How to ‘Bee Friendly’

By the Bee Friendlies

Sweat bee on white trillium-220 The Bee Friendlies is a Glebe-based community group formed in October 2014 following a public talk organized by the Environment Committee of the Glebe Community Association about the effects of neonicotinoids (pronounced neeo-nicoteen-oids, a.k.a. neonics) on pollinator health and the startling decline in bees and other pollinators. The group aims to promote a pollinator-friendly urban environment. The primary concern of the group is the use of neonics and other systemic pesticides on seeds, seedlings and plants and how they affect pollinator health.

What are neonics?

andrenid bee-fwg-18iv08-2-220Neonics are a class of systemic pesticides chemically similar to nicotine that were introduced to the market in 1991 and have since been widely used on a variety of crops including corn, soy, potatoes, tobacco, wheat seed, tomatoes, blueberries, apples, lettuce, citrus fruit and cotton, and are also used in nurseries and urban forestry. These pesticides are often applied by coating seeds or drenching the soil but they can also be used as a foliage spray. Neonics are absorbed into a plant’s tissue and can spread into the leaves, flowers, nectar and pollen. The most commonly used neonics include imidacloprid, acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, nithiazine, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam.

What are neonics doing to bees 
and other pollinators?

Flower longhorn beetle on spirea-300 While used to protect plants from specific insect pests, neonics also have negative effects on non-targeted insects including pollinators such as bees, butterflies and beetles. Pollinators may come into contact with neonics through contaminated pollen, soil and water. Neonics kill insects by attacking their nervous system. Bees that come into direct contact with the pesticide will die, while those that have long-term indirect contact to the pesticide may become more susceptible to disease. Their abilities to navigate, gather pollen and reproduce may also be negatively affected. According to the Ontario Provincial Winter Loss Survey, bee deaths in Ontario in 2013–2014 reached their highest recorded level at 58 per cent. The Federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency recently found a link between the use of neonics and bee deaths in Ontario: 70 per cent of dead bees examined in 2012 and 2013 tested positive for neonic residue.

Ontario steps up

Bumble bee with pollen pack on goldenrod-220 Neonic-treated seed currently accounts for 99 per cent of corn and 60 per cent of soybean seed sold in Ontario. Following this winter’s province-wide consultations on pollinator health and the use of neonic pesticides, the government of Ontario just set a target of reducing the number of acres planted with corn and soybean neonic-treated seeds by 80 per cent by 2017. To achieve this target the government is proposing new regulatory requirements for the sale and use of neonic-treated agricultural seeds in Ontario. The new requirements will be a boon for farmers who need pollinators in order to grow crops such as apples, cherries, peaches and plums.

The Glebe Bee Friendlies 
buzzed around and asked…

It was alarming to discover that garden plants we had selected to encourage pollinators might be contaminated with neonics. We went to our local suppliers with a questionnaire about their use of neonics and their interest in labelling neonic plants in the future. See the tables below to learn about what we found:


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How to be ‘Bee Friendly’ in your garden
Bumble bee on wild iris-220
1. Rethink your lawn – use grasses and flowering plants.
2. Buy plants from local growers who do not use harmful herbicides or pesticides in the cultivation process. Use only natural pesticides and fertilizers and avoid using neonicotinoids in your garden. Read the label to determine whether a product contains neonics. Look out for: imidacloprid, acetamiprid, dinotefuran, clothianidin, thiamethoxam.

3. Plant native flowers to which local bees are especially adapted.

4. Select single flower tops i.e. daisies, marigolds. Double headed flowers look showy, but produce much less nectar and make it more difficult for bees to access pollen.

5. Skip highly hybridized plants, which are bred not to seed and produce little pollen.

6. Plant for blooms through as many seasons possible.

7. Build homes for native bees.

8. Create a bee bath. Fill a shallow container with pebbles and twigs giving bees something to land on while drinking.

9. If you live in a home without a garden, plant a window container or a patio plant.

With permission from the David Suzuki Foundation.

For more about neonics, see:

To contact the Bee Friendlies group, 

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