Bee friendly pest control

Ben Raskin - 22 February 2013

Honey beeThe last couple of weeks have seen some good news for bees. First was the news that some garden centres were withdrawing bug killers that contained the neonciotinoid imidacloprid. And then came a proposal from the European Commission to completely suspend the use of three neonicotinoids – imidiacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin – that have been found to damage bees.

Encouraging as this news is, there are another two types of neonicotinoid – acetamiprid and thiacloprid – found in common gardening products, which are aimed at controlling five pests of the garden: aphid, whitefly, vine weevil, thrips and butterflies. And these chemicals also seem to pose a direct threat to bees.

Hopefully there will be more progress on getting all neonicotinoids banned, but in the meantime the obvious thing to do is for people to stop using them. This still leaves the problem for gardeners as to how to keep pests at bay. So, if you, or anyone you know, is currently using bug sprays with neonicotinoids in here are our top five tips for controlling pests while staying on the good side of our furry flying friends.

  1. Don’t panic! Chances are, if you have a low level of pests in your garden it’s keeping the predators happy by providing them with a meal or two. Pests are essential to your garden in order to maintain the balance of keeping other animals alive - without them, those animals might not survive. Of course, there is a difference between seeing one cabbage white butterfly and losing your entire crop of kale. Each pest and crop will present you with a different situation and there may be a point where you need to take action to save your plants.
  2. Swap the harmful chemicals for bee friendly biological replacements such as nematodes for vine weevil or BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) for cabbage whites. Biological replacements should be an effective way to keep these specific pests at bay.
  3. If you feel that biological replacements aren’t doing the job, chemical options such as soft soap can be used. Unlike biological controls these are not targeted at a particular pest - but they can be good at quickly reducing an infestation. You can then go in with the biological replacement afterwards to keep the numbers down for the rest of the season.
  4. Cultural changes such as netting and hoovering (using little hoovers that you might use to clean your car) could be the answer. These options are good because they have no impact on the plant at all, other than to reducing the number of pests nibbling away.
  5. For the more hardcore gardeners out there, consider alternative systems that build a diverse and balanced ecosystem where pests are under control. Getting a wide range of habitats into your garden is the best way to encourage a wide range of predators. This also includes having access to fresh water and shelter. Some areas of permanent planting – whether trees or perennial plants, will help to contribute to your garden habitat. And last, but by no means least, don’t forget to plant some bee-friendly flowers to keep the pollinators happy!

Love the Bees? Help Keep Britain Buzzing.

After discovering the outdoor life on an organic vineyard in Northern Italy, and a one year professional gardening course at Lackham College, Ben has worked in horticulture for 16 years. Previous incarnations include running a walled garden in Sussex, working for the HDRA (now Garden Organic) at their gardens in Kent, setting up and running the horticultural production at Daylesford Organic Farm, before moving to the Welsh College of Horticulture as commercial manager. Ben is passionate both about the commercial production of high quality organic vegetables and teaching practical skills through on farm learning. He currently works as horticultural advisor and learning manager for the Soil Association, as horticultural advisor for The Community Farm at Chew Magna, and has just signed the lease on a piece of land near Bristol to plant an experimental and educational fruit and agroforestry system.

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sekeeta crowley
26 January 2016 16:36

We own a house in Enfield which used to be our hoe but which we now rent out. The tenant reported bees in the loft. I rang some local bee organisation expecting them for a fee to come and rescue them and find a better home. They insisted they couldn't be bees and that they were probably wasps( they weren't) and said for a fee they could come and destroy them for us. I was horrified and spoke to the tenant who said that they would just keep the nearest window closed, where the children slept and that where he comes from ( Africa) having bees blesses the house with luck and prosperity.

Kumaran Palaniandy
06 December 2015 17:56

Since my retirement as a commercial gas catering engineer in 2010 and moving into sheltered property, I have been lucky to do a bit of vegetable gardening on a plot of land within the estate. I have been doing organic vegetables as much as possible as I was not focusing on the origins of the seeds, seedlings or compost and manure. Recently I attended a Business Enterprise Course and this opened my knowledge to seek the traceability of seeds, seedlings,compost and manure. I am intending to do sales of of organic vegetables to help fund the costs of gardening. Would appreciate a feedback fro whoever is reading my comment on my email krmn1759@

ann in portishead
20 August 2015 12:18

I was honoured to have a wild bees nest below my decking and I believe they chose this site because I had a pineapple broom and a flowering yucca in close proximity to two ceanothus (australian ivy) bushes. As these are not typical bee flowers people might be interested in growing them as they are perennials and require little maintenance.

Lauren Trew
17 August 2015 09:32

Hi Vernon, just wanted you to know I've forwarded your message on to the team. Thanks for getting in touch!

Vernon Purcell
13 August 2015 21:17

Hi there You have a wonderful blog, filled with very interesting content. We are embarking on a new project to site 1000 hive across Sussex, then we want to move on to Surrey and Kent. We know this is a bold project, so we will start with Sussex. I wondered if you would feature the project on your blog?Kind Regards

Christine Joynson
04 December 2014 08:53

I haven't used any chemicals on my land for 30 years. As a lecturer in Horticulture, I sometimes need examples of pests for teaching purposes, but when I hunt for them in my garden, I have real trouble finding them. I know they are there because the predators and parasites are easily found, but the numbers are so low that I have to go elsewhere (usually to the garden of someone who does use chemicals!!!). Incidentally, I too taught at the Welsh college of Horticulture and remember Ben well.

