Hang in there with me, this is partly a personal inventory, but the reason I am taking it should interest anyone who is or might yet become a Native Gardener. It is about a journey I have been taking in my back yard, online, and over the phone. It centers upon a term that became a rallying cry across social media this Summer. I write of Neo-Nicotinoids, or NeoNics.
If you have been living Under a Rock this season, then you might not have heard of the massive bee poisoning in Oregon this Summer:
It was a devastating to anyone with an environmental conscience. Folks in Oregon even had a memorial for the bees: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/06/28/memorial-to-honor-50000-bumble-bees-that-died-in-oregon-parking-lot/. It was a sorrowful irony that it occurred at the beginning of National Pollinator’s Week: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/07/02/bee-washing.aspx.
While Oregon temporarily banned the use of the identified NeoNic; another practice of the gardening industry was exposed. Neonics were being used in the very plants we buy (mostly at box stores) and bring home to plant in our Pollinator Gardens. The story became national: http://www.nbcnews.com/science/bee-killing-pesticide-found-garden-store-plant.
At the same time, my (as still unseen by me) hummingbird had shown up, and we had rushed off to buy more Cardinal Flowers. As soon as they were planted, no more RTHB. Now as a rule, whenever I get a new plant, I do a flushing of sorts. I gently spray the foliage. Then I unpot the plant, put it in a clean water bath (from my hose, I am not buying water to treat my newly purchased plants). I change the water two to three times, spraying first each time. This may seem like excessive. But I have my reasons. (An informant apprenticed with a legal Medical Marijuana grower.)
I do not do this for bareroot plants; such as ones I buy online. Nor do I usually get so excessive with plants purchased at a yard sale. I take a good look at the plants I get at local nurseries, and proceed accordingly.
After I read the news about NeoNic exposure. I got online and started reading the literature from the environmentalist’s perspective. And I saw, that all they recommended, was signing petititions. Not even the very useful bee watering information that I will repeat at the end.
I arrived at a dilemma. I am a horticulturist. I am an environmentalist - but part of that for me, is understanding the science of what is going on. I am aware that NeoNics are systemic. This means that the pesticide goes into the plant and stays there. It can stay there for 4 years, up to 10; depending on who you speak with.
Thats what I did a lot of in the interim. I interviewed a scientist at the Pesticide Research Group... who wished me luck with my purging process, but seemed unimpressed with it as a solution. I was told some gardeners were removing plants and soil and destroying them; others were tenting plants to keep bees and other pollinators away from them. Nowhere was there a solution that satisfied me.
I learned a lot. I am not a honey beekeeper (in fact, I am deathly allergic bees !) The last time I was stung was by foraging honey bees who flew about 3 miles to my yard to enjoy clover. Now, honey bees and clover are not Native to the US. But the honey bee is key to agricultural success and so I have no problems with that. White clover (what I have) adds nitrogen to soil and I let it be(e). And I certainly understand that there are issues with Colony Collapse Disorder killing off honey bees. What I care about in my yard, is local pollinators (with the exception of Yellow Jackets - sorry but they usually have to go if I want to live through the season).
Despite the coincidental disappearance of our RTHB, I did start to take note of what plants native bees were visiting. They liked the original Cardinal Flower, not the new one. They loved the Joe Pye Weed and Fleabanes. They made for some beautiful observations on my Cone Flower. There was adequate water for them, and the dog days of Summer flew by.
I even got a peek at a leaf-cutter bee; solitary souls that nest in holes and crevices. I noticed a very industrious bee bringing larger than her (?) body pieces of leaf and taking them into a decorative planter that has holes in it. Looking for answers, I hit the computer and found out that my red bud tree and Virginia creeper were prized for wrapping larvae in: http://ournativebees.com/leafcutter-bees-are-great-summer-pollinators/.
I continued my search for a way to remediate NeoNics in affected plants; because I suspected I had some, and as a WildOnes.org Certified Ecoscaper, I am dedicated to learning the science of Native Gardening too. That’s when it happened. I contacted a renowned Native Gardening Voice, who referred me to a Scientist who referred me to a Scientist. Who sent me a whole lot of monographs to review. I am trying to plow through those. But I wanted readers to know that I asked a question that really does not yet have an answer.
All of the Scientists say my purging will not help. My Medical Marijuana contacts have another opinion, though they caution this might not help a plant that cannot deal with a lot of water. I have lurked on Organic Gardening boards. I recalled back in the 70‘s making my own Nicotine tea to use on aphids. It is still hotly debated, but I would not do it now.
I queried some garden growers and got nowhere, or somewhere. I am waiting for a Native Plant grower to answer my question. I went ahead and ordered some plants to go in this Fall from another online retailer that assured me no NeoNics were used in the raising of their plants.
I read about seed and learned about the powder that is a process of agricultural seeding that can kill bees. I read about how Canada is being more cautious in there decision about using NeoNics, while they have been banned in Europe.
The more research I did, the less I felt I knew. I do applaud the EPA for it’s recent ruling that pesticides that contain NeoNics require strict labeling: http://www.thegrower.com/news/EPA-issues-new-label-rules-for-neonicotinoids-to-protect-bees-220569111.html.
I have no answer on what to do with a plant you suspect was treated with NeoNics. The only thing I can ad is I hope you do no longer use any of these pesticides. Here is a list (scroll down) of commonly sold products: http://www.xerces.org/neonicotinoids-and-bees/. I wish no pesticides were used in any garden. I hope to report something more concrete when all the facts are in. I suspect I will alienate many people, but I have to stand by my research and my references until I am sure.
Here are some measures the Pollinator Partnership recommends:
- Reduce or eliminate your use of pesticides
- Plant a pollinator-friendly garden by choosing a variety of plants that will continue flowering from spring through fall; check out the Bee Smart Pollinator App for a database of nearly 1,000 pollinator-friendly plants
- Choose plants native to your region and stick with old-fashioned varieties, which have the best blooms, fragrance and nectar/pollen for attracting and feeding pollinators
- Install a bee house
- Supply water, even a dripping faucet or a suspended milk carton with a pinhole in the bottom, for insects and animals
Check them out at: http://www.pollinator.org/index.html. Don’t forget to consider joining Wild Ones and undertaking their Ecoscaper Certification: http://www.wildcertification.org/ecoscaper/. (Open to members only.)