Why are bees in trouble?
Many pollinators are disappearing at alarming rates, including native bees, bumble bees, and honey bees. The solution to pollinator health is not a simple one. Pesticides are weakening pollinator immune systems, leaving them more open to diseases and parasites. Healthy food sources are disappearing, with “pollinator deserts” replacing once abundant wildflower meadows. People are moving honey bees and bumble bees around commercially, narrowing their genetic diversity and spreading bee parasites and pathogens in the process. Habitat loss, acute and chronic pesticide poisoning, diseases and parasites, increasing intensification of conventional farming, and even the impacts of climate change are all taking their toll on bee health. Many of our bees are sick, stressed, and undernourished. But everyone can help save bees!
Help bees in your garden, community plot… even a balcony
- Plant native wildflowers and flowering shrubs in your backyards, communities, and workplaces. If you have room, trees such as apples, pears, plums, and cherries (and shrubs like blueberries) are excellent food sources for pollinators, as are many vegetables and herbs.
- If you have a lawn, stop mowing some portion… you’d be surprised what flowers will drop in over time. Sow clover (white clover may even be mowed at highest setting). Let dandelions live! They’re one of the first pollen-rich sources to spring up, and also one of the last to go. Their pollen and nectar are especially accessible to a great diversity of bee species throughout the year.
- Even small balcony gardens with hanging baskets, potted native plants, and a small dish of water with pebbles, can help bees passing by!
Offer more than just food for bees
- Provide homes for native bees (bee blocks for mason, leafcutter, and other wood-cavity nesting solitary bees, and bare sunny soil for mining, sweat, and other ground-dwelling solitary bees). For mason bees, make sure there’s a source of damp soil nearby in early spring.
- Keep part (or all!) of your garden untidy, which makes more room for wildlife. Bits of wood in a pile provide shelter and a place for some solitary bees to nest. Dead plant stems are the perfect spots for the young of some native bees to overwinter. Leave a patch of closely-mown or bare soil in a sunny location (important for our many solitary ground-nesting bee species).
- In summer, place a shallow dish of water out with some pebbles in it, so that bees (and other insects) can easily drink without drowning (bees get thirsty too, and honey bees use the water to help cool their hives on hot days).
Support pollinator-friendly farming
- Support smaller, local, organic farms. Organic farms support higher biodiversity and better bee health. Buy certified organic cotton (even though you don’t eat it!) Cotton ranks among the highest in pesticide usage on crops, including a mix of pesticides and fungicides known to be dangerous to bees. If you love honey, buy from local beekeepers who care about their bees (find them online or at farmers markets).
And just a few more ideas…
- Grow some of your own food. Flowering vegetables, fruits and herbs make excellent variety in pollinator diets. Tomatoes are especially easy and fun for children to grow, and are a great way to help bees, because there’s a dark secret to commercial tomatoes: growers frequently import bumble bees for pollination services (keeping them within their greenhouses). Not only are imported bumble bees implicated in the drastic decline of native bumble bees (when a few inevitably sneak out), but the queens are caged to prevent them forming new colonies, and all bumble bees are incinerated after 8 weeks of hard work. 😢
- Support current bills and other pollinator initiatives, learn more about the issues facing pollinators, and spread the word to those around you! And most importantly, say no to pesticides! (insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides).