Do you enjoy crunching a fresh apple? How about eating almonds? It is said that every third bite of food we consume is dependent on bees and other pollinators. So what happens if the bee numbers continue to decline? Think about that for a minute. A world without most fruit. How about broccoli, eggplant, and tea? It’s all a bit frightening. As Phil Chandler says, a world without bees is a world “without flowers, without color, without fragrance, without beauty.” Let’s talk briefly about what is happening in the world of bees and what each one of us can do to help.
Bees are disappearing. There has been much attention brought to this issue over the last five years including two recent documentaries – The Vanishing of the Bees and the Silence of the Bees. Both films discuss the causes of honeybee and pollinator decline. It is hard to narrow down a specific culprit, but speculation includes: habitat loss, poor nutrition, pesticide use, as well as a variety of bee illnesses and pest infestations. These losses came to light publicly in 2006 when beekeepers across the US began loosing hives in large numbers, a phenomenon that was coined Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
Although CCD losses have declined in recent years, there is still much concern about the life of the honeybee. So much of our agriculture depends on these lovely creatures for pollination that we must take steps to correct our behavior and help save the bees.
So what can you do to help?
1 – Avoid chemical use in your yard
This seems like a basic step, but many do not follow it. It’s too easy to pick up pesticides or herbicides from your local big box store and not think about what that choice means for the bees and other pollinators that roam your land. Next time, take the extra step and read labels. You will likely be surprised by what you find. Instead of turning to the common solution, try organic options and natural remedies. Better yet, commit to completely avoiding the use of any chemicals in your yard. Encourage those around you to do the same.
2 – Buy Organic
Pesticide use is one of the contributors to the decline of the bees. Buying organic is a direct message to the farmers that we wish to choose organic produce over the conventionally grown options. More demand for organic produce will mean more farmers converting their land to organic in order to provide for us. More organic options = less pesticide use = happier bees. Vote with your dollars spent and your voice will surely be heard.
3 – Plant bee-beneficial flowers
Another contributor to the loss of the pollinators is the decline of their habitat. Every year there are fewer and fewer natural habitats in which pollinators can live. The bees can’t find good living situations and end up suffering from the lack of food and nutrients available to them. That leads to additional stress, putting them at higher risk for disease. It’s a vicious cycle. You can help by choosing to put plants in your yard that bees prefer and vary them so that you can ensure you have blooms for as long in the season as possible. Reduce your lawn and replace it with flowering plants. Native plants and wild flowers are always a good option, or you can consult a list of plants that honeybees favor.
4 – Bee nice & Bee friendly
Bees need friends too. Many people confuse honeybees and bumblebees with wasps and think of them in a negative light. Know the difference. When you hear someone talking negatively about bees, correct them, and share your knowledge. Learn all you can about bees and about how to best protect them. If you find a swarm, or know someone who finds one, call a beekeeper. Your local beekeeping association should have a call list of individuals who have signed up specifically for swarm retrieval. Many beekeepers will happily come and relocate honeybees from your yard (or your house) to a hive they manage. Bee rescues are inspirational stories. Bee an advocate. Speak for the bees.
5 – Support your local beekeeper
Buy local honey. Your local beekeeper is spending his or her time and money to keep bees in a happy home. Again, you make your choice by choosing where your dollars go. If possible, purchase honey from a beekeeper who practices natural beekeeping and integrated pest management (IPM) techniques rather than relying on chemicals.
6 – Consider a backyard bee hive
If you are a braver soul and up for an adventure, a backyard hive is a lot of fun. Keeping bees is not as complicated as you might imagine and the rewards are sweet (pun intended!). Not sure if you’re ready for that next step? Contact your local beekeeping association and sign up for a bee course. Most associations offer short courses where you have a chance to learn more about bees and how to keep them. Some will even allow you to watch during a hive inspection and even participate. It’s a great way to find a local bee mentor and see if you have what it takes to officially become a beekeeper.
Do you have other tips for becoming more bee-friendly?