Bee Kind: How to Help Our Honey Makers
Sometimes, the most important component of a working system is the one most overlooked. Honey bees are a fine example of this. While often overlooked, their function as pollinators makes them responsible for an enormous portion of our economy and our ecosystem.
According to the USDA, bees are responsible for an estimated $15 billion annually in added crop value. And The Guardian states that bees are responsible for 84 percent of crops grown for human consumption. This equates to around three out of every four bites of any meal you eat. Not only that, but bees also contribute to the food supply for all of the animals that rely on these pollinated plants -- farmer animals and wildlife.
The effect of bees is felt throughout the world daily in the food we eat and the clothes we wear, but these special insects are currently in distress. Time recently reported that nearly 700 North American bee species are headed toward extinction. Another study by the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies has noted that bee populations have declined by 30 percent over the past decade. Other sources say that 1 in 4 native species are currently threatened.
There are many contributing factors to the decline in bee populations over recent years. One of them is called Colony Collapse Disorder. The EPA states that Colony Collapse Disorder occurs when the majority of worker bees abandon their queen, resulting in the collapse of the hive over the following winter. The cause of Colony Collapse Disorder has been disputed, but many people cite the use of neonicotinoid-based pesticides as the leading culprit.
Others, such as Dave Goulson, founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, firmly believes that the loss of bee habitat is the reason for the population decline. Many native bee habitats nest in the ground and in wilderness areas, and due to land development for farming and housing, many of these nesting areas have been compromised.
So how can you help?
Creating a pollinator garden is one simple way to help native bee populations in your own backyard.
A pollinator garden is a small garden consisting of blooming native plants that will attract and feed local bee populations. The Forest Service recommends using a wide assortment of native plants that bloom from early spring to late fall. Native plants are especially beneficial because they have adapted to your specific climate and ecosystem and have a higher chance of success. There are several ecoregions in the United States, and many options for blooming native plants, so be sure to do your research to find the best fit for your location and capabilities.
Although some people are afraid of attracting pollinator bees to their lawn or garden, the less aggressive species of bee tend to be native pollinators, unlike a bumble bee or non-native honey bee. In fact, native honey bees are some of the most docile and least threatening of bee species.
It’s best to avoid harmful pesticides when planting your pollinator garden. Consider weeding by hand or using an organic pesticide alternative. If you must use a pesticide, use it at night when most native pollinators are inactive.
If you plan on having a blooming pollinator garden every year, consider planting perennial flowers. Unlike annuals, which die off after a single season, a perennial will return year after year. Some examples of perennial flowers include most daisies, anemones, and bee balm.
By doing your part with a pollinator garden, you are making a difference in the bee population for your area. Just remember, a little goes a long way. Supporting as few as 250 bees is enough to pollinate an entire acre of apple trees!
Written by Christy Erickson