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Home / Smart Harvest

How to spray pesticide without killing the bees

If you must spray your farmn, to protect the honey bees, avoid spraying the blooms directly. Apply the insecticide in the evening when bees are not active. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

For a long time, beekeepers struggled to protect their hives from pests, viruses and other colony destroying threats. Now with increased use of pesticides, beekeepers must be prepared to lose this important insect because pesticides are quickly wiping out food and habitat that bees need to thrive. 


Exposure to agricultural pesticides called “neonicotinoids” is decimating honey bee population than previously thought. 

Honey bees play a vital role in crop production because it takes more than soil, water, and sunshine to make the world green.

At least 30 per cent of the world’s crops and 90 per cent of all plants require cross-pollination to spread and thrive, and bees are the most important pollinators. To sustain these beneficial insects, proper application of pesticides so as not to cause damage is key.

Spray in the evening

Honey bees are attracted to blooming flowers as a source of nectar for making honey. If you must spray, avoid spraying the blooms directly. Apply the insecticide in the evening when bees are not active.

Reduce deaths

Honey bees forage during daylight hours when temperatures are above 12-15 degrees centigrade.

As the sun begins to set, they return to their hives for the evening.

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Thus, spraying pesticides in the evening hours can greatly reduce honey bee mortality because the bees are not in the fields.

Choose less toxic pesticides

If you must spray, choose pesticides that are less toxic and those that degenerate faster.

This will reduce the mortality rate of honey bees.

Many of the newer pesticides being marketed today have a faster residual time which is the time required to reduce the activity of the chemical to safer levels for bee activity.

When these pesticides are sprayed in the fields, it takes only a few hours for them to degrade as opposed to a few days or weeks.

Different formulations

Pesticides come in different formulations: dusts (D), wettable powders (WP), soluble powders (SP), emulsifiable concentrates (EC), solutions (LS), and granulars (G). Solutions, emulsifiable concentrates, and granulars are the best formulations to use.

This is because they dry quickly and do not leave a powdery residue unlike the dusts and wettables. Granulars are similar to dusts but are larger in particle size.

They are applied into the soil or broadcast on the surface of the ground.

They are seldom used on blooming plants and are essentially non-hazardous to bees.

On the other hand, dusts and wettable powders will stick to the thousands of tiny hairs found on the body surface of the honey bee. These dust particles are then transferred back to the hive and stored along with the pollen.

This can cause an entire colony to collapse if the pollen is fed to the queen or the brood.

Application method

Aerial applications have the highest potential risk for killing bees.

Most bee kills occur when the pesticide drifts or moves from the target area into the apiary or onto crops attractive to the bees.

The outcome of drift can be disastrous.

Spraying during windy days greatly increases the risk of drift. Using granular formulations, soil treatments or equipment that confines the spray to the intended target can help reduce the risk of drift from pesticides.

[The writer is an expert on sustainable agriculture and agricultural solutions]

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