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Guest Blog: My petition to save the bees

on Thu, 04/12/2012 - 17:46

I am a third generation backyard gardener. It was in my father’s and my grandmother’s gardens that I learned to love many insects, most especially bees. Bees, my grandma said, were our partners in the garden. Without bees, the big apple tree outside her back door could bear no fruit. Without them, there would be no harvest of the vegetables dad and grandma planted. And, dad said, even the flowers which brightened our yard were a product of our gardening partners, the bees. 

Now, the bees need our help.

As a young adult, I dreamed of having a garden of my own. When my husband and I started looking for a home in Virginia Beach more than ten years ago, among my top requirements was enough space to put in a backyard garden.  When we found a place we liked in a suburban neighborhood with good schools and southern exposure in the back, we jumped at it.

Our garden started out small, but it, like our family, has grown. Our three children have been actively involved with the garden, helping to plant, tend and harvest. Our soil, once poor, is now a healthy, rich loam full of organic materials. Over time my family has expanded the garden so that it now covers most of our backyard.

Growing their own food has been great for my kids. It has prompted them to ask for healthier foods, not just at home, but at school and in restaurants. It has inspired them to want to protect our ecosystem. It has taught them valuable lessons about science and how nature works. Gardening together has taught my kids the value of teamwork and brought us closer as a family.

And yet, in spite of the many joys gardening has brought us, over the years my family and I have become increasingly worried. We are getting fewer and fewer visits from our bee gardening partners. When we first started gardening, bees were plentiful. In fact, one season there were so many bees that my little ones needed regular assurance that it was safe to go out the back door! How things have changed.

Several years ago we began to notice that an increasing number of flowers on even our very healthiest plants were failing to set fruit due to lack of pollination. Other neighbors who garden confirmed they were experiencing the same. 

When we learned about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), my family knew we needed to do something to help protect the country’s most important pollinators. In an effort to draw more bees to our garden, where they would be safe from harmful pesticides, my family planted brightly colored wildflowers and bee-friendly plants around the garden. We researched what was helpful to bees and created a honeybee haven on our property. Happily, due to these actions, a number of ground bees have taken up residence in our yard! Still, when many thousands of blooms light up our property, we see only a handful of bees throughout the day.

What’s happening in my family’s backyard garden is playing out in farms and gardens all across the country.

Because we have so few bees, my family and I have begun hand pollinating many of our plants, something that would have been unimaginable to my grandmother when she passed away just a few years ago. Though my family can spend the time necessary to hand pollinate our plants, hand pollination is not an option for our country’s farmers and orchardists. With bees responsible for pollinating a third of nation’s food supply, we're concerned.

While my family has taken steps to save the bees, we’re aware that we’re fighting an uphill battle. The increasing presence of neonicotinoid pesticides in neighborhoods like mine is bringing about rapid declines in bee populations. My suburban neighborhood is a great place for kids to grow up, but for bees it’s a dangerous place — one filled with a pesticide that makes bees get lost and eventually drop dead from exhaustion while searching for their home. 

My neighbors mean no harm to the bees. In fact, all they’re doing is trying to do is keep our neighborhood looking nice, and in suburbia, that has come to mean a bright green, weed-free lawn. So in their desire to be good neighbors, they purchase products from Bayer’s Advanced Lawn Care line and unwittingly coat their properties in bee-killing neonicotinoids. They have no idea that these products are threatening both the diversity of our nation’s food supply and my own family’s backyard garden. 

The handful of bees that still visit my family’s garden are in immediate danger when they forage in my neighborhood, but they don’t have to be. The EPA can act today on the mounting evidence linking neonicontinoids to massive bee die-offs. There is more than enough evidence on the impact of neonicotinoids for the EPA to take immediate emergency action.  And that’s why I created a petition to the EPA asking them to remove Bayer’s neonicotinoids — like clothianidin — from the market now.

Our nation’s bees and the plants they pollinate are in increasing danger. We must act now to save our partners in the garden. Please sign my petition at Change.org calling on the EPA to ban neonicotinoids now.

Save the bees. Save the world.

 

Susan Mariner (Virginia Beach, VA) is a mother of three, a self-employed metalsmith and an organic gardener.