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Originally published Friday, July 12, 2013 at 11:01 AM

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Save the bees, save ourselves: Let's get busy!

The EPA first approved the pesticide clothianidin in 2003, against the warnings of their own scientists. Within a few years, bees began dying off in large numbers.

Special to The Seattle Times

Local news partner - Plant Talk

Valerie Easton writes in her blog about gardens and the people who make them.

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IN ALL THE sorry news about the fate of honeybees (and consequentially, the fate of humans), one poignant story stands out.

In hives that died out, forensics show that the bees themselves recognized the threat of pesticides. They sealed off cells that held pesticide-infected pollen to try to protect cleaner pollen in neighboring cells. Unfortunately, even sealing part of their own hives didn't save them.

This past winter, U.S. beekeepers reported losing nearly 50 percent of their hives. Evidence strongly suggests that pesticides are the main culprit. The European Union recently banned the neonicotinoid class of pesticides that is considered responsible for such dire colony collapse.

It's only common sense that bees with their tiny, busy nervous systems would be susceptible to poisons. Has no one at the Environmental Protection Agency read "Silent Spring"? There's a new report that says herbicides are causing cancer in dogs — they walk on sprayed lawn, then lick their paws or fur and develop tumors. Poison is poison.

The EPA first approved the pesticide clothianidin in 2003, against the warnings of their own scientists. Within a few years, bees began dying off in large numbers. The EPA's response? It needs two more years to study these pesticides.

So what can gardeners do besides writing to EPA regulators and demanding swift action? Turn your garden into a safe haven for insects, bees and birds. If we all tend our gardens organically, we'll create a chain of refuge through cities and suburbs, ensuring safe passage for pollinators and all creatures. We should, of course, do this for our children, our pets, our neighbors, ourselves, anyway. This means no slug bait, no Roundup, no stinky sprays from the hardware store, no matter how they might claim to be "safe for pets."

Be sure to include native and other pollinator-attracting plants in your garden. The fragrant ground cover sweet alyssum, which you can grow easily from seed, attracts more pollinators than any other plant. You'll find "Seattle's Best Pollinator Plant List," handily arranged by season, at the Urban Bee Project site: http://urbanbeeprojectseattle.com.

It's no sacrifice to plant from this list because the same flora that appeals to bees usually appeals to humans, too: salvia, lobelia, rosemary, poppies, sunflowers, flowering currant, mahonia, lavender and mint, among many. Make sure there's a source of water in your garden; a fountain, a pond, even a birdbath you keep scrupulously clean. And you'll enjoy bird song, bee buzz and hummingbird antics as you help nature replenish itself.

Consider joining the increasing ranks of backyard beekeepers. My garden is fairly quivering with bees this summer because I'm lucky enough to have neighbors who maintain hives. Besides the Urban Bee Project site, check out the Puget Sound Beekeepers Association (www.pugetsoundbees.org/). Seattle Tilth offers classes in urban beekeeping, including both mason and honeybees (seattletilth.org).

Speaking of mason bees, it's easy to house these gentle native bees in your garden, and they're excellent pollinators. Dave Hunter at Crown Bees (www.crownbees.com/) offers supplies and advice via his free "Bee-Mail" newsletter. Hunter's mantra? Every backyard can contribute to saving our food supply.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.

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