20 June 2014 00:52

In response to Rose. I hope that you and your children have discovered that there is absolutely no reason to be afraid of the bees which have made their home in your bird house - trusting, of course, that you didn't 'get rid' of them. Bees are lovely to have around the garden, and only very, very rarely do they sting - if they were being attacked and felt their life was being threatened, for example. They will happily just bumble around, searching for nectar, inches away from you, completely unbothered. It's important that children are able to see this, and regard bees as the friendly pollinators they are, rather tan a threat. I hope all went well - you should feel yourself honoured!

21 May 2014 10:08

I have a bird house in the garden and bees have decided to use it How can I get rid of them as the children are frightened

Richardson Pest Solutions
21 April 2014 09:35

For obtaining eliminate aphids,white fly etc. in california that is incredibly forward with this stuff they use neem oil or powder in water and spray on the offending pests.Neem could be a natural plant full-grown in Asian nation and utilized in healing.

14 August 2013 23:11

This is more of a question . How does an organic grower keep his fields organic when his neighbor does not grow organic and the wind blowers toward you . And tour organic honey bees is it his farm? Just thinking out loud. ( from the US)

06 August 2013 13:18

I've let my rocket run to seed it's produced lots of white flowers which the bees seem to enjoy. Also a couple of leeks i never pulled last year are now flowering and it's atracting the bees as well. I also have a lot of borage!

Susan Bowie
28 June 2013 12:19

Thanks for the rhubarb water tip Helen. Havent used pesticide for years and mostly in my bee friendly garden we are OK, but occasionally get infestations of caterpillars which can destroy our cabbages in no time. Have a bunny problem though after the cat went.

19 June 2013 10:19

Fungus and bugs are definitely annoying pests! insecticide or homicides should be applied for them. Plus, pest control management should be given attention. For example in our houses, we really have to prioritize sanitation in order to get rid of this pests. There are a ton of things homeowners have to watch out for that will destroy a home, but nothing quite does it like a mildew variety called poria incrassata. It's an especially vicious type of dry rot and it can literally eat a house out from under one's feet. Article resource:

18 June 2013 19:43

The problem is that the farmers are permitted to make their autumn sowings before the ban, therefore the ban on neonicitinoids is only one year.

31 May 2013 17:57

Just reread the bottle, it actually says dangerous to bee's, will take it back.

31 May 2013 15:39

Bee population,!!!"

31 May 2013 15:31

I have just bought provado fruit and veg bug killer, looked it up and now think its harmful to the population, is this right? "

16 May 2013 22:29

Just sprayed today with Provado vine weevil killer. Searched on-line for more, came across all the warnings about neonicotinoids, went out with a torch and took off all flowers and buds from plants just sprayed so the pollinators can't get at them tomorrow. Came indoors and searched for bee friendly vine weevil treatments and found Ben's blog. I'll keep removing flowers as they appear. Can I do more? May God bless Ben Raskin and The Soil Association

Sandy Summers
12 April 2013 16:47

For getting rid of aphids,white fly etc. in California which is very forward with these things they use Neem oil or powder in water and spray on the offending pests.Neem is a natural plant grown in India and used in healing.

31 March 2013 02:21

Love love love bees. Borage is good for them. They love it♡♡

24 March 2013 19:23

Can i keep a hive in my back gardnen i grow my own flowers/veg and were will i get a hive

Jeanette McGarry
23 March 2013 19:50

You suggest using Bacillus thuringiensis to kill Cabbage Whites; some member sof the British Beekeepers Assoc (on Facebook) think it also kills bees. I think if we encourage natural predators such as frogs, toads, newts, hegehogs, birds etc , and enc=sure we have a balanced "food chain" then nature will take care of itself and us!

Sue Harrison
20 March 2013 12:04

Abergavenny and Crickhowell Friends of the Earth are hosting a public meeting entitled The Plight of the Humble Bee on April 18th at St. Michael's Centre, Pen-y-Pound, Abergavenny,NP7 5UD 7pm to 9.30pm. Three good speakers. For more info email Sue on

Helen Underwood
20 March 2013 11:33

The bees thrive here we have been totally organic for 25+ years. The only pest deterrent is soaked rhubard leaves with the resulting water sprayed on any pest eg aphids. Fortunately there aren't many problems and the bees polinate my fruit and veg with excellent results. Keep nature in harmony and remember all things grow with love and care.

Leighton Jones
19 March 2013 13:33

We have at Cyfarthfa Gardening Club in Merthyr Tydfil have arranged a bee keeping course on April 12th 2013. 10am-12 At Cyfarthfa greenhouses .All welcome and free.

Max Beare
19 March 2013 11:10

Have just made a Solitary Bee Hotel out of Drilled out canes put into a Shelter. Saw one in our Gerden Centre and decided to make my own

19 March 2013 10:48

thanks for opening my eyes about bees

18 March 2013 22:04

hi ben, i have become a real bee lover i have several bee homes in my garden and as i progress i hope to keep hives i love bees they have always been a love of mine and i buy plants that that i know will attract them to my garden.I recognise the importence of the humble bee she starts the life cycle and they will always be welcome in my home and garden and my children also know the importence of buzy bee i hope my plants and flowers support them in their v.v. imortent role in our life cycle x

18 March 2013 19:50

As Albert Einstein Once said " If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.”

18 March 2013 19:06

Well done for promoting more awareness on the importance of bees in our gardens

18 March 2013 09:27

Job well done, just wish more people would listen and realise how important it is to look after our bee population and the environment

17 March 2013 20:03

It makes so much sense to use less/no chemicals in the garden. Better for the plants,animals and us!

Anna Louise Batchelor
26 February 2013 13:07

Well done to the Soil Association for all the word done on raising awarness to neonicotinoid's. Still work to be done but this blog post gives some great advice on natural alternatives.

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