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How to Help Save Bees

Working together to help save the bee population is a hot topic in recent years. We have all heard the claims – “If bees die- we die” etc. Our survival is not necessarily tied to the existence of honey bees or even native insects. However, it is a fact that they affect our diet and lifestyle. The best news is that everyone can do something to help save bees and provide a safe habitat for them.

All Bees Deserve Protection

Honeybee foraging on a white flower image.

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 an important part of our ecosystem.

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Some of the most popular and easily recognized members of this insect family include:

  • honey bees
  • bumble bees
  • numerous native bees
  • and various wasps that folks think are bees – LOL

Each type of insect has a role to play in the environment. Some of them pollinate plants that produce fruit (seeds – nuts) that help feed other wildlife later in the season. Nature needs a balance that having a wide variety of pollinators promotes.

Honey bee worker pollinates important sun flower crop image.

Honey Bees Our Non-Native Pollinators

While you are busy brushing up on your honey bee facts, did you know that they did not originate here? Brought over by early colonists, the colonies provided honey & beeswax.

They also served as great pollinators for the new gardens and orchards being planted.

Do you enjoy a variety of fruits and vegetables-if so you may need to thank a honey bee? Honey bees are super-pollinators for many crops.  Melons, strawberries, apples, squash and many other plants benefit from having a beehive nearby.

Honey bee colonies are well suited for crop pollination. They live in large families that are easily transported to the fields.

They can arrive in the field at just the right time and later move to another crop. Migratory beekeepers work hard moving beehives from field to field during the growing season.

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.

According to the USDA,  honey bees are the third most important livestock type in the US.  (After beef and pork-but before chicken !) Pollinators play a role in the production of over 150 food crops in the US.  

White beehive near backyard garden for pollination image.

What is Killing Our Bees?

Before we can really help save bees, we need to understand some of the problems they are facing. Heavy loses of honey bee colonies has become more common than not in recent years.

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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.

  • parasites
  • 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 brood.

Like a tick on a dog, the mite bites the honey bee and sucks blood (hemolymph) from its body and feeds on the internal fat bodies.

This causes the 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.

Beekeepers and researchers continue to look for a sustainable way to deal with this major pest problem.

Modern Farming Practices

Modern agriculture practices mono-cultural farming with mega acreage of one type of crop. Insects serving as pollinators suffer from a lack of a varied diet. Eating one type of nectar/pollen does not 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. Having fewer natural areas of wild habitat changes the diet of bees.

Important butterfly pollinator on red flower image.

What You Can Do to Help Bees

There are many ways you can contribute to the effort to save bees. 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
  • leave some weeds for bees especially early in the season
  • spread the word

1. Plant Bee Friendly Flowers

Help all pollinators by providing food sources & nesting sites. Choose flowers that attract bees and provide nectar, pollen or both. Honey bees, Bumble bees and even wasps gather sweet nectar.

Insects need water too. Create a water source for thirsty pollinators – you can even have a small water garden that you can enjoy too. I grow waterlilies in my water garden and the insects and frogs love it.

By adding flowers and trees that help bees in the landscape, you can provide a habitat free from chemicals.

Think in terms of variety. Choose plants with long bloom periods and overlapping bloom to prolong the season in your bee garden.

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 grow well in large pots.

Close up of honey bee covered in pollen grains image.

2. Limit the Use of Pesticides

If you are a beekeeper, you can not control where your bees fly. However, you can control any harmful chemicals you use on your yard. This is true for the bee loving homeowner too.

Many pollinator researchers express concern over neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are 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 a few weeks longer.

Sometimes, we feel that we must use a pesticide.  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.

It is not only the pollinators who are living in a tainted environment.  We breathe the same air and drink the same water.

3. Leave Some Weeds

While it may not be possible in every situation, strive to leave some natural areas in your landscape. Yes, even weeds have a role to play in the ecosystem. Pollen and nectar-rich weeds feed bees and other important insects.

4. 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 keeping bees in your own backyard is not a possibility, you can promote pollinators by purchasing honey and other products from local community beekeepers.

Save All the Bees

Take every opportunity to educate children on the importance of bees.  Give educational materials to children that you know. 

Cultivate an appreciation for nature in young people. Even young children can enjoy making a pollinator water station for the garden.

Provide educational bee books. 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.

Maybe it is time to look at the world in a different light with concern for preserving our bees. – even one at a time. 🙂

We should do everything possible to save honey bees and other pollinators. There are too many reasons to list but… our very lifestyle is depending on it.  Let’s not trash this world, its the only one we have.

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