Get the Facts...How can you help the bees?
We have all heard that honey bees and native pollinators are in trouble. We have also heard a lot of information about just what our food supply would look like without these pollinators. More than 1/3 rd of our food supply is dependent upon bee pollination. So what can we do to help the bees?
Let's look at some facts first...What is harming the bees?
Bees are dying from multiple and interacting causes. In the US bees have been on the decline since WWII. Farming and gardening practices have changed, and we have been systematically eliminating the flowering plants that bees need for their very survival. In our gardens we have stopped planting cover crops like clover and alfalfa which are natural fertilizers that fix the nitrogen in the soil. Instead we use synthetic fertilizers. Clover and alfalfa are highly nutritious food plants for bees. We started using products like round up, preen and others like that to kill off the weeds on our roadsides, in our yards, and on our farms. Many of these 'weeds' are flowering plants that bees require for their survival. We also started growing larger and larger crop monocultures. Farms used to be diverse in crops and were the sustaining force of bees. Those same farms are now dominated by one or two plants like corn and soybeans, creating agricultural food deserts. These large monocultures in turn put out acres and acres of feast for crop pests and so now we must increase the use of pesticides. Research from Penn State has shown that every batch of pollen that bees bring in has at least 6 different pesticides in it. There is one insecticide in particular that is making headlines now. Neonicotinoids. If this insecticide is sprayed in concentration, enough toxin gets into the plants pollen and nectar so that when a bee consumes this high dose it will kill the bee. In most of our agricultural settings it is only the seed that is coated with this insecticide, so a smaller concentration moves though the plant and gets into the pollen and nectar, and if a bee consumes this lower dose, either nothing happens or the bee becomes intoxicated and disoriented and she may not find her way home. Bees also have their own set of problems, mostly a parasite called the varroa mite. It is a blood sucking parasite that latches onto a bee weakening their immune system and circulating viruses. Imagine being sick with the flu, and living in a food desert, having to travel a long way for nutrition, and you consumed, in your food, enough of a neurotoxin that you could not find your way home.....
This is what is meant by multiple and interacting causes of death, flowerless landscape, pesticides, disease/parasites and monoculture food deserts.
Everyone can help by doing two things. Plant bee friendly flowers and don't contaminate them with pesticides. Research flowers that are native to your area and then plant them. We need a beautiful diversity of flowers and trees that bloom over the entire growing season from spring to fall. You can plant cover crops to nourish your soil and nourish our bees. Stop killing your 'weeds' with roundup! A lawn that contains dandelions and clover is a bee friendly lawn, and a lawn that is just green grass has no nutritional value at all. We need to diversify our farms, plant flowering crop borders and flowering hedgerows. When bees have access to good nutrition, we have access to good nutrition through their pollination services. They are better able to engage their own natural defenses.
Let the small act of planting flowers and keeping them free of insecticides be the driver of large scale change for our bees. Together we can create small pockets of healthy, bee friendly environments.