What’s the buzz about the bees? 10 ways you can help our pollinating friends
What is going on with the bees?
Bees are disappearing. In Minnesota our native bees, bumblebees, and honeybees are all declining. In 2006-2007 beekeepers began to report losses of 30-90 percent of their hives. Six year laters Minnesota beekeepers reported a loss of 54.5 percent of their bee colonies. In the last half decade an additional 30 percent of the bee population has vanished. Today we only have two-thirds of bee colonies that we used to have in the U.S.
What makes the bees so important?
One in three bites of food depend on bees for pollination. Bee pollination contributes to $20-30 billion in agricultural production, annually. If we lose the bees our agricultural industry would suffer catastrophically. There would be a chain reaction at the highest level. For example, crucial to the pollination of almonds and alfalfa, both of which are used to feed livestock such as cows and chickens. Less bees mean less feed which means that the livestock industry would suffer, and that industry would not suffer alone.
Nationwide there are around 250,000 species of flowering plants depend on bees. Here in the Midwest approximately three quarters of flowering plants depend on bees for pollination. Pollination of flowers is critical. For example, cotton production depends on bee pollination. One-third of our fruits and vegetables depend on bees as they pollinate up to 100 various food crops. Bees also pollinate coffee plants, without them you would be missing your morning buzz. Without the bees our diet would predominantly consist of wheat, rice, and corn being that those plants are pollinated by wind, not bees.
Obviously bees also produce honey. Our state is ranked 6th in the nation for honey production, an essential aspect to our agriculture industry. Minnesota bees produce 8 million pounds of honey per year that is valued at over $11 million.
It’s true that there are other pollinators out there such as birds and bats, but none are as efficient as bees. Bees are designed as a pollinator machine and this makes them the most efficient pollinator. The bees population is critical to keeping the agriculture industry afloat and running, providing a nutritious diet, and balancing our ecosystem.
Why are bees disappearing?
Bees are disappearing due to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). According to researchers this disorder isn’t caused by one single factor, rather a multitude of interwoven ones. Pest, pathogens, viruses, poor nutrition (habitat loss), pesticide exposure, bee management practices (long migratory routes), and lack in genetic diversity are some of the stressors that the EPA and USDA report are affecting the pollinator’s health.
Experts have commented that seemingly healthy worker bees suddenly abandon their hive, and this is thought to be due to CCD.
How can I help to save the bees?
Here are the many ways you can advocate for and help our pollinating friends:
Become a beekeeper! Beekeeping has many benefits such as fresh local honey, an entertaining unique hobby, an economic boost, a thriving garden, a cool bee suit, health benefits (honey contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and C as well as nutritious antioxidants), and it helps the bees!
Plant bee-friendly plants and flowers in your garden! This small act will help give the bees more habitat and area to forage. Get native plants in a variety of shape and colors to encourage diversity.
Leave the weeds! Clovers and dandelions are a haven for bees and other pollinators.
Carefully select your honey! It’s very important to purchase local raw honey from a beekeeper. It can be hard to find local, raw, chemical free honey (don’t buy any honey from China, there have been numerous cases about their honey containing chemicals). The best way is to buy from your local farmer’s market.
Put out a small basin of water. Bees are very thirsty insects and they’ll appreciate it very much!
Buy local and organic food!
Get some bee real estate! Buy a bee block or bee hotel from online or some gardener stores (or build one yourself). This provides a nice habitat to many bee species!
Back off on the chemicals! Synthetic pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides are harmful to bees. These chemicals can lessen foraging, navigating skills, reproductive success, impair development, and be potentially lethal to bees.
Understand that bees aren’t out to get you.
Spread the buzz! Get involved! Share about the importance of bees at local community meetings, at conferences, schools and universities, through social media and forums.
Isabell Dyrbye Wright is president of the Go Green Club at Mayo High School in Rochester.
Cover photo: File / Pixabay