Plant a wide diversity of flowering plants, minimizing lawn grass area. Include many native flowering plants in your gardens and landscapes. A variety of native plants will not only give honeybees diversity in their diets, but also will attract native bumblebees and other native insects that were pollinating plants long before their European honeybee cousins arrived with the early settlers.

Each of us needs to become more conscientious of our own personal impact on the environment and do all we can to help bring back the numbers of pollinating insects. Our diets and our planet depend on it!

For more information about bees and other native insects, check out the Xerces Society at:  http://www.xerces.org/ .

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