The Buzz about Bees and How You Can Help Save Them
Bees are in trouble and, consequently, so is our food supply and the biodiversity within our eco-systems.
Bees: The Problem, Potential Causes, and Response
In 2006, beekeepers began reporting a larger than normal loss of bees. This trend, known as Colony Collapse Disorder, remains a problem. In fact, reports indicate that more than half of the honey bee population was lost in ten years. The loss of bees in and of itself is cause for concern, but the critical role they play in pollination of our food supply (over 1/3 of it, in fact) and other beneficial plants has raised major alarm bells.
The cause of the decline in bees is still up for debate, with most scientist agreeing that a variety of factors are contributing to the problem. Frequent culprits cited include agrichemicals; climate change; mites; malnutrition; disease; and loss of habitat.
In 2007 the U.S. Department of Agriculture took the lead to address the problem by forming a task force that recommended data collection and research followed by mitigation measures. This was followed by a Pollination Task Force formed in 2014 by the Obama administration, which was focused on efforts to reduce the loss of honeybees during the winter, increasing monarch butterfly populations, and promoting pollination habitats on federal lands. (I’m not holding my breath that these efforts will continue under the Trump administration.)
To read more about the problem, potential causes, and response, see: the EPA’s Pollinator Protection page and Obama Unveils Plan to Reverse Alarming Decline of Honeybees in National Geographic.
What Can You Do?
If you are willing to become a backyard beekeeper using best practices – bravo! While I don’t mind them buzzing around the garden and the woods, I’m not ready to don a bee suit and mask nor a bee bonnet. Regardless, here are some ways we can play a small part in helping these critical pollinators.
Provide a Healthy and Nutritious Habitat
No matter what size space you have, you can create a habitat for bees – whether in a window planter, on your deck, in your vegetable or flower gardens, or in a field. A few key rules of thumb – single-petal flowers are usually best, combine plants for a continuous bloom source throughout the seasons, and buy organic – whether seeds or plants.
The scale here is really up to you. The key is to do your research. What plants are suited to my area and the place where I will plant them that are a nutritious source for bees? If I have lots of space, how can I arrange the plants to best create a pollinating environment? What bee-friendly plants can I incorporate that will cut down on pesticide use?
There are many resources and products to point you in the right direction. My “bee goals” for this year come primarily from two sources: The Honeybee Conservancy’s Plant A Garden guide and Planting Herbs that Attract Honeybees from Keeping Backyard Bees.
If you hurry, you may be able to get free wildflower seeds through Cheerios’ Bring Back the Bees Campaign. (I just did!) And, if you miss out on that, consider ordering some wildflower seeds from Amazon Smile to brighten up a bee’s day.
This article contains an affiliate link which may result in Scattered Branches receiving a small fee, a free product, or some other benefit – at no additional cost to you.
In addition to bee-friendly plants, you should provide a water source too. Consider a bird bath, or even a shallow pie-pan, lined with marbles. I’ve also noticed the bees like to hang out on my small pond plants to rehydrate.
Ditch the Commercial Pesticides
Although the EPA has issued best-management practices for pollination protection, it’s better to avoid the use of any chemical pesticides. There are many DIY natural concoctions designed to control weeds, insects, fungi, and other problems. Do your research, try out some, and let me know how they work. I’ll do the same!
Keep in mind that if you purchase plants or seeds that have already been treated with any chemicals, you defeat your own purchase. Buy organic.
Speaking of buying organic, you can help the bees not just by buying organic plants, but by buying organic food. I know it is more expensive, but the more that we, as consumers, can spring for it, the more innovative solutions will be sought to bring the cost down of organic food. It’s good for you and good for the bees, so do what you can.
Eat Local, Organic Honey
Almost all grocery stores now sell local, organic honey – you just have to read the label and maybe pay a little bit more. Nevertheless, you will be supporting a small business in your community that likely has a vested interest in ensuring the success of the honeybee population in the future. Bonus – local honey is believed to reduce allergy symptoms via exposure to pollinators from the local plant population.
Use Your Voice and Donate
Share your seeds, plants, and knowledge with friends and family. Talk up what you do to help protect the bees, and you will inspire others to do the same. You can also donate to a 501(c)(3) designed to protect bees and/or sponsor a beehive through numerous organizations.
I, for one, have big plans for how to incorporate bee-friendly elements into my flower and vegetable gardens this year. Stay tuned for related articles. I’d love to hear what you are doing to! Email me or leave a comment.