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Why Should We Save Bees – {How to Help}

Do you ever wonder, why should we save bees-when the world is full of other priorities. The media certainly thinks the bee population is important.  We hear this call to action on the news everyday. “If Bees die- we die” etc. Our survival is not necessarily tied to the existence of honey bees. However, it is a fact that bees affect our diet and lifestyle.

Reasons Bees are Important

Honeybee foraging on a white flower image.

If you have recently experienced being stung by a honey bee, you may wonder just how much you really want to do to save the bees.

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Yet, realistically we know that bees are an important part of our lives. Even if you may not exactly understand how they affect your daily life – most people understand that bees do matter.

Honey Bees Are Not Natives

While you are busy brushing up on your honey bee facts, did you know that they did not originate here? They arrived with the early colonist who valued them for honey & beeswax production.

Though honey bees are not native to the US, they do live here rather well. Why should we care about bees that were brought over from another country?

Would our lives today  really change that much if there were no honey bees in the US?  Yes -it would. These bee immigrants have contributed to our American way of life in big ways.

Bees Are Valuable Pollinators

Okay, honey bees make honey and gather pollen.  This is common knowledge that most of us learn in grade school. But, we may fail to understand the scope of their agricultural benefits.

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

Of course, there are other types of pollinators that help with this task – including many types of native bees. However, they are not as well suited to crop pollination as honey bees.

Honey bee colonies are easily housed in boxes and transported to the fields. They can arrive in the field at just the right time and later move to another crop.

Honey bees also practice flower fidelity. They will forage on one good source of pollen/nectar, as long as it is available.

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This trait causes pollen movement from flower to flower of the same kind of plant. The end result is pollination and fruit/seed production. 

Honey bee worker pollinates important sun flower crop image.

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.  A lack of pollinators will reduce availability of some of our favorite fruits and vegetables.  

Honey Production

Although honey production is not the major reason to protect honey bees-we do enjoy this sweet food.

In the US,   North Dakota, South Dakota and Florida vie for the title of largest honey producing state. The added value of honey is certainly important. It is used in many commercial products such as cereals.

In fact, the US consumes much more honey than it produces.  Importation of honey from other countries is necessary to meet the demand.

This opens up the opportunity for many problems including purity of the imported honey and chances of contamination.

Of course to be on the safe side, you could purchase honey from small scale beekeepers. Or, learn how easy it is to have a beehive of your own.

White beehive near backyard garden for pollination image.

What is Killing Our Bees?

Our bees are under pressure from many sides. One major issue for honey bee colonies is mites. The parasitic Varroa mite is an external pest of the honey bee. Mites feed on adult bees and baby bees or larva causing devastation.

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

Causing bees 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, Bees and Pesticides

What may be even worse than the weakening of our honey bees is the fact that they are not the only insects in danger. Birds, bees, bats, moths and other pollinators are facing decline world wide. 

Why are all pollinators in peril? Several possible answers are under consideration. Researchers disagree on the which are the biggest dangers. However, each one contributes to bee decline.

  • climate change
  • modern farming practices
  • chemicals – pesticides, herbicides etc

Climate changes result in temperature and rainfall variations are on possibility. This creates a change in the types of forage available for pollinators. Habitat loss through development of changing weather affects all insects.

Modern agriculture practices mono-cultural farming with mega acreage of one type of crop. The crop pollinators may suffer from a lack of a varied diet. Eating one type of nectar/pollen does not provide proper nutrition for most bees.

There is also the risk of exposure to herbicides, insecticides and other chemical present in the environment. Plant pollen and nectar become contaminated along with drinking water.

Important butterfly pollinator on red flower image.

The honey bee is not on the endangered list. However, that could happen at some point. With the decline of many pollinators – are honey bees the proverbial “canaries in the coal mine” as some seem to believe.

Maybe it is time to look at the world in a different light with concern for preserving our bees.  Not just for the sake of the honey bees but also the other pollinators.

Can we live without bees?  Yes, most of the worlds food supply does not rely on bee pollination.  But, life (and our diet) is so much better with them.

What You Can Do to Help Bees

There are many ways you can contribute to the effort to save bees.

  • provide food sources and nesting sites for bees
  • limit the use of pesticides around your home
  • leave some weeds for bees especially early in the season
  • spread the word – we need bees

Plant Flowers Bees Like

Help the honey bees & all pollinators by providing food sources & nesting sites. Choose flowers that attract bees and provide nectar, pollen or both.

Create a water source for thirsty pollinators – you can even have a small water garden that you can enjoy too.

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

Limit the Use of Pesticides

This subject would not be complete without touching on the subject of pesticides.  Many pollinator researchers express concern over neonicotinoids.

Neonicotinoids are the most commonly used insecticides in the world.  They are present in almost all genetically-modified crops.

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.  

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. A granular product is 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.

Close up of honey bee covered in pollen grains image.

Spread the Word on the Importance of Bees

Take every opportunity to educate children on the importance of bees.  Even if you are not a mother of young children, you can still help.

Give educational materials to other children that you know.  Cultivate an appreciation for nature in young people. 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.

Don’t forget to support small farms.  Small scale farmers struggle to produce vegetables, fruits, meat (and honey) in a competitive world. Your small purchases are appreciated.

Need a present for a special occasion, consider buying a few bee gifts. These pollinator themed presents provide an opportunity to discuss the importance of bees.

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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