Letters to the Editor

Pesticide threat

June 25, 2007


To the editor:

Most of the scores of plants that I cultivate as host plants for bees and butterflies are in full bloom and there are usually hundreds of bees and butterflies present at this time. This year there are no bees of any kind, and infrequently only a few butterflies. My yard seems dead, even with its abundance of vegetation.

There are many theories about this, depending, I'm afraid, on who is paying for the study, but one thing keeps popping up.

There is a chemical that has been banned in some European countries due to bee die off, that is very available here. Imidacloprid is contained in flower insecticide sprays, some animal flea prevention products, agricultural products and who knows what all.

There may be a combination of herbicides and pesticides, cell-phones, bioterrorism or other unknown causes for bee disappearance, but this stuff will certainly kill the good insects, as well as the undesirable, and can be toxic to humans.

Look at it this way, the smaller creatures are going to show the effects of toxins first. It may take a bit longer for humans to begin to notice effects.

Einstein said after the bees were gone, humans had five years left. Products containing Imidacloprid should not be available. Please read labels, and don't buy them.

Julie Matchett,



Richard Heckler 10 years, 2 months ago

The Wilderness Garden (Aird Books 1993): a radical new view of Australian growing methods $16.95 Australian. http://www.jackiefrench.com/wilderness.html

There is no need to dig your garden - or weed it or cart great armfuls of mulch. There's no need to mow the lawn either, spray poisons at the pests or fungicide on the spots on your rose leaves. No one tends the bush - yet it survives much better than cultivated plantations (except when humans interfere). All a garden needs is to be planted, fed occasionally and enjoyed.

This books shows you how.

Australians inherited their gardening traditions from last century Europe. It's a tradition of neat, dug gardens, fanatical elimination of weeds and preferably 20 gardeners to do all the work.

Most of the work we do in our gardens is unnecessary. It's also bad for the gardens. Digging is backbreaking - it also breaks down the soil strcuture so you get hard clumps, kills earthworms, soil bacteria, mycohorriza and other useful soil life.

You don't have to dig your garden- just use one of the non dig methods in chapter 1. You don't have to weed your garden either- learn to live with your weeds instead. (see chapter 2).

You don't have to water your garden every afternoon after work, or run up a bill for excess water (chapter3). You don't have to buy expensive and polluting pesticides - most pest control is unnecessary, as well as dangerous.

Everything grows together. Pumpkins climb up the avocado trees, strawberries ramble under the kiwifruit and limes, chokoes wander in the oranges, daisies poke through the lemon branches and there are wild parsnips and carrots and parsley coming up in the drive.

It's a mess. But it works.

I've tried to pattern my garden after the bush. There are no bare spaces, neatly dug - bare ground means weeds. The trees and shrubs are planted close together - they grow tall to reach the light; the birds eat the top fruit and I get the rest, hidden from the birds in the tangled branches. I rarely prune, except to hack back the growth - the fruit is small if you don't prune but you get more of it. It's better for the tree too.

Unfortunately we inherited our spring planting ideas from Europe - where you need to plant early to get a harvest. We don't here. We don't need bare soil between the rows either to maximise sunlight - our plants are better closely planted to maximise leaf cover to keep in moisture and built up carbon dioxide and keep down rampant weeds.

It's time we started working out Australian ways to grow things. Australian gardens needn't follow the European pattern. Let your vegetables wander under the shrubs - most will take some patchy shade. Grow flowers with your trees and your vegetables - they'll attract predators to keep down pests, but they're also fun. Have a lawn if you must - but remember that lawns needn't be grass, needn't be mowed - and can still be rolled on by kids and dogs and host the barbecue on Sunday afternoons.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 2 months ago

Excellent food for thought.

The GM industry has always claimed that the advantage of herbicide-tolerant (HT) GM crops is that they lead to reduced herbicide use.

This is supposedly because as a GM crop grows, a farmer can spray the company's wide-spectrum herbicide that will kill all weeds but not the GM crop. Farmers can use just one type of herbicide rather than a mixture of herbicides. This would supposedly be better environmentally, and cheaper for the farmer.

But an examination of data from the US Department of Agriculture, shows that GM crops have led to increasing amounts of herbicide use over the years. Although the number of different types of herbicide used on a GM farm has reduced, the overall volume of herbicide has on average increased by 50 million pounds (weight) per year in the US.

A recent report from the Northwest Science and Environmental Policy Center confirms what many critics of GM have been saying for years. Wide-spectrum herbicides (in the US, Monsanto's glyphosate, or "Roundup" is the most common) lead to "Superweeds". Superweeds can arise through a number of ways: through selection pressure on weed populations; gene transfer from GM crops to wild relatives; or through "volunteers" of the crop appearing unwanted in following years. These weeds can therefore only be killed through increased dosages or by mixing in stronger herbicides. Thus the long-term effectiveness of herbicide-tolerant crops will always be limited.

It is possible that GM farmers are less aware of these facts because the increases in use have been incremental. In fact, for the first 2 to 3 years, herbicide use does decrease, and thus pleases farmers. But in the years following, the need for herbicide usage increases substantially. The effects of this has been hidden from the farmer because the cost of glyphosate has gone down over the years.

