Bees, so tiny and minuscule in contrast to our great planet’s size, are a vital species whose duties offer us the luxury of every one out of three bites of food. Seriously, the numbers behind their performance are astonishing. They account for 80 percent of the world’s pollination–which makes sense considering one bee colony has the potential to pollinate up to 300 million flowers per day.
Their hard work produces some of the most delectable crops we see on our plates: avocados, apples, pears, grapes, tomatoes, peppers, berries, kiwi, peaches, sesame, cherries, celery, lemon, watermelon, broccoli, cabbage, vanilla, cauliflower, hazelnut, cantaloupe, onion, nuts, celery, cocoa, etc. The list in its entirety would span this article–making bees the supplier of 90 percent of the variety in our diets.
So why are honey bees dying off at turbo rates if our health depends on them? The answer to that is simple yet complex in some ways, but sad all around.
The Culprits Behind Their Dwindling Population
The complexity of the honeybee’s decline is due to the relation of the causes: habitat destruction, drought, pesticides, disease, air pollution, global warming, nutrition deficiencies. Human influence is responsible for each of these factors–climate change being one we can’t end immediately. However, we can band together and diminish the threat of extinction by employing the helpful lifestyle changes below.
Ten Easy Ways to Support Bee Population
Nix the pesticides!
Ugh. Pesticides are a huge bee offender. Especially neo-nicotinoid, one of the most common pesticides. It’s responsible for playing a part in Colony Collapse Disorder–an epidemic when worker bees disappear and leave the queen, stored food, nurse bees and offspring. Be sure to scan any plants you buy from retailers for listed pesticides to prevent yourself from adding to this vicious cycle.
Biologists have found more than 150 different chemical residues in bee pollen, a deadly “pesticide cocktail” according to University of California apiculturist Eric Mussen. The chemical companies Bayer, Syngenta, BASF, Dow, DuPont and Monsanto shrug their shoulders at the systemic complexity, as if the mystery were too complicated. They advocate no change in pesticide policy. After all, selling poisons to the world’s farmers is profitable.
Furthermore, wild bee habitat shrinks every year as industrial agribusiness converts grasslands and forest into mono-culture farms, which are then contaminated with pesticides. To reverse the world bee decline, we need to fix our dysfunctional and destructive agricultural system. (Greenpeace.org)
Fill your garden with bee friendly flora.
When you garden with bee friendly plants and practices, you’re assisting their diets. Due to nasty monoculture farming processes–along with intense winters and city development–bees have lost much of their habitat. Planting flowers and a good set of herbs and produce grants them with the resources to complete their imperative little big jobs.
Flora Great For Bee Foraging:
Spring Season –lilac, lavender, sage, verbena, and wisteria.
Summer Season–mint, squash, tomatoes, pumpkins, sunflowers, oregano, rosemary, poppies, honeysuckle.
Fall Season– fuschia, mint, bush sunflower, sage, verbena, toadflax.
Let the wildflowers live!
Sure, they’re eyesores, but they actually do serve a purpose. Bees take to them like candy! They love them and are some of the most integral food sources for North American bees. So think twice before yanking those dandelions from the ground.
Treat yourself to local, raw honey.
When it comes to honey, quality is key. And queenofthesun.com breaks down the reasoning of this so well.
The honey you buy directly sends a message to beekeepers about how they should keep their bees. For this reason, and for your own personal health, strive to buy local, raw honey that is from hives that are not treated by chemicals. It can be hard to find out what is truly “local” and truly “raw”–and even harder yet to find out what is untreated. Here’s a few guidelines: If you find it in the grocery store and it’s imported from China, don’t buy it. There have been a number of cases recently of chemically contaminated honey coming from China. If it’s coming from the grocery store, but it doesn’t say the words “pure” or “raw” and you can’t read in the description that it’s untreated by chemicals, don’t buy it. If it’s untreated, the label will say, as this is an important selling point. We recommend a simple solution for most people. Go to your farmer’s market and shake hands with the beekeepers you meet. There are beekeepers at nearly every farmer’s market selling their honey and other products. Have a conversation with them, find out what they are doing to their hives, and how they are keeping their bees. If they are thoughtful, respectful beekeepers who keep their bees in a sustainable, natural way, then make a new friend and support them!
Aid bees with hydration.
Bees love water! And if you own a pool, you’ve learned this first hand. I spent majority of my outdoor time, this past summer, scooping out drowning bees from what’s surely an ocean like body of water to them. So how can you quench their thirst without killing them? Set a water basin outside–something small, like a bird bath. Fill it with a little bit of water and river rocks so they can always crawl their way out.
Choose local and organic.
Switching to local and organic practicing farms encourages safe and revitalizing agriculture. This is a must–as heavy chemicals and other unhealthy farming methods do nothing but ruin the Earth and our health.
Keep in mind, USDA Organic Certification can be expensive and you may find many great farmers and beekeepers with excellent food and honey that isn’t USDA certified simply because they don’t produce a high quantity or opt for the expense of certification. Don’t let this get in the way of supporting them and if you’re worried about their products—have a conversation with them. (Ed. Note – A huge challenge for beekeepers is to keep their bees in an area where there is no chemical spray within 3 miles, as this is really what is required to guarantee truly organic honey. All the more reason for us all to avoid the use of harsh chemicals.)
Grow your own food.
Growing your own goods kills two birds with one stone. For one, planting the same fruits and vegetables that bees are responsible for pollinating, allows for pollination diversity. Second, growing things like tomatoes prevents the importing of bumblebees by commercial farmers. This practice is harsh on the bee population. Queens are caged to prevent them from flying away to create their own colonies, while bumblebees are incinerated after an eight week mark of labor.
Get involved in your community.
You can use the power of your voice anywhere you please. It’s a mighty tool we’re given and can be utilized to bring awareness of bee decline to places like town meetings, academic institutions, social media, online forums, conferences, fairs, workshops etc.
Leave a patch of soil bare in your yard.
Certain bees–ground-dwelling bees like sweat and mining breeds–like to make homes in warm, dry soil.
Take a stand with congress.
Back bills that favor the support of various bee colonies. Share petitions and pollinator initiatives that push for agricultural and environmental change.
Final food for thought:
Though we are keepers of this Earth, we are borrowers. We need this land and its functions to survive. It does not need us. We’re created to co-exist and balance each other with a labor of love called give and take. As humans, we must re-evaluate our place in this world and all it does for us. Isn’t it rad to breathe oxygen, eat fresh food that fills and heals, bathe in the sun, enjoy water and sunsets? There’s no greater symphony than the wild. No better art than the various terrains and animals of our planet. Nature and its many wonders, are a masterpiece. It’s time we stand up for it, and give a little bit more before we insist on always taking.