Honeybees are in serious trouble. 2013 overwinter death rates ranged from 40 to 90 percent across the U.S. and its 2.4 million commercial beehives. The American Honey Producers Association’s beekeeper of the year, Darren Fox of Cache County, Utah, reported losing 70 percent of his hives this past winter.
Beekeepers around the globe are all saying the same thing: Neonicotinoids (a group of insecticides) are wiping their bees out. The EPA is being sued by farmers and the following groups: Beyond Pesticides, the Center for Food Safety, the Pesticide Action Network North America, the Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental Health for keeping these lethal chemicals on the U.S. market (California has more than 300 kinds neonicotinoids on its fields).
Nature has a wonderful alternative to man-made poisonous insecticides; it's the magnificent Indian neem tree, known globally as 'the village pharmacy.'
Imagine one kind of tree that offers medicine, cosmetics, rope, tea, glue, wood, fertilizer, insecticides, lubricant, lighting and heating oil, veterinary medicine and shade.
Neem is native to India and Burma. It grows from the southern Indian tip of Kerala to the Himalayan hills. It spans both tropical and subtropical latitudes, from wet tropical to semi arid regions and from sea level to an elevation of 2,300 feet. It does not tolerate cold temperatures nor saturated soils.
These fast-growing, long-lived evergreen beauties can easily reach 100 feet in height with 8-foot girths and impressive regal crowns. Their profuse white mellifluous flowers bear fruit that at first glance resembles an olive.
The fruits have a sweet pulp that is an important source of food for birds, bats and baboons. A hard shell encases seeds known as a kernel—sometimes there are as many as three kernels in each fruit.
Neem has been introduced to over 30 countries around the globe including the following states: Arizona, California, Florida and Hawaii.
For three thousand years the Indian Ayurveda shamans have known of neem’s potent insecticide and medicinal properties.
The neem tree’s remarkable defense belongs to a class of compounds called triterpenes, more specifically limonoids. At least 9 of these limonoids block insect growth.
Azadirachtin is neem’s main defense. It blocks and disrupts growth and reproduction of insects. Both meliantriol and salannin prevent insects from feeding.
Extracts of neem are effective against at least 200 different insect species including locust, mosquitoes carrying malaria and voracious Australian blowflies.
At the same time, neem extracts are harmless to pollinators like bees, butterflies, moths, beetles and bats as well as beneficial insects such as spiders, ladybugs and dragonflies, as well as warm-blooded animals and birds.
Turplex, Azatin EC, Align, Bioneem and Margosan-O are all neem-based products available in America that protect crops.
Each of us has a crucial role to play this spring to assist America’s beleaguered bees. Do not use any insecticides, herbicides, fungicides or mitcides in your garden. Place a water bowl in your yard and replenish it daily – bees get thirsty as temperatures begin to rise.
In Malibu this Earth month, please provide a safe source of nectar and pollen for the Santa Monica Mountain bees by planting a pomegranate tree in your yard. Pomegranate fruit is loaded with vitamin C, B5 and delicious, fibrous edible seeds, which will help keep your family healthy.
Earth Dr. Reese Halter is a broadcaster, biologist and author of "The Incomparable Honeybee."