How to Prevent Pesticide Poisoning of Your Bees

By Howland Blackiston

With what researchers are finding out about colony collapse disorder and its potential relationship to pesticides, beekeepers can’t be too careful when it comes to pesticide use. Pesticides used to treat lawns and shrubs make for showcase lawns and specimen foliage, but they are no good for the water table, birds, earthworms, and other critters. Some of these treatments are deadly to bees.

If you ever see a huge pile of dead bees in front of your hive, you can be pretty sure that your girls were the victims of pesticide poisoning. Here are a few things you can do to avoid such a tragedy:

  • Let your neighbors know that you are keeping bees. Make sure they know how beneficial pollinating bees are to the community and ecology. Explain to them the devastating effect that pesticide spraying can have on a colony. They may think twice about doing it at all. If they must spray, urge them to do so at dawn or dusk, when the bees are not foraging. Encourage your neighbors to call you the day before they plan to spray. With advance warning, you can protect your bees.
  • On the day your neighbors plan to spray, place a towel that has been saturated with water on top of the outer cover. This will be a water source for the colony. Then cover the entire hive with a bedsheet that you have saturated with water to give it some weight. Let it drape to the ground. The sheet will minimize the number of bees that fly that day. Remove the sheet and towel the following morning after the danger has passed.

Alternatively, you can screen the entrance the night before the spraying and keep the girls at home the entire day. Remove the screen and let them fly the next day.

  • Register your colony with your state’s department of agriculture. You may have to pay a minimal charge for registration. Some states publish a list of all registered beekeepers in the state. Reputable arborists check such lists before spraying in a community. If you are on the list, they will hopefully call you before they spray in your area.