Honeybee die-offs threaten our food supply — how you treat your garden and lawn can help.


Good morning. Happy Mother’s Day to all of you. It is so nice to be back and to say “Happy spring,” which did come early this year – yeah!

There is forsythia in every direction, the daffodils and tulips are popping, and the cherries are bringing their abundance of blossoms, hopefully to be followed by overflowing baskets of fruit. The primroses are bursting, as are the leaves on the trees — and all of them are early. The signs are good for early vegetable and herb gardens, as well.

All these shrubs, flowers and fruit trees make many of us so happy we don’t question all the things that contribute to their arrival. I decided long before spring’s early arrival that my first gardening column would deal with one of those really important things — bees.

I do try to keep these columns from serious topics because growing plants should be fun, but what is happening with the bees cannot be ignored if we want to continue having fun and, quite frankly, eating.

I started researching colony collapse disorder, which was recognized in the United States in 2006 when huge honeybee die-offs began being reported. I found both interesting and somewhat disturbing information. The good news is that steps can be taken in little (or big) gardens to help out; and if each individual gardener helps, this can make a big difference.

Here is a little history to help you understand how important this situation is.


• The National Agriculture Statistics Service reported 2.4 million honey-producing colonies in February of 2008, down from 4.5 million in 1980 and 5.9 million in 1947. While the number of bees plummeted, the United States doubled the land area being used for food production.

• According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one out of every three bites of food we eat is dependent on bee pollination.

• Colony collapse disorder is being reported in 38 states, Canada, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, the United Kingdom and Australia. Maine, to date, has not been affected and it would be good to keep it that way. Maine is one of seven states conducting research on CCD for the USDA through the University of Maine. Bees are crucial to Maine’s blueberry crop as well as apples, potatoes and tomatoes, just to name a few.

Scientists believe CCD is caused by a number of factors: fungal, bacterial, stress and pesticide use. One of the most suspected culprits, and one being tested currently at Orono, is a neonicotinoid pesticide. This pesticide has been linked to dramatic honeybee deaths and has been banned in several European countries. Bayer CropScience is the primary producer of the pesticide, now one of the most widely used in the United States.

Scientists engaged in the research say the battle will come on several fronts, but one aspect that can be controlled is the use of pesticides — just in case they turn out to be the cause — and the kinds you choose.

Now this is a really interesting finding: According to several research organizations from across the country, bees on organic farms have survived the collapse. I didn’t find this surprising and I bet a lot of you didn’t either.

Several public as well as private organizations in Maine are working to educate and promote research into CCD, and there are certain things you can do to help.

Obviously, the first is to consider your use of pesticides. I do understand how hard it is to watch little buggers eat up your flowers, but when you use a pesticide you aren’t going to kill just the bad bugs. Look for an organic pesticide, one based on neem oil, pyrethrum (which is a derivative of chrysanthemums) or orange peel oil. You can find these at any store that carries organic products. Murphy’s Oil Soap mixed with water or one of the organic safe soaps work really well on aphids, spider mites and several other pests. Many insects can also be handpicked or washed down with a strong jet of water.

Other steps you can take include allowing enough room between your plants for good air circulation and making sure your plants are healthy. Bugs are attracted to plants that are stressed from lack of water or food. And use organic fertilizers. They build up the overall strength of the plant and its root system instead of just making your plants blossom more.

Bees love wildflowers, so consider planting wildflower seeds, which come with filler, in an area such as a sloping hill. It will look a bit wild, rather than like a kept garden, but the bees will love it.

Also, if you hire a lawn service, check on what pesticides and fertilizers it uses.

Support your local organic farm. If bees are thriving in a large space nearby, that is a good thing for your garden.

If you plant flowers that make bees happy for each season, they will have the nectar supply they require and you will have well-pollinated flowers. See our list of flowers you can plant to help the bees. Three to five of each will not only make the bees happy, but will give you a much better display in your garden.

I know spring is when most of us buy new plants, and I wanted to get this column to you in time for that plant-buying expedition in the near future. Road trips for plants are one of my favorite spring activities.

So until next time, enjoy your day and I hope it is filled with sunshine and appreciation for all mothers. Remember the bees when you go plant shopping, get those gardens cleaned up because your poor plants are coming up through the leaves, and enjoy the feel of the earth on your hands after emerging from another Maine winter.

Happy gardening.

Jody Goodwin has been gardening for more than 25 years. She lives in Turner with her husband, Ike, her dog and two cats. She can be reached by writing to her in care of the Sun Journal, 104 Park St., Lewiston, Maine, 04243-4400 or by e-mail at [email protected]

More info on bees

• Burtsbees.com has started an informational program and will send you free seeds.

• Go to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension for more information on colony collapse disorder, what you can do about it in your community and what programs are available.

• For research information on CCD and its effects, go to motherearthnews.com or simply Google colony collapse disorder.

Flowers for every season

This is a partial list of flowers that bees are particularly fond of. I have arranged them by bloom season because having some in flower each season helps the bees stay unstressed and healthy. Please note that bees prefer blossoms that are single, like an old-fashioned daisy, rather than the new hybrids that have many rows of petals. However, as always, something is better than nothing if you can’t resist that double fluffy brown-eyed Susan.

All of the plants listed will grow in zone 4. An * indicates an annual rather than perennial. It’s easy to add these to a garden.

Spring: columbine, tickseed, lupine, daisies and most other annuals and perennials in the chrysanthemum family, Oriental poppies, thyme

Summer: *poppies, bee balm, lavender, black-eyed Susans, *marigolds, coneflowers (especially purple) and gayfeathers (liatris, purple), *sunflowers, lobelia, zinnia, catmint, *cosmos, pincushion flower (scabiosa), Russian sage and sage.

Fall: aster, obedient plant, dahlia (a tender bulb that must be stored for the winter), mint, milkweed, goldenrod and Joe Pye weed.