Save Bees


Digger beePicture yourself flying...

...across a meadow, the warm sun rays bathing your body. The grasses as tall as palm trees. A light breeze throws everything into sudden movement, colorful flowers dancing brightly. You're fully present in the moment, living the good bee life.

You circle a violet spire dense with fragrant blooms, before alighting on one you sense hasn't been visited by another bee recently. It offers nectar so energizing that you zip playfully along now, delighting in eddies of deliciously scented air swirling around you.

Green sweat bee

Like the bees pictured here, you're a wild and solitary bee, one of around 25,000 or so species of bee (such diversity: there are metallic green and blue bees, fuzzy teddy-bear style bumble bees, sleek red and black cuckoo bees... and more)!

Cuckoo bee

There are only 7 species of honey bee by the way, for all their social lifestyle is so well-known! Most bees live nothing like honey bees with their hives, a queen, a handful of drones, and tens of thousands of worker bees. Bumble bees (of which there are around 250 known species) do have queens and workers, but most bees live full lives, finding their own mates.


Sweat bee motherWhy are bees in trouble?

Many pollinators are disappearing at alarming rates, especially wild bees. Almost all are declining in abudance and diversity, be they bumble bees, solitary bees, or other semi-social bees (social behavior in bees exists on a continuum, and may even differ within a species, depending for instance on the availability of nesting resources).

Bees have fairly simple needs: abundant and diverse flowers through the seasons, and places to call home where they may raise the next generation. But the problems bees face are no longer simple:

  • Healthy food sources and places to nest are disappearing, with “pollinator deserts” replacing once abundant flowering meadows and other naturally diverse wild places.
  • People are moving honey bees and bumble bees around commercially, narrowing their genetic diversity and spreading bee parasites and pathogens in the process.
  • Pesticides are weakening pollinator immune systems, leaving them more open to diseases and parasites.
  • Climate change is disrupting once-predictable patterns (for instance, many types of bees have evolved to time their emergence for when specific sorts of flowers are in bloom).

Depending on the type of bee, some factors weigh more heavily. For instance, populations of certain bumble bees in the western United States collapsed when imported bumble bees started being used in commercial pollination there. For other bees that time their emergence with specific flowers, climate change is the biggest problem. For many others, habitat loss may be the most critical. When factors are combined (such as with chronic, low-level pesticide exposure), bees suffer further stress.

The good news is that anyone, anywhere can help save bees!

Honey Bee

You don't need a hive to help bees!

Honey bees live in hives, but most bees live totally different lives. Keeping hives healthy requires a great depth of knowledge (not to mention dogged tenacity in these un-bee-friendly times)! It's no surprise that beekeeping runs in some families for generations.

That's not to say honey bees aren't in trouble: reported rates of colony loss between April 2020 and April 2021 were the second-highest loss rates recorded since they were first tracked in 2006. It's a testament to beekeepers' resilience and adaptivity that we still have sufficient hives providing pollination services. Our current input-intensive, large-scale commercial agricultural system requires vast honey bee numbers (there are better ways to farm, but more on that elsewhere)!

The other issue with folks taking up hobby beekeeping is that increasing honey bee densities can have a negative impact on native bees, unless you're prepared also to add a massive quantity of seasonally long-lasting flowers to support the additional tens of thousands of honey bees. It's better to leave beekeeping to experienced beekeepers, and focus on the many other ways you can help our pollinators!

Mining beeHelp 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.

Dandelion

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. Because of the shape and structure of dandelions, their pollen and nectar are especially accessible to a great diversity of bee species throughout the year.

Even small balcony gardens help pollinators passing by. Try adding hanging baskets, potted native plants, veggies/herbs, and a small dish of water with pebbles.

Help feed the bees 🌻


Sweat bee motherOffer more than just food for bees

Provide homes for native bees. Did you know that most bees nest in wood, dried stems, or in the ground? Provide bare, sunny soil for mining, sweat, and other ground-dwelling solitary bees. Offer wooden bee blocks, paper straws, or bundles of bamboo for mason, leaf-cutter, and other wood-cavity nesting solitary bees. For mason bees, make sure there’s a source of mud nearby in early spring.

Bee Hotel

Keep part (or all!) of your garden untidy, which makes more room for wildlife. Pieces 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 other native bees to overwinter. Leave a patch of closely-mown or bare soil in a sunny location, important for our many ground-nesting bees.

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).

Make homes for bees 🏡

Clover & dandelions

It’s “No Mow May”!

Sometimes the best garden management is to let go (and let grow)! The challenge this month is to let your grass (if you have any) get a little wilder. You'll almost certainly have some surprises drop in, including clovers and other wildflowers, adding sprinkles of color, and an added buzz as bees and other pollinators come for a feast!

This campaign was started by Plantlife in Britain, but has become an international event. The Xerces Society's Bee City USA initiative also promotes not mowing in May... it's an excellent month to encourage wildflowers and their pollinators.

Green sweat beeSupport pollinator-friendly farming

Support smaller, local, organic farms. Organic farms tend to support higher biodiversity and better bee health. There are industrial-scale organic farms that are still not great for the environment, however. Ideally, sustainable and resilient agroecological farming methods will replace current farming methods.

Agroecology takes an ecosystem perspective on food production, considering the complex ecological web of interactions—including soil health, water and air quality, integrated pest and disease control, and biodiversity. When you think about it, “conventional” industrial farming is a recent development—following on the Second World War—in a long history of human agriculture going back around 10,000 years.

Tomatoes

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. 😢

Cotton

Buy certified organic cotton (even though you don’t eat it!) Cotton flowers attract bees, but cotton ranks among the highest in pesticide usage on crops, with a mix of pesticides and fungicides known to be dangerous to bees.

Honey Jars

Love honey? Buy from local beekeepers who care about their honey bees (find them online or at farmers’ markets). There are so many delectable flavors in honey, try tasting some local varietals!

Tech solutions versus real bees

Some might suggest technical solutions (such as robotic bees). It's possible that robotic bees would address a shortfall in pollination, in the event that we lose most of our bees.

History suggests that robotic bees would also come with unintended consequences. Real bees are highly efficient pollinators, fully self-sustaining (with simple requirements), as well as biodegradable when they fail (of old age).

Even at their best, robotic bees would never fill the ecosystem role that bees would leave behind. Bees naturally serve as important food sources for a wide range of other creatures: both the bees themselves during all their life stages, and also what they store in their nests (be that honey and pollen for social bees, or more primitive mixtures of nectar and pollen, as many types of less social bees provide for their young).

And just a few more ideas…

Mining bee

Participate in citizen science pollinator projects. Various projects will take you into the great outdoors, planting flowers, recording bee sightings, and looking for bee nesting sites. They’re fun projects to share with your family and your neighbors, to get everyone thinking about bees. And having citizen science records is proving incredibly useful for scientific research into helping bees!

Support current bills and other pollinator initiatives. There are a number of regulatory bills that directly or indirectly affect bee health. Voicing your support of these initiatives with your political representatives can help ensure a safer environment for bees, and also help raise the profile of bees in politicians’ minds.

Learn more about bees and the challenges they’re facing. They are amazing little creatures, and there are thousands of different kinds of bees, all with their own unique life stories. Spread the word to those around you!


Wondering who's writing this?

elise-fog

I’m Elise Fog, a lifelong bee lover and hobbyist photographer. It struck me (more than ten years ago!) that it’d be cool to share the bee love with others. Bees are a wondrous and vital part of our world, and it wouldn’t look the same without them.

Bees also live pretty much anywhere humans live, so the actions that folks take have a direct local impact on saving bees worldwide. There are so many little actions that, if everyone took just one or two, would really add up for the world’s bees.

I’m not associated with any company or entity, and I’ve written everything on this website myself (unless directly attributed in the text to another person). I’ve carefully vetted each link, with an eye to sharing the most interesting stories and the latest bee science. Curious about me? I’ve written a little more about myself here.

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