One-third of U.S. honeybee colonies died last winter, threatening our entire food system. Insects pollinate a third of everything humans eat – that’s one in three bites you take – including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and the forage that feeds livestock. Put in simplest terms, as the bee population declines, so does our food supply. As our food supply diminishes, the cost of food increases. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a mysterious and disturbing phenomenon in which bee hives die off or disappear with no official explanation, though pesticides (neonicotinoids in particular), fungicides, viruses, parasites, and malnutrition are widely suspected to be causes.
In Time Magazine’s cover story this week, senior editor Bryan Walsh states that aside from the negative effects of pestcides and fungicides on the bee population, honeybees face malnutrition due to our current monoculture method of growing food.
As our farms become monocultures of commodity crops like wheat and corn — plants that provide little pollen for foraging bees — honeybees are literally starving to death. If we don’t do something, there may not be enough honeybees to meet the pollination demands for valuable crops. But more than that, in a world where up to 100,000 species go extinct each year, the vanishing honeybee could be the herald of a permanently diminished planet.
There is no question that Colony Collapse Disorder is a serious problem. In fact, in a recent USDA report on the topic, USDA scientist Jeff Pettis said, “We are one poor weather event or high winter bee loss away from a pollination disaster.”
But what can the average American do about this? What can you do as an individual to help save the bees? We have a few pro-active, bee-friendly ideas you can start on today!
Plant bee-friendly plants in your yard
Traditionally, bees have thrived in wild areas with tall grass and lots of wild plants, and on fruit and vegetable farms. As cities and suburbs sprawl into these areas they become less hospitable to bees. However, backyards and rooftops can provide a welcome place for bees to collect nectar and pollen.
Choose a variety of plants so that you have plants flowering during the spring, summer and fall. Diversity is key. According to Nature’s website, “Researchers have found that more bees will be drawn to gardens with ten or more species of attractive plants.” Check with your local garden center to see what plants are bee-friendly, keeping in mind that bees favor local plants. There are great online resources that recommend herbs, fruits, vegetables and flowers that will attract bees to your garden. Bees like plants clumped close together if possible, and remember, no pesticides. Even though the root cause of CCD is still unconfirmed, an organic backyard garden is a safer bet for bees.
Become a backyard (or rooftop) beekeeper
Don’t laugh, it used to be a rather popular hobby! According to Nature’s website, “Joining the ranks of backyard beekeepers can not only infuse the dying hobby with life, it can strengthen the bee gene pool by adding healthy local bees to the mix.” Bee Culture magazine provides a helpful list of beekeeper associations by state. Bees will keep your garden healthy and bountiful and provide you with fresh local honey! Do your research, check local zoning, and of course get permission from your family and neighbors before embarking upon urban beekeeping. The Daily Green provides a step-by-step guide to beginner beekeeping including advice on protective gear.
Support local beekeepers
Not interested in taking up beekeeping? Buy local honey instead! The decline in bee colonies has hit beekeepers hard. Many local beekeepers are working diligently to keep bee populations healthy, while they struggle to survive financially. By buying local honey you support local beekeepers and your community. Besides, local honey is delicious!
Buy or make your own wild bee house
Honey bees live in hives, but many wild bees (who are also in decline) live in dead trees and branches. You can help these delicate wild bees out by buying or making a bee house. It’s fun to watch the little wild bees grow and thrive without the hassle of honey collection. You can find some bee hotels for sale here and learn how to make one here.
Supporting sustainable agriculture methods in large and small farming operations is central to our mission of increasing food availability, therefore the decline of the bee population is of great concern to us as an organization. Find other ways to take action to support American farms and to make our nation more fuel-efficient by browsing the Good Practices section of our blog!