Ask Eartha: Bee colony collaspe a consequence of liberal use of herbicides |

Ask Eartha: Bee colony collaspe a consequence of liberal use of herbicides

Dear Eartha,

My dad is set in his ways and continues to use Roundup on the weeds in his yard and garden. I’ve heard of the adverse effects of pesticides, namely colony collapse disorder in bee populations. He insists that using Roundup does not hurt the bees because it’s an herbicide not an insecticide. How should I respond?

— Cecily, Dillon Valley

Herbicides such as Roundup can harm bees, other pollinators, humans and the environment. Herbicides account for about 70 percent of all agricultural pesticide use.

Dear Cecily,

Old habits die hard, right? Your father is correct. Roundup is an herbicide not an insecticide. Herbicides are used to kill unwanted plants, insecticides are used to kill unwanted insects. The term “pesticide” refers to herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. Insecticides, namely, neonicotinic insecticides are considered one of the primary culprits of colony collapse disorder in bees.

You may be asking what neonicotinoids are. I wrote a previous Ask Eartha on colony collapse disorder and neonicotinoids several months back. To refresh your memory, neonicotinoids are chemically similar to nicotine and affect the nervous system of insects, especially bees, often resulting in paralysis and death. Without these essential pollinators, crop production is seriously jeopardized. Imidacloprid, one of six other families of neonicotinoids, is the most widely used insecticide in the world so it is little wonder we are hearing so much about colony collapse disorder.

So what is wrong with chemically based herbicides? Herbicides such as Roundup can harm bees, other pollinators, humans and the environment. Herbicides account for about 70 percent of all agricultural pesticide use. Roundup is a popular herbicide used in commercial crop production and the home and garden market. It was first brought to market by Monsanto in the 1970s. Originally known as glyphosate, Roundup is a broad-spectrum herbicide used to kill weeds. With the advent of genetically modified crops, many of which have been genetically engineered to be glyphosate-resistant, farmers have been using it in excess.

When glyphosate is used, it not only kills the weeds but the blooming plants in field borders. This can lead to poor nutrition in bees and make them susceptible to stress diseases. Furthermore, the use of herbicides used in tandem with insecticides and fungicides can have a synergistic effect on toxicity levels.

According to Natural Health News and Scientific Discoveries, “… most chemicals currently in use were only safety tested in isolation — if they were even safety tested at all.” Toxicity is also exacerbated by the process of food irradiation. When the chemical cocktail is exposed to radiation, the toxicity of the chemicals are increased substantially.

A study by the University of Maryland found that a commonly used fungicide can impede the bee’s ability to fight off a potentially lethal parasite. The bottom line is, it’s not just the chemically based insecticides that are effecting the bees, it’s the herbicides and fungicides as well.

Try convincing your dad to use non-chemical based pesticides. Here is a great recipe for weed-be-gone. It’s cheaper than store bought pesticides and will kill just about anything you spray with it.

Weed-be-gone recipe

1 gallon vinegar

2 cups Epsom salt

¼ cup Dawn dish soap (the blue original)

Just mix and spray in the morning after the dew has evaporated. Walk away. Go back after dinner and the weeds are gone!

Another alternative is integrated pest management. This technique involves planting something like mustard around vulnerable lettuce so the mustard gets munched on and not the lettuce. You can also attract beneficial insects that will eat the larvae of aphids, mites and thrips. Attract them by planting wild bergamot, sweet alyssum and English lavender.

Try using sticky traps to trap those pesky buggers! To make your own sticky trap cut rectangular pieces of plastic or wood, paint them yellow and coat the traps with Tangle-Trap, vegetable oil, or another sticky material. Then suspend them near your plants.

Consider getting a bat box and place it near your garden. Bats love to eat all kinds of pesky insects that would otherwise devour your garden. In fact, HC3 recently acquired a bat box that we placed in The Living Classroom Garden in the back of our office. We hope a number of bats will make their home in it. There are many ways to control pests naturally. It just takes a little creativity and ingenuity.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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