GM crops have been grown in the US for 8 years now, and so we can finally have a longer-term review of the effects and effectiveness of herbicide-tolerant crops. The results show that long-term, GM creates more problems than it solves.

Please visit http://www.biotech-info.net/highlights.html#technical_papers To download "Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Eight Years".

gr 10 years, 2 months ago

Sorry, can't resist:

When I try to "pattern my garden", the avocado trees always seem to die out before getting big enough for the pumpkins to grow up. The limes never grow big enough to shade the strawberries. The daisies do poke through the lemon trees, but I wouldn't call them "branches" - more like twigs.

What am I doing wrong? The above mentioned trees tend to die out each year around October-November for some odd reason.


Speaking of global warming.... We can't be worreid about bees and pesticides. We are to busy making believe with us impacting global warming.

Merrill, while you do raise some valid points, the gist of your comments are targetting agriculture. However, from what the letter writer said, "flower insecticide sprays, some animal flea prevention", it sounds like a bigger source of environmental problems are the city people with their manicured lawns and spraying with the attitude of, more is better and better safe than sorry (as far as applying sprays they don't understand for reasons they have no idea if they need or have).

yankeelady 10 years, 2 months ago

We are out in the county and have noticed the same thing. I have seen a very few honeybees within the last few days. For the 2nd or 3rd yr, no empress hackberry moths. They used to be so thick they cover the ground in spots. I haven't heard or seen a bobwhite in a long time, we used to see them all the time, and now they are gone. There have been a few butterflies and hummingbirds, not as many as usual. I too try to keep plants and flowers that provide good habitat, and we leave a big area of milkweed in our pastures. Needless to say , we don't spray or treat our lawn and pastures. It doesn't always look very neat, but it is as close to natural as we can get.

Linda Endicott 10 years, 2 months ago

I have to cover my nose every time I enter the gardening section of any store. It smells horrible there.

And this is the stuff people are putting on their lawns and gardens and think it's safe?

Julia Rose-Weston 10 years, 2 months ago

Interesting to see your letter today. I've been online trying to find out what I can do to help the bee population. Thus far, I've found nothing online. This is the first year I'm trying to go chemical free in my yard, it's hard. I'm covered in chigger bites and the leaves on my plants look like a lace tablecloth. I decided to go chemical free because the bountiful frog population at my new home disappeared last year. I feed the orioles, hummingbirds, squirrels, coons and any other creature that happens into my yard. Last year, the hummingbirds came to feed in response to the sound of my voice. I had 2 hummers a month ago and none now. I have lots of honey bees earlier this spring but many of them drown in my oriole feeder so I took it down. No more bees. Now, I don't have the orioles either. I'm getting ready to order some ladybugs for my rose garden. I might try praying mantis in my back gardens. I heard that Einstein said humans had 4 years left on the planet after the bees are gone. I want to help the bees. If you know of a non-profit organization that I could contribute to or some tips that I could utilize in my own yard, I'd love to have the info.

Jaehde 10 years, 2 months ago

We live in SW Lawr, w/in a couple of miles of Clinton lake. I'm thinking that perhaps someone, city or country, did some spraying that has wiped out bees w/in a certain radius. A recent insecticide being heavily promoted that contains imidacloprid is in bright blue plastic containers, made by a name associated w/aspirin, and is very available in most stores. Why do we need something this toxic to 'protect' , a flower, for instance. A systemic stays in the plant and doesn't know the difference between a bee and an aphid, it will kill them both. Systemic means it becomes part of the plant's system, the bright flowers attract the insects and the nectar poisons them.

Mkh 10 years, 2 months ago

Great Topic! I was just discussing this the other day with someone. I too have many plants which attract butterflies and bees and I have seen very few this year. Something serious is certainly going on here.

The bee thing that Einstein discussed is extremely serious from what I understand, I have a friend in Hawaii who raises bees in order to help repopulate them. Interesting stuff.

Jaehde 10 years, 2 months ago

So what do we do besides talk about it? In the past, I haven't been very successful in contacting corporate concerning their products. They don't care. Consume and shut up, bottom line=money. And, of course, there's more than one company making poison, and imidacloprid isn't the only one. If this is currently affecting a number of people what can we do? I agree this is serious, I've been hearing about the bees disappearing for several years. Now, I'm witnessing it w/my own eyes. Somebody point me in the right direction.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 2 months ago

Remember mowing and edging can still take place on ungrass yards or "mixed Use" yards. Ungrass yards use far less to no water. Go herbicide free yet seed and core aereate every fall or go with a buffalo grass and design accordingly with evergreens which will look nice when summer grasses go dormant earlier. Add colorful kansas perennial beds which also be attractive.

Linda Endicott 10 years, 2 months ago

Don't you watch the news on TV?

The disappearance of the bees isn't just a local problem. It's nationwide. In fact, the food growers in Calif. are worried, and have been having to bring bees in from bee keepers, because of the lack of them there. Although even the bee keepers have noticed a serious decline in the number of bees in their hives.

Look it up online.

Joe Hyde 10 years, 2 months ago

I'm totally ignorant about the business (or hobby, for some) of bee-raising. So forgive my stupidity, but I'm curious whether it might help the bees recover their numbers if hive operators nationally would institute a "moratorium" that leaves the honey intact in the hives -- as opposed to taking honey out of the hives for human consumption.

Surely, bees stash honey in their hives for their own future consumption. Maybe it would help them get back on their feet again if we allowed these insects to have full access to all the food they've worked so hard to accumulate? And then, once the number of hives bounces back, then we return to harvesting their honey for our consumption.

Would this be a practical tactic?

Jaehde 10 years, 2 months ago

I'd like to commend riverat on the creative thinking. I don't know the answer to that, but until there are some kind of limitations on herbicides and pesticides, I'm not sure the bees have a chance, regardless. Nor do we. I'm pretty much a wild gardener, no herbicides or pesticides, don't move the earth around, I add compost which I , with the help of the powers that be, make myself. Some folks are completely oblivious, take the Earth and all it gives them for granted. I'm dumbfounded by the number of people who still think that "someone" will take care of it, like there's someone in D.C. or somewhere looking out for us. I grow frustrated that even though some of us choose to be stewards of the earth, there are many who will never read a label of make any effort, themselves, to change the destruction of our environment. The environment is us, the somebody who will take care of it has to be us. We have to convince corporate(?), our government(?) who(?) to create some environmental standards. Who? How?
I know the questions.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 2 months ago

Bees like to pollinate which may be the concern of food growers.

blackwalnut 10 years, 2 months ago


When beekeepers raise bees for their honey, they do things to increase honey production. They provide the hives, the frames with a honeycomb base, and even return the empty honeycomb to the hive after extracting the honey so the bees don't have to make the honeycomb again. They requeen when it's needed, pack the hives in straw and tarpaper or otherwise help them winter with minimal kill, keep vermin out of the hive. The beekeeper does much for the bees that helps the bees produce more honey than they need.

The vegans who don't eat honey for moral reasons are misguided. Without the beekeeper, the bees would not produce nearly as much.

The bees are not dying off because the beekeepers take too much honey.

This is a worldwide problem. A couple of studies showed a link between cell phones and bee die-off. It stands to reason the ever-increasing usage of pesticides would be a cause.

I was walking a baby around my neighborhood and smelled something weird, and after a few blocks recognized it as the smell that makes me dread going into the hardware store in summer: the pesticide aisle. I took the baby straight home. Poisoning the air and killing everything: it seems a lousy price to pay to get a lawn that looks like Astroturf.

Jaehde 10 years, 2 months ago

For Hanging on to hope, for chiggers,etc, have you tried lemon eucalyptus oil, sometimes found in sporting good sections if you can't find it anywhere else. I apply it liberally all over, then wear long pants and sleeves, w/pantlegs tucked into socks. In today's J World, pg 1 B, an article about pollinators, plus an organization, NAPPC "that works to help protect people and pollinators". Haven't had time to digest it, but looked at the website. Can't hurt.

Joe Hyde 10 years, 2 months ago

Thanks, blackwalnut; that's all stuff I didn't know about beekeeping.

I can sure see where providing bees with hive boxes that have the honeycomb structures already in place would save the bees a tremendous amount of time and energy that frees them up to lay in much greater amounts of honey than they would if left to their own devices.

I guess this takes us back to the suspicion held by many, that the hive collapse syndrome is the result of the bees ingesting or contacting various herbicides and/or pesticides.

To those, I would add the possibility that the health of our bees (either directly, or during reproduction) might be affected negatively by encountering the pollens and nectars produced by genetically modified plants. The agribusiness industry, after all, keeps cranking out one new Frankenstein plant after another (always along with a new herbicide or pesticide product specifically tailored for use on the new plants).

In America at least, the companies doing this GM work and herbicide/pesticide tinkering have been using us human food consumers as their test dummies from the very beginning. Should we expect them to show any more concern regarding the effects their creations are having on insects that eat the same stuff?

Julia Rose-Weston 10 years, 2 months ago

Jaehde, thanks for your response. I haven't gotten to the B section yet, I'll check it closely. Though my yard is chemical free, my ankles still get lots of Deep Woods Off (while I'm still in the garage). It works well as long as I don't forget!! The reading I've done has indicated the problem is in the hives with a "mite", some kind of parasite. I've considered taking up beekeeping myself but I don't want to set up a "hive of death" for these important creatures. I know a lot of people out there couldn't care less. In fact, googling bee hives brought up lots of companies to get rid of bee hives. Despite the general population being caught up in their own sense of a beautiful yard and dislike of stinging things, I will continue to "hang on to hope" and do all I can!

packrat 10 years, 2 months ago

At least 2 nests of bobwhites at at Prairie Park Nature Center. I heard them "singing" a few weeks ago.

gr 10 years, 2 months ago

"I've considered taking up beekeeping myself "

It wouldn't surprise me if Lawrence has some sort of law against keeping a beehive. Just like they have a law against having a natural yard. "Death to bees" could be their chant. But, actually, it's control - because they can and everyone lets them. Especially 'everyone' who truly believes as David Omar writes, http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2007/jun...

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