Ditch harmful pesticides and protect a vital part of our ecosystem.
Pollinators are crucial to life on earth. Many varieties of plants – fruits and vegetables included – rely on animals for pollination, which is essentially the reproductive fertilization of the plant. Honey bees are perhaps one of the best-known pollinators, but other animals and insects such as ants, butterflies, beetles, and birds act as pollinators as well.
THE IMPORTANCE OF POLLINATORS
The health of pollinators, particularly bee colonies, have been a subject of importance in recent years, as experts have become increasingly concerned over emerging evidence indicating declining health of honey bee populations. Experts point to a number of factors that could be contributing to this problem including pests, pathogens, poor nutrition, pesticide exposure, and bee management practices.
In 2008, researchers at Penn State published their findings examining the relationship between bees and pesticide exposure. They analyzed 1,300 pollen samples and found that 91% were contaminated with pesticides. Of the samples analyzed, 46 different pesticides were detected and up to 17 different pesticides were found in a single pollen sample. Emerging research such as this suggests that the known harmful effects of high-risk pesticides to humans appears to also be negatively affecting bees. And, as we know, bees and other pollinators are critical for the fertilization of the very plants we eat—it’s all connected.
At MADE SAFE®, we spend a lot of time considering the impact of the substances that we use on our bodies and in and around our homes. We employ our unique Ecosystem Screening Approach as part of our MADE SAFE Certification process because we believe that ingredients and materials that negatively impact animals, aquatic life, and the environment – air, water, sediment, and soil – will ultimately negatively impact the health of humans too. The Ecosystem Screening Approach involves screening each ingredient for bioaccumulation, environmental persistence, human toxicity, contamination, terrestrial toxicity, and aquatic toxicity. High risk pesticides raise many red flags under the Ecosystem Approach criteria, meaning they would not be permitted for use in MADE SAFE Certified products.
HOW TO CREATE A SAFER PLACE FOR POLLINATORS
As spring and summer roll around and the weather warms, there is an associated rise in the use and application of pesticides. While the agricultural industry is a conspicuous source of pesticide exposure affecting pollinators, another huge source of pesticide application and exposure is the average American household. In fact, the EPA estimated that in 2012, 88 million households used pesticides. Researchers at Oregon State have also found that “85% of all U.S. households have at least one pesticide in storage, and 63% have one to five stored” in the home.
As you prepare to care for your backyard (or even a balcony garden) this year, consider alternatives to pesticides not only as a means of protecting you and your family from their harmful effects, but also as a way of protecting the health of your friendly neighborhood pollinators. Here are some less conventional solutions to help you think outside the box with your garden this year:
- Consider No-Mow May. If you have a lawn, consider participating in No-Mow May this year, if your community allows it. Not mowing for the entire month helps create friendly habitats for pollinators early in the season when they need it most! Backyards can be utilized as a friendly space for bees and other pollinators, which are crucial to the health of our ecosystem. Plants –even those that we are quick to condemn as weeds – attract pollinators. Use the month to reframe your approach. Perhaps clover isn’t as ugly as you originally thought and you might even find that dandelions can be delicious food for humans too. Instead of hating the weeds, try embracing them for a bit.
- Choose native grass or ground cover. Choose grasses and ground covers that are native to your area. Planting grass that is native to your climate is advantageous because they’re adapted to your region and, therefore, require less water than traditional grass. This curtails the problem by cutting back on the need for pesticides and herbicides in the first place. Visit your local nursery and ask for their recommendations for your area or search for native plants online. You could also consider a ground cover instead of traditional grass. An example of this for many northern climates is a low maintenance, drought tolerant clover.
- Mow less. It may sound counterintuitive, but grasses that are slightly longer (approximately 3 inches or more) can shade out weeds and prevent them from growing. A longer lawn also helps the blades grow deeper roots, which in turn leads to more resilient grasses that don’t dry out as quickly.
- Seek out pollinator-friendly pesticide alternatives. Opting for natural weed killers—either premade or DIY—can reduce your usage of and exposure to high-risk pesticides and herbicides. Whether it be essential oils, dish soap, or vinegar, there are other options beyond conventional pesticides. You can also pour boiling water directly onto weeds to kill them.
- Remove weeds mechanically. Weeding by hand, the old standby, is a great nontoxic way to remove weeds while also providing you with a bit of a workout. Make sure to get those stubborn roots! There are also nifty weeding devices available that remove plants such as dandelions and don’t require any bending.
- Call in the critters. Some people are turning to ruminant critters such as goats and sheep to help control their yard, as they will eat away weeds and trim down overgrown landscapes. You might even find a local farmer or service loaning out their goats to cut back undesired vegetation.
We hope this provides you with a starting place to make your backyard a welcoming place for pollinators (and your friends and family too). Share with us on Instagram or Facebook what you’re doing for pesticide alternatives this year and maybe even snap a photo of your backyard pollinators!
“Not a single bee has ever sent you an invoice.
And that is part of the problem – because most of what comes to us from nature is free, because it is not invoiced, because it is not priced, because it is not traded in markets, we tend to ignore it.”
-Pavan Sukhdev, United Nations report, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity.