Everyyear there is a public environmental concern “du jour” thatgrasps peoples attention and they seem to fixate on it, albeit for a short while. A couple of years ago it was invasive plants. People turned out in droves to hand pull garlic buckwheat up and down River Road. Plant vigilantes showed up at the greenhouses demanding to know if we were sellingpurple loostrife(not since the early 80’s when the people in the conservation districts employed it to naturalize damp wet landscapes). There was even an irate person who demanded I cut down the King Crimson Maple I bought from Baker Nursery in 1978 and planted on my front lawn, on the grounds that it being a Norway Maple, it was an invasive plant. I assured her that even though it was evening, it would be the first thing I did as soon as I finished my dinner.
Human attention spans are short. No one hand pulls garlic buckwheat by the bucket full anymore and the person bent on having me cut down the Norway Maple must have realized she was no more effective on my lawn as any of the other hundreds of lawns in Plainfield and Cornish which had Norway Maples in their landscaping. The environmental concern of 2017 is pollinators. It has been building for a couple of years as the USDA has been concerned regarding the impact pesticides and environmental stress that have been placed on the honey bee populations as well as the nativebee populations. There are some movie documentaries that are devoted to problems of the pollinators and their disappearance. There is some real room for concern, but for some of us it is not a new concern. Beingin the retail arena, we get a lot of public push and concern regarding environmental issues. I have kept honeybees in the past, and currently work with a local beekeeper, and need pollinators in my business. I am not insensitive to the problem by any means. We need to support those pollinator populations for our needs, but we also need to employ insecticides to deal with pest populations that can arise. So it is a balancing act that takes some thought, and some compromise. Additionally, we try to understand, support and sometimes plant habitat for pollinators. Honeybees actually do very little of the pollinating on our farm. We purchase a small amount ofEuropean bumble bee colonies to pollinate in our enclosed tomato greenhouses early in the year, and the native bumblebee populations take care of the blueberries. Honeybees are most useful in vine crops like pumpkins, winter-squash, melons and cukes and what little tree fruit thatwe have. They like raspberries as well, and will be seen in profusion on the blossoms. Solitary ground-bees and small wasps do most of the work in the strawberries. There are little insects that crawl about the blossoms and inadvertently pollinate the flowers. So there are a host of insects other than honey bees, thankfully, that are willing to work towards our pollination needs. When we choose an insecticide for a pest outbreak, we have to think of the impact it mayhave on the pollinators, or as I like to say-the “good guys”. It really does temper our decisions. For example, neonicitinoids have been in the news a lot, and getting bad press. Essentially, it is a systemic nicotine compound that the plants uptake so that when the insects eat the plant they get poisoned. (Nicotine…as in cigarettes. There is a lesson there, dear children…). We use neonicotinoids on the seed pieces of the potatoes when we plant them. The compound protects the emerging plant for about 6 weeks from the predation by the Colorado potato beetle, the single biggest problem in growing potatoes. It replaces 2-3 sprays of Sevin which is that default cure for their predation. The active ingredient in Sevin is carbamate, an active ingredient that is highly persistent and toxic to bee colonies.
Neonics are systemic insecticides that are absorbed into the plant, a very direct way of targeting pests as opposed to general spray applicationsadministered to the plants through boom sprayers or mist blowers, which oftentimes reduce pest predators and bugs "innocently standing by. How long neonics remain active and effective and break down are dependent on many factors. Some of the many factors are pesticide formulation, time of application, and plant metabolic rates. So, in some corn scenarios, the neonic pesticide formulation can still be active at the time corn tassels and bees that are gathering pollen may be affected if they gather corn pollen, even though seed treatment was the only way it was introduced. It is my understanding that the material we use on potato seed pieces has a half life of 6 weeks, which will break down before the potatoes bloom. Again, controlling the colorado potato beetles without neonics would return us to the time when we used multiple overhead foliar applications of materials that are as toxic and far more detrimental to the pollinators and innocent good guy" bugs.
So, as I told a woman who inquired, it is the choice I made because it is the lesser of two evils. Pretty hard to hand pick Colorado potato beetles off from 5 acres of potatoes.
You may be one of the individuals who are caught up in the pollinator collapse concern of 2017. It’s a good thing to know about and understand. There are additional avenues of action to channel your concern other than spending several hundreds of dollars to set up a small backyard apiary or demand neonicitinoids be removed from the marketplace. The biggest thing you can do is plant more flowering shrubs and flowers. The nectar and pollen that the native (and non native) plants provide is key in establishing healthy pollinator populations. Broaden your definition of pollinators from honey bees and bumblebees. There are hundreds of different types of flying and crawling insects that do this work, so spend a little time looking to see who the “good guys” actually are in your garden.
Besides, you don’t need all that lawn to mow anyway. Put some more garden in.