You want lots of bees on your property, but you don’t want the mosquitoes.
While mosquitoes have an important place in the ecosystem, most of us prefer not to have them swarming in the garden and worse, getting inside the house.
Protecting all the pollinators and other insects (and wildlife) in the garden when you want to undertake some mosquito control is really important.
A general insecticide or pest control procedure will kill off almost every insect including bees, spiders and other bugs – and that’s not what we want to be doing if we care about the environment. These chemicals are also toxic to us and our pets.
Sadly and concerningly to a lot of people is the way in which many local county authorities in certain areas maintain regular or seasonal mosquito abatement programs that involves widespread spraying of poison chemicals around entire towns in order to control mosquitoes, in the name of “public health”.
The downsides are obvious: a die off of other insects, not to mention the potential effects on human health. If you live in an area where this takes place, it can certainly bring about anxiety; especially if you love your garden bees and other insects.
The respected magazine Bee Culture states that, “in urban and suburban areas, mosquito abatement practices are causing unnecessary bee kills”, and the Pollinator Stewardship Council is dedicated to educating the public about these programs, as well as doing all they can to protect bees who are at risk from government mosquito spraying programs.
It is well worth getting in contact with them if you require specific information about where you live in the US.
So what sort of mosquito control can you do that is bee-friendly and general insect-friendly?
You’re far from the first person to want to know this and lucky for us, it’s a question that has been investigated for a long time by some of the most knowledgeable bee-people around: those who keep bee hives and need to ensure that their bees are not exposed to poisons.
We can borrow a lot from this knowledge and experience and apply it in our own gardens and homes, no matter how large or small or how many bees you might have around.
Neighbors and government
What happens if you live somewhere where the government conducts large scale insecticide mosquito control spraying? What about a neighbor who sprays pesticides and you are worried it will come on to your property?
Pesticide drift is a major problem and one that, in many locations, those who plan to spray chemicals are meant to avoid happening by modifying how and where they spray, and importantly monitoring weather and wind conditions to avoid their sprays impacting on neighboring properties or natural areas.
Unfortunately this often does not happen, particularly where you’re dealing with an amateur gardener who may not even know or care about chemical safety, or some of the more careless farmers who are focused on profit above health. Different laws apply between the backyard gardener who uses off the shelf chemical sprays, and the large commercial farm who sprays chemicals from the air.
Even when best practices and laws are followed, neighboring properties and those much further away can still suffer from the impacts of wayward insecticide and other chemical spraying when, for example, vapor causes settled chemicals to later raise from the ground and be carried through wind.
A direct neighbor is someone you can hopefully have a one-on-one civil conversation with about the matter.
Even in the smallest gardens where you know someone is spraying to try and control mosquitos with chemicals, and it is drifting into your property, the person may not be aware it’s happening.
While you might have a difficult time trying to convince someone not to use chemicals to control mosquitoes, at the very least they should be able to mitigate their spraying activity to avoid any chemical drifting to your property. If negotiation isn’t possible, contacting your local environment or pollution authority is the next possible option.
Government mosquito spraying comes with its own set of challenges for people who are understandable weary about this sort of mass scale spraying.
Firstly, depnding where you live it’s important to know why these spraying events are happening. For example, in the state of Massachusetts aerial spraying takes place to reduce the risk of a rare illness associated with mosquito bites called eastern equine encephalitis.
When authorities detect an outbreak of this virus in mosquitoes, they might decide to undertake aerial spraying of certain areas.
Many people will question whether this comparitivey low risk illness (as compared to many other risks of illness and death in the US) is worth the negative impacts of chemical spraying. Authorities themselves state that spraying does not eliminate the risk, but simply reduces it.
Sumithrin and piperonyl butoxide are two chemicals which are often combined in these aerial mosquito sprays. Sumithrin is a pyrethroid chemical which is often used in anti-flea treatments for dogs. However, pyrethroids are toxic to cats and to fish. This raises a great concern about these chemicals.
Needless to say, the effects on other wild insects and bees is of great concern to anyone who is a beekeeper, gardener or someone who simply cares for nature.
The EPA generally says that such chemicals used in aerial mosquito sprays don’t pose an “unreasonable risk” – sadly we can take this to mean there is risk and that any collateral damage is deemed acceptable by those making the decisions.
This is bad news for insects, marine life, water safety and wildlife. Authorities state that small garden ponds should be covered when you know spraying will take place. This poses obvious challenges to those property owners who might have larger water bodies to protect like dams, lakes or creeks.
Protecting a larger scale property such as acreage and farms, including water bodies, does come with greater challenges than an average backyard in this case.