While you may think of bees simply as a summertime nuisance there’s more than meets the eye with these hard-working insects. Bees actually help to ensure that many of your favorite foods to reach our dinner tables each night. From apples to almonds, we have bees to thank for any one of our favorite foods coming to fruition.
Sadly, due to environmental pollution and deforestation, many domestic bee varieties now face a greater foe than ever before, a condition known as Colony Collapse Disorder. A disorder that causes bee populations to plummet, which means that over time, many of the organic produce foods we rely on day in and day out could also be at risk of disappearing from our meal plans as we know them.
In the United States alone, more than twenty-five percent of all honey bee populations has disappeared since 1990. This is particularly scary facts as bees, one of a myriad of other animals, including birds, bats, beetles, and butterflies, called pollinators, animals that aid in the propagation of domestic food crops by way of cross-pollination, or the the transfer of pollen to a stigma, ovule, flower, or plant to allow fertilization. Bees, in particular, are vital to food production.
Cross-pollination directly helps at least thirty percent of the world’s crops and ninety percent of our wild plants to thrive. Without bees to spread seeds, many plants—including food crops—would die off. For when domestic and international bee populations die off as will human beings.
Beyond the fields, bees also help to keep our economy humming. More than $15 billion a year in U.S. crops are pollinated by bees, including apples, berries, cantaloupes, cucumbers, and various other crops. U.S. honey bees also produce about $150 million domestically in honey product revenue annually.
The monetary effects of this decline can already be seen from a global perspective. As the global economic cost of bee decline, including lower crop yields and increased production costs, has been estimated to be as high as $5.7 billion per year since 1990. Which makes maintaining bee populations crucial for keeping American tables stocked with quality organic produce.
Consider this, with every third morsel of produce you consume, you could ideally thank a bee for that tasty bite of food.
Researchers believe that Colony Collapse Disorder may be caused by a number of interwoven factors including Global warming, which has caused flowers to bloom earlier or later than usual, as well as pesticide use on farms, which caused parasites such as harmful mites, to be immune from crop dusting, while simultaneously killing pollinators, such as bees, each growing season. A deadly combination when it comes to organically grown produce.
So what can be done to protect our precious bee populations?
To begin, we can urge our policymakers to take action to protect the bees and other pollinators that help keep fresh food on our table. This means increased grant funding to aid farmers for organic farming practices that help wild bee populations thrive, such as leaving habitat for bees in their surrounding fields, crop rotation, and avoiding the use of harmful pesticides.
We can also urge policymakers to increase funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), so we can invest in our farmers and farming communities by way of research on pollinators and organic Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques through Farm Bill conservation programs.
We can also create bee-friendly yards at home. If you are a gardener like me, your weekends may find your elbow deep in planting your summer gardens and annual landscaping. I’m reminded of years past and my struggles to grow certain crops. Despite my best efforts, cucumbers were always absent from my garden harvest. Year after year, no matter how hard I tried, I could not get any cucumbers to grow. Because what was missing from my garden were honeybees.
So with this in mind here are a few ways you can keep a more bee-friendly garden at home:
Choose plants that attract bees: Bees love native wildflowers, flowering herbs, berries and many flowering fruits and vegetables. Some honeybee favorites include – mints, basil, sage, thyme, borage, oregano, lavender, chives, berries, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cucumbers, tomato, winter squash, pumpkins, melons, watermelons, broccoli, crocus, tulips, sunflowers, asters, lilacs, wisteria, cosmos, black-eyed Susans, gaillardia, cup plants, goldenrod, loosestrife, bachelor’s buttons, peony and honeysuckle.
Use spacing to your advantage: If you have space, planting any type of fruit tree is perfect and trees such as maple, willow, black locust, and sumac are also good food sources for bees.
Group similar plants together: Try to plant at least one square yard of the same plant together to make a perfect bee attractor. But if you are short on space planting just a few wildflowers or herbs in a planter or window box is all that’s needed to provide more foraging opportunities for bees.
Pick plants with long blooming cycles: Or choose plants with successive blooms. This way the bees will keep coming back again and again.
Let your plants flower: Leave the flowers on your plants and deadhead them to allow the honeybees to get the pollen and nectar they need. If you are growing herbs or vegetables such as broccoli, harvest it but leave the plant intact. When you are done let it go to flower for the pollinators and leave it in the garden until the flowers are gone.
Provide a fresh water source: A bird bath filled with pea gravel submerged in water provides bees an area to stand on while also providing needed water sources for honeybees each season.
Avoid the use of pesticides and herbicides in your garden: Or anywhere in your yard including your lawn, for that matter. A simple rule of thumbs- if little paws or hands touch those areas, pesticides don’t belong there! This ban also applies to products your lawn care company uses. When in doubt leave it out.
Appreciate the beauty of weeds: Dandelions, clovers, loosestrife, milkweed, goldenrod and other flowering weeds are very important food sources for bees. In areas filled with green sprawling lawns, dandelions and clovers are vital plants for a bees survival. Let them grow and the next time you see a dandelion going to seed, grab it, blow those seeds around and feel good knowing you are doing your part to help save the bees!
Change your mindset: At first, you may not like the idea of attracting stinging insects into the garden. Keep in mind that stinging is a defensive behavior used for defending the nest against predators. Just as humans instinctively protect our children, as do bees! Most bees as far too busy to sting. Ever watched a bee when it visits a flower and noticed that the bee often too busy to even notice you! Foraging bees are happy and curious. They are not looking for a fight. They are friends. They help provide us produce and help keep our world moving along.
So as you can see friends, you can provide bee-friendly habitats at home with very little effort or cost. You do not even have to uproot your current garden in order to attract more bees. Providing shelter for bees can be as simple as maintaining a garden full of spaces guarded against the elements, providing natural watering sources, or simply learning to appreciate bees, not as pests, but as beautiful reminders of the delicate reminder of the part we all play in keeping nature at its best.
Now I have to ask, do you provide bee-friendly spaces around your home and garden? If so, I’d love to hear about them below!
Here’s to all that bees do,