Not all seeds are safe for bees
Seeds that are artificially coloured; white, pink, red, blue and green, may be coated in chemicals that are harmful to bees. Seeds with a blue coating may be treated with copper which is considered “organic”, however, they are still avoided by biological farmers who believe them to be detrimental to the biological engine beneath the soil that generates long term fertility as as little as 3ppm of copper can be toxic to soil fungi.
It has been determined by a vast number of international non industry research studies that chemicals from the Neonicotinoid insecticide family and some fungicides that are coated on seeds are contributing to colony collapse.
Neonicotinoids are systemic chemicals meaning they move throughout the plants entire system, from the coating on the seed, including the nectar, at levels which are toxic to bees as with most insects. The chemical manufacturer advises that these chemicals should never be used on plants that may be visited by bees, but that doesn’t seem to have been applied when using them to coat your seeds.
It is very hard to tell which treated seeds do or do not have neonicotinoid insecticide or harmful fungicides on them. The chemical combinations are so varied that even experts struggle to keep abreast of what combination is what. In addition, here in New Zealand there is little public knowledge about the issues around the use of these chemical treatments and the side-effects these could have on our agricultural, horticultural industries and pollinating systems in the short and long term. New Zealand labeling laws are inadequate and many packets of seeds have little or no information about what their seeds are treated with.
It is likely that the products called Poncho and Gaucho that are produced by Bayer are being used in New Zealand to treat seeds. These include imidacloprid, which is one of the most common neonictenoids used. A seed supplier we talked to said they had noticed an increase in the use of treated seeds by well over 60 % in the last three years. This suggests treated seeds and plants grown from these seeds are now widely spread throughout the country.
So to be sure you are not planting a seed that is going to harm a bee once it has grown into a flower try to use organic seeds which will have been grown and harvested in a way that means they will be good healthy seeds in the first place, and make sure you ask for untreated seed or seed treated with Trichoderma which are beneficial fungi that help protect and feed the seed.
Of these 3 different seeds in our picture one of them is treated. Most untreated seeds look natural and have a varied surface. By placing a focus on using good healthy seed stock and creating healthy living soil you can eliminate the need for chemical support in the first place. Both industry and non industry research shows chemical applications may stop particular bugs or fungi attacking a plant, but they always compromise the overall health of the plant and the quality of the produce it grows.
Many countries overseas are banning these detrimental products as the plight of the bee becomes a serious concern.
Read this article for more information on the general state of play here in New Zealand.
Check out the posts on the processes and products we are using to help our seeds in our Pasture Paintings get the best start by building robust biology.