Buzz kill: The bee poison hiding in your family’s garden

(Here’s a guest post from Friends of the Earth on the bee crisis. Please read and take action today to protect bees, our ecosystems and our food systems!) 

It’s that time of year. Farmers markets are full of summer’s best fruits and veggies and my garden is lush and green. But as I’ve spent time nurturing tomatoes and squash and planting seedlings with my two year old daughter, I’ve noticed something’s missing.

In past my garden was abuzz with bees—from fuzzy plump native bumble bees to swift and efficient honey bees doing their ancient and essential pollination dance with the flowers. But the last few summers, it’s been remarkably quiet in my family’s backyard, and the same thing appears to be happening in backyards, parks and farmers’ fields across the country. One thing is clear, bees are in trouble.

You’ve probably seen the news: 50,000 bumble bees dead in a Target parking lot in Portland, 37 million bees dead on one farm in Ontario, beekeepers across the country losing up to 90 percent of their bees this last winter. Time magazine just did a full cover story about this crisis.

Around the world similar stories are emerging—telling us we must act now to stop this global crisis or risk the more than 2/3 of our food crops, from apples to soybeans to watermelons, which are pollinated by bees.

A few weeks back, my team at Friends of the Earth released our new first-of-its-kind report revealing that that the world’s most popular pesticide, neonicotinoids (neonics), implicated as a key factor in the global bee die-off, may be lurking in our own backyards. More than half of the “bee friendly” home garden plants we tested, sold at stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s, contained neonics — with no warning to consumers.

Our report shows this problem is widespread, and that many unsuspecting home gardeners purchasing plants pre-treated with neonics for “bee-friendly” gardens may actually be poisoning bees. Neonics can kill bees outright, and at low doses can weaken their immune systems and impair critical brain functions, making it hard to find their food and return to the hive. And neonics can remain in the plants and the soil of our gardens, continuing to poison bees for months to years.

As a mom and organic gardener I was horrified to learn that my garden, planted with many “bee friendly” plants, from salvia to daisies, could actually be poisoning bees—and, as new studies are showing, could also be killing butterflies, ladybugs, lacewings earthworms and even birds! Bees have enough troubles—our gardens shouldn’t be part of the problem.

The good news is that the European Union has banned bee-harming pesticides and top retailers in the UK are refusing to sell them. Friends of the Earth is challenging the CEOs of top garden retailers including Lowe’s and Home Depot to make the same commitment here in the US.

Bees are essential to our food system and they are dying at alarming rates. Neonic pesticides are a key part of the problem we can start to fix right now in our own backyards.

Here are the top 3 ways you can help:

1) Please join us in asking Lowe’s and Home Depot to give bees a chance and stop selling bee killing pesticides and pre-poisoned plants. And please spread the word and encourage others to take action for the bees by sharing this blog and our website on social media with the hashtag #beeaction.

2) Grow organic plants: Purchase organic plant starts or untreated seeds and grow your plants in organic potting soil. This will help provide safe food for bees.

3) Practice non-toxic pest control: Avoid using toxic pesticides in your garden and instead use plants that that attract beneficial insects that prey on the undesirable insects in your garden. Read the label and avoid using off-the-shelf neonicotinoid insecticides in your garden. See Appendix A of our report at for a list of the common brand names of plant treatments that contain neonics.

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