Bees play a crucial role in our planet’s web of life. They pollinate plants and help keep the ecosystems in balance. While we often hear about the struggles facing honey bees, there are hundred of other bee species facing some of the same problems. We don’t have all the answers but we know our bees are in trouble. Here, we will explore some of the actionable steps you can take to help save the bees.
Pollinator decline is a real issue that affects bees. We can’t control the world but we can do some things to provide a safe bee habitat that benefits all.
Understanding Bee Species
As a beekeeper, of course my first thought is of the industrious honey bee. But, the world of bees is very diverse. While honey bees and bumble bees (closely related but different) have the eye of the media in many cases – they are not alone.
- honey bees
- bumble bees
- solitary bees (mason bees – carpenter bees)
- and various wasps that folks think are bees – LOL
Each type of insect has a role to play in the environment. Nature needs a balance that having a wide variety of pollinators promotes. Thankfully, some of the things we can do to help bees of one species is also beneficial to the rest.
Simple Steps to Help Bees
There are many ways you can contribute to the effort to save bees. The collective efforts of many people taking small steps adds up.
If you have large fields, planting flowers is great-but everyone can help in some way.
- provide food sources and nesting sites
- limit the use of pesticides around your home
- support local beekeepers
- spread the word
Create Bee Gardens
Bees help flowers by providing pollination services for a payment of pollen or nectar. When choosing plants for your patio, yard or garden, choose flowers for honey bees that are well suited to your area. Honey bees, Bumble bees and even wasps will visit to gather sweet nectar.
Insects need water too. Every bee friendly garden should contain a water source – especially if no natural source is nearby.
If you can the space, don’t forget about trees that bees like. They provide shade and food in season.
A small wildflower meadow can be a beautiful addition to your outside area. If you are unable to till the soil, consider some container plantings. Lavender, clovers, mints, coneflowers – all are bee favorite potted plants that do well.
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Limit the Use of Pesticides
Many pollinator researchers express concern over neonicotinoids – the most commonly used insecticides in the world.
We know for a fact that neonicotinoids kill honey bees when they are directly exposed to the dust. While agriculture interests insist that the pesticides are safe to use, the EPA seems slow to act.
This leaves beekeepers with sick or dead bee colonies and many questions. However, residual pesticides are showing up everywhere.
Check the label on your lawn care products – know what you are spraying. Or if possible, let those dandelions grow for the bees a few weeks longer – does a few weeds matter?
While I am not saying you can’t have a beautiful grass lawn if you wish – many weeds do feed bees.
If you must use a pesticide, use the least toxic form. Perhaps Fire Ant control is needed. This is the opportunity to use a granular ant killer product. Granular products are generally less toxic to pollinators than dust which may be carried by to the hive.
Support Local Beekeepers
Beekeeping is a wonderful activity but it is not for everyone. It involves some hard work and training and the bees will sometimes still leave you guessing. If you have the desire and ability, consider starting a hive of your own.
If becoming a beginner beekeeper is not a possibility, you can promote pollinators by purchasing honey and other products from local community beekeepers.
If you don’t know any, reach out to local beekeeping associations in your area. Beekeepers are everywhere.
Why Bees are In Danger
Before we can really help save bees, we need to understand some of the problems they are facing.
Heavy loses of honey bee colonies have become more common in recent years. What may be even worse than the weakening of our beekeeping industry is the fact that they are not the only insects in danger.
Birds, bees, bats, moths and other pollinators are facing decline world wide. Scientists disagree on which issues are the most harmful to insect. But, they know that several conditions are contributing to the problem.
- modern farming practices (chemical, pesticides, herbicides, etc.)
- climate change – loss of habitat
Honey Bee Decline – Parasites
One major issue for honey bee colonies is parasitic mites. The varroa mite is an external pest of honey bees that feed on adults and developing young bee brood.
This causes bee to become weak, die at a young age and succumb to viruses and bacteria. This leaves unhealthy bee colonies that can not work efficiently.
Modern Farming Practices
Modern agriculture practices mono-cultural farming with mega acreage of one type of crop. In nature, bees eat a varied diet of different types of nectar and pollen for provide proper nutrition.
There is also the risk of exposure to herbicides, insecticides and other chemicals present in the environment. Plant pollen and nectar become contaminated along with drinking water.
Loss of Habitat
Bees have to have somewhere to live and food resources to gather. Climate changes resulting in temperature and rainfall variations play a role in pollinator health.
This creates a change in the types of forage available for pollinators. Habitat loss is also experienced through development of natural lands by humans.
Spread the Word
It is not only the pollinators who are living in a tainted environment. We breathe the same air and drink the same water. Even though bees do not have lungs and receive oxygen in a different way – we share the same environment.
Spread the word about ways that people can help bees. They need to understand “the why” of our actions.
Cultivate an appreciation for nature in young people. Even young children can enjoy making a pollinator water station for the garden. It is a fun craft that teaches an important lesson.
Check out and share educational books about pollinators. Take walks in the wood to see nature in action. Set up a booth at a local festival and wear a bee costume. That’s sure to catch a few eyes.
Consider buying a few bee gifts for a special occasion. Pollinator themed presents provide an opportunity to discuss the problems pollinators are facing. In other words – think bee.
Honey Bees Our Non-Native Pollinators
Each bee species is important as all contribute to the balance of the ecosystem. However, honey bees get a lot of attention due to their importance to our agriculture system
Honey bee pollination is vital to good crop production. Do you enjoy a variety of fruits and vegetables-if so you may need to thank a honey bee?
Melons, strawberries, apples, squash and many other plants benefit from having a beehive nearby. They also served as great pollinators for the new gardens and orchards being planted. This is one of the main benefits of beekeeping.
Honey bees are not an endangered species. Some folks love to hate on honey bees in favor of native insects. I don’t see the point. In a stable, healthy environment, there should be room for all.
Yes, urban areas can support bee populations. Plant bee-friendly gardens, avoid using pesticides, and create green spaces with diverse flowers to provide a healthier environment for bees.
Help bees in your backyard by providing clean water sources and planting a variety of flowers that provide food for pollinators.
Absolutely, buy honey and products from local beekeepers that are working to improve the health of honey bee colonies.
A Final Word
If you have recently experienced being stung by a bee, you may wonder just how much you really want to do to save the bees. Yet, realistically we know that they are a important. Sometimes, I get involved in saving a tired bee – yes even one. A small step but it matters to that one bee. We should do everything possible to save honey bees and other pollinators.