Have you heard that the bee population is declining? I recently heard about this, and I was surprised that it has taken so long for me to find out. I guess I was busy. Who knew?
Now to some, maybe even you, this is exciting news. Many people don’t like bees, especially those that have been stung by them. In fact, some people are downright beephobic. My son even affectionately calls flowers “bug bringers” due to a paper route he had when he was a tween. The reality is though, that bees are a very important part of the survival of nature (even us), and they rarely sting unless they are coerced. Or so they say …
Now, if you do the math, there are 19,993 species that are not on the endangered species list, so the fearers of bees are not yet in the clear. But here’s the thing, even though this number is high, the fact that the others have made it to the list is still significant. Here’s why.
The bees that made the list are a species of bumble bees called bombus affinis, and they are flower and crop pollinators. They aren’t the only bees that pollinate, or the only wildlife for that matter, but bumble bees and honey bees do most of the pollination work on the planet. Yup, the whole planet. Sounds ominous doesn’t it?
Pollination is the process by which plants and flowers are fertilized so that they can reproduce, and 70% of all of the food that humans eat needs to be pollinated, so if this process doesn’t happen it takes much of our food supply away. And we would be hungry … and malnourished … and even wineless.
It is estimated that the majority of the world’s pollination is done by 2% of the 20,000 species of bees. This 2% is split into two categories, bees that are farmed or created in an industrial setting and wild bees, and bombus affinis fall into the wild bee category. So, if they are declining, we are losing a large portion of the world’s pollinators.
Here’s a great article by Perfect Bee that explains pollination in more detail. Nature is actually pretty fascinating. Perfect Bee also offers a detailed course in beekeeping if you are so inclined, and this is yet another way to increase the bee population.
But why is the bee population declining? Well, there appears to be two major reasons.
Global Warming tends to make birds and insects move northward because the southern areas of the globe are becoming warmer and global waters are moving inward. For some reason, scientists are finding that bees are not doing this. Their habitat is simply shrinking in size meaning that instead of moving northward, they are simply dying in the southern areas. They speculate that this is due to the fact that bees need to colonize in order to reproduce, and if they move northward they have to recolonize and this is a lengthy process.
Scientists are also finding that global warming is changing the timing of the blossom/pollination cycle in that flowers are blooming earlier in the year before the bees are ready to pollinate, and the blooming season is shortened before the queen has a chance to begin a new colony, so the bees are not reproducing. Also, since nectar is the bees’ food source, if the blooming cycle starts earlier and ends earlier, there isn’t enough nectar to sustain them for the entire season.
PESTICIDE and HERBICIDE USE
Widespread pesticide use in industrial farming is killing the bees, and the use of herbicides is destroying the plants that are available to be pollinated. Particularly, the use of neonics or neocotinoids which are pesticides that seeds are treated with prior to planting which kill insects as plants grow.
We can’t increase the bee population single-handedly, but we can still do our part. Here’s some small things that each and every one of us can do to help keep the bees around.
Build or provide a place for bees to create a habitat.
Bees like to lay their eggs in small hollow areas like bamboo shoots or holes in wood. Remember those stumps you have in your backyard? Drill lengthy holes, like tunnels, in them. Leave patches of hard soil with nothing planted in it so that the bees can create their own tunnels and lay their eggs underground. Just remember, if you choose to make your own bee habitat, use untreated wood. And, if you don’t have the resources for this or only have a small patio or balcony, buy a bee hotel.
Don’t use any kind of pesticides or herbicides in your garden.
Pesticides and herbicides can not only kill bees, they can destroy their pollinating abilities, their navigation skills and even their reproductive abilities. If you absolutely must get rid of weeds or have a large amount of insects, use natural ways to kill them like pulling them! Good Housekeeping has some great ideas here. Also, purchase plants that you know have not been treated with pesticides.
Plant your garden with bee-friendly flowers that bloom all year long.
If your garden always has flowers available during the pollination season (generally spring to early-fall). Crocuses, hyacinth, and lilacs for spring, cosmos (I love these, don’t you?), echinacea, snapdragons, sunflowers, salvia, lavender and hostas for summer and zinnias, asters, goldenrod and witch hazel for fall. And, yarrow, black-eyed susan and blanket flower for spring, summer and fall. Plant flowers with single petals because it is easier for the bees to get to the pollen, and try to lean away from hybrid plants, because pollen quantity and quality is often reduced in the cross breeding process.
Set up a bee watering station on your balcony or in your backyard.
Bees get dehydrated just like we do when we are working. A watering station does not have to be sophisticated and can be really easy to make. Use any kind of shallow container (a large water catching tray from a plant pot would work). Put in some rocks from your garden or some untreated ones that you can buy in a store and maybe some sand, and fill it with water. If the water is deep, put in something light like a large leaf, or some light wood that will float on the top so the bees have something to land on to get to the water without drowning.
Do your part to help stop global warming.
Global warming is causing our planet a lot of harm. Here’s a great list of small ways we can all do our part.
Plant climbing and vining plants on building siding or fences.
Some of the best ones to grow that attract bees are clematis, passion flower, honeysuckle, ivy and wisteria to name only a few, and some roses can even be climbers. Climbing plants don’t just provide pollen for bees, they provide shelter too, remember, part of our work here is to sustain the bees so they can do their work.
Start a wildflower patch.
Wildflower patches have become somewhat extinct since the 1950s when domestic gardening became more structured and planned. The grass goes here, the flowers go here, the shrubs go here, etc. Kind of like an epidemic of OCD in the gardening world. This has produced some really stunning landscaping ideas and trends, but the idea of flowers just growing wild in a meadow has declined in residential areas. Wildflower seeds are available anywhere, and all you have to do is sprinkle them on your lawn or in a soil patch, and they will grow … and quite quickly too. And, if you want to do a larger patch, you can use a lawn seed spreader as well.
Contact your government officials and ask them to ban neonic pesticides.
Many countries have banned the use of these pesticides, however Canada and the U.S. have not yet done so (although some states in the US have started the process this year).
It used to be said that it is impossible for bees to be able to fly, according to the laws of physics, because of their stubby large bodies and small wings. In fact, many marketing companies have used the bee as a symbol of defying the impossible. I’ve always found this fascinating.
It has since been proven that this is an urban myth, and that it is the way they flap their wings that allows them to fly. It’s interesting though, because they don’t use their wings the way we would expect, and that’s part of the mystery.
Whether you love bees or dislike them, they are a very important part of nature that we cannot afford to lose or disrespect. If you can, try some of the solutions above. Many don’t take any time or trouble, and the benefit can be amazing. Busy bee, I think I just got what that actually means.
Do you have any ideas for helping to save the bees?