I have a secret. I used to be terrified of insects that sting.
When I was a small child, I was stung by a bumblebee, and it scared me. To tell the truth, I’ve never been stung since, and I don’t actually remember what it felt like. I still have very little appreciation for hornets and wasps, but I suppose they have a job to do, too. These days, if a bee finds its way into my house, I try to remove it without injuring or killing it. I try to coax the bee into a jar and then take it outside and set it free.
My perspective changed a few years ago after writing an article about bumblebees. Through my research, I learned how important bees are to the world. If the bees die, so do we. And the bees are dying.
According to an article on ABCNews, there was a nearly 40% decline in the honeybee population last winter. Bee colonies have been disappearing over the past 15 years, in what is known as "colony collapse disorder." The main factors affecting the bees are pests and disease, lack of forage and nutrition, and incidental pesticide exposure.
If you talk with beekeepers, they’ll tell you there has always been hive loss, usually over the winter. Some loss is expected, but many beekeepers are losing their bee colonies to hive beetles and varroa mites.
Honeybees are critical for the pollination of flowers, fruits and vegetables – without plants, there is no food. People jokingly refer to plants as “our food’s food,” but in this case it’s no laughing matter. Without the pollinators, there is no food for animals to eat, so not only would there be no fruits and vegetables, there would be no beef, chicken, or pork. Approximately 1 in 3 bites of the food we eat every day relies on honeybee pollination to some degree. The global food supply is impacted due to the huge role that honeybees play in North American agriculture. North America is one of the largest food exporting regions of the world.
Minnesota, the state I live in, has earmarked $900,000 dollars for bee-friendly spaces. The endangered rusty-patched bumblebee has just been named the state bee and the Minnesota government will pay the gardening bill for residents who are willing to turn their lawn into bee-friendly spaces. Gardeners willing to grow plants, such as creeping thyme, self-heal and Dutch white clover, known to attract bees could have the cost covered. The program should be up and running in the spring of 2020. This program benefits all pollinators, not just our state bee.
Other plants that attract bees are chives, onions, peonies, roses, and dandelions. Dandelions are pretty much the first plants available to bees in the spring. Yes, they are a weed, but also an important food source for bees.
Ways that we can support pollinators are as follows:
- Grow plants! If you don’t have a lot of space, window boxes or patio planters will do. Try to grow plants native to your area.
- Use the BeeSmart Pollinator Gardener App (available for Apple and Android devices) or the Ecoregional Planting Guides.
- Plant in clusters to create a "target' for pollinators to find.
- Plant for continuous bloom throughout the growing season from spring to fall.
- Select a site that is removed from wind, has at least partial sun, and can provide water.
- Reduce or eliminate the impact of pesticides.
- Support local bees and beekeepers. Buying local honey supports the beekeepers in your area
- Buy organic.
- Buy local.