Becoming Part of the Solution
GreenCars offers you a place to cultivate the green lifestyle through thought-provoking articles like this one. So often, the big problems such as climate change or the decimation of our pollinator population seems beyond our scope to control or correct. But all is not lost. Here, we will explore the dire ecological problems that exist for protecting our bees and offer encouraging ways we can work together to truly can make a positive difference. Together, we can be the change.
“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”
Saving Bees Starts in Your Backyard
Did you know that every bee you see moving from flower to flower, pollinating all the plants and trees to give us many of the fruits, vegetables and grains we eat (and that feed our cattle, pigs and sheep), are all female? They are an industrious, hard-working, tireless legion of ladies who then take pollen to their hives to produce the miracle stuff known as honey. Without these potent pollinators we would not have flowers or healthy trees.
Wild and domestic honeybees perform about 80 percent of all pollination worldwide. According to Greