It’s here! You’ve been so patient and now your wait is finally over; part two of my multi-part series on the bees has arrived! It dawned on me, however, that I may have put the cart before the horse (the honey before the bee?) with this series and not fully explained why saving the bees is so important. That’s going to be my focus today- the why. So, here it is: they’re adorable! I’m just kidding. They are cute but they are an integral part of our modern food system. Without bees, food as we know it, heck the ecosystem as we know it, would cease to exist. Let’s dive in!
Why Are Bees So Important?
What would we do without bees? It is estimated that nearly 75% of the food we eat is dependent on pollination by bees. That means, without them, we wouldn’t have three quarters of the food we eat! The Fish and Wildlife Service states that “in the United States pollination by honey bees directly or indirectly (e.g., pollination required to produce seeds for the crop) contributed to over $19 billion of crops in 2010” alone. Taking it a step further, because we’ve been selfishly only thinking about human consumption here, bees also produce the majority of the food for other animals in the food chain. They help to maintain both plant (via pollination) and animal diversity. I think that makes them pretty important, don’t you?
Why are Bees Dying So Rapidly?
It’s in the news: the bees are dying! We see the headlines but is anyone really paying attention? Why are the bees dying? The quick answer is- there are many reasons why and more than one is directly correlated to humans. Let’s consider a few of these reasons; the first, bees are losing their source of food. Rural land, once lined with forests and meadows, trees, flowers and other bee-friendly food, that’s all quickly being developed and industrialized, converted to homes and strip malls. The bees once had a plethora of choices when it came to pollination, now their fields have run thin and, where there are gardens and farms, they are filled with non-native plants and pesticides.
This brings us to our second, extremely harmful bee-killer, pesticides. Pesticides, whether widely used by farmers or lightly sprayed at home for weeds, are detrimental to our little bee friends. One pesticide, Neonicotinoid, per a Harvard study, may be linked to Colony Collapse Disorder. “Bees from six of the twelve neonicotinoid-treated colonies had abandoned their hives,” the study stated, “and were eventually dead with symptoms resembling Colony Collapse Disorder. However, we observed a complete opposite phenomenon in the control colonies in which instead of abandonment, they were re-populated quickly with new emerging bees.”
Finally, The Varroa Mite, a parasite first introduced to the United States in the 1980’s. The Varroa Mite is responsible for wiping out virtually all wild honey bee colonies and is a Beekeeper’s nightmare. They prey on the colony by sucking the blood of both the adult and developing bees. This weakens and shortens the life of the colony. While there are solutions to ridding colonies of Varroa Mites, many are chemical based and should be used with caution and a watchful eye.
What Can I Do to Help?
Plant Bee-Friendly, Native Plants I can’t stress how important this is. This will allow the bees to do what they were meant to do. Your garden, and the Earth, will thank you for it! New Jersey native plants like Sunflowers, Cucumbers, Oxeye Daisies and, yes!, Dandelions (STOP! Calling them useless) are all wonderful, native options for bees. For a complete list of Pollen Nectar Plants for Bees visit the NJ Beekeepers Association.
(BONUS: Provide a bee habitat for wood-nesting bees by putting out some simple, inexpensive bee-blocks. Just put some holes of varying size in a couple blocks of untreated wood (holes should not go completely through the wood, leave one end closed) and a piece of wood over the top as a roof to protect from rain. Hang the bee blocks a few feet from the ground on a solid structure and watch the bees enjoy!)
Use Organic Pesticides That Won’t Harm the Bees Those non-organic pesticides are one of top culprits in the decline of the bee population. The good news is there are better options out there! Learning about the plants and weeds that are in your garden and the pests that affect them is the first step to taking the organic approach to controlling the problem. Organic Garden Pests has answers to your pest control problems- organically! They feature organic pest control products and information on specific garden pests and how to control them- check out the site!
Help the Bees Hydrate They work hard! It makes sense that they’d get thirsty. Lay out a small dish, not too deep with water, maybe add some rocks to it, you know, so they don’t drown, and refresh it every now and then. Keep it someplace nice in the garden, near the native plants you planted for them. It will keep them hydrated, refreshed and ready to keep on pollinating!
Become a Beekeeper!! (Or support your local ones!) Beekeeping is a great hobby; I can’t think of better friends than a brood of little workers who are single handedly saving the world. Seriously, we could really use more beekeepers. If you want to learn more about beekeeping, sit in on one of the NJ Beekeepers Association’s educational sessions! It’s fun, educational and you’ll be supporting a great cause.
Don’t Be Afraid! Bees are NOT out to get you, I promise! They are lovely, beautiful creatures just trying to do their thing! If you see one flying around, take the time to appreciate everything it’s done for you and for the world. If you see a hive, don’t swat it, don’t spray it, call your local Beekeeping Association- they’ll happily find a home for it. Remember, R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
I know this one was long but so worth it, right? These little guys do so much for us, we can take a little time to enlighten ourselves for their benefit. There is so much we can do to help save them and, really, it won’t take much effort on our part to make a difference. Please do check out your local beekeepers’ associations, support them however you can! I left a link last time, I’ll leave it again, for The Honeybee Conservatory. It’s another great cause. If you so choose, check them out too. Until next time….