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Dishin' the dirt from the garden and beyond

What's wrong with this bee?

I was pulling weeds in my garden yesterday, when a flicker of movement caught my eye.

It was a bee, a big fuzzy one, stumbling around in the grass next to the plot I was weeding.

Only this bee wasn't acting like a bee. Instead of flying to sip at the nearby salvia or monarda, as bees usually do in my garden, this bee seemed clumsy and confused. It would stagger along a blade of grass, pause, then stagger to another one, never opening its wings at all. It looked almost like it was drunk.

I immediately remembered a gardener telling me that she quit using insecticides a few years ago, after the bees from her hive started acting "drunk" after one tree was treated. 

I've always avoided using insecticides in my garden, and I've tried to be careful about what plants I'm buying, ever since neonicotinoids and their suspected impact on bees starting making headlines a couple summers ago.

I didn't think I had anything in my garden that could potentially harm bees. But I can't be absolutely positive, because some of my plants were purchased, at various garden centers, before I'd ever heard of neonicotinoids. I have no way of knowing whether they were treated at the growing range or in the garden center.

Or possibly this particular bee was exposed to something on a neighbor's property and had just staggered over to mine.

Either way, it was sad and distressing to watch this clearly damaged bee, knowing that there are many more like him.

Neonicotinoids' impact on bee health is being studied, and the jury is still out on whether and how much they're contributing to colony collapse disorder. Here in Minnesota, the legislature has pulled back on pollinator protection, deciding that plants don't have to be completely neonicotinoid free to be labeled "pollinator friendly" -- as long as they don't contain enough of the insecticide to kill a bee outright. My colleague Josephine Marcotty has written extensively about this topic: (

I don't know what happened to the bee stumbling around my backyard yesterday. But watching his woozy struggle strengthened my resolve to make my own back yard a bee-friendly oasis. What about you, fellow gardeners? Do bees and their welfare figure into your own garden planning and maintenance? 

Know your bugs before you squish them!

It’s officially bug season -- the time of year when you look out on your leaves and see big gaps produced by hungry caterpillars. My Brussels sprouts have been nibbled on by cabbage worms and aphids are covering my neighbor’s roses. It’s time to attack! However, this year, because of the honeybees in my back yard, any form of chemical pesticide is out. (Yes, my neighbor agreed to comply – and I agreed to help her with any bug infestations!)

So what is a good gardener to do? I use the not-so-pleasant method of squishing. But before I go off willy-nilly killing anything in site, it’s important to properly identify the bugs. This I learned last night when checking out my plum tree.

Looking up I saw a curled leaf that look like it was nibbled on by something. Then I saw them - several bugs about ¼" long with long thoraxes and legs and black and red all over their spikey bodies. I had my fingers ready to pounce when I remembered my training from Master Gardener School – identify first before randomly eradicating bugs. So I took these photos and found my bug book.

Thank goodness I didn’t squash these little gems! The plum tree is fortunate enough to be the host of several lady bug larvae. Lady bugs eat aphids! My neighbor will be happy! We won’t have to spray her roses with soap water after every rain shower. Hopefully, the lady bugs will be enjoying a feast of clear green aphids and fresh rain water.

But this should not stop anyone from continually checking for other bugs. Japanese Beetles are just about to emerge. The larvae live in moist grass, and once the beetles emerge, they eat just about everything in sight. Roses seem to be a favorite. When you are identifying Japanese Beetles, look for an iridescent green body.

The fly fast, so squishing is quite difficult. This is when you use the soapy water bucket method of eradication. Use a bucket with about 3" of soapy water at the bottom. Put the entire stem of infested plant into the bucket. Shake. If the plan goes right, the beetles will plop into the soapy water and not be able to fly off. But, if history proves right… you’ll be shaking and tossing, and shaking and tossing.

Anyone with bug secrets to share?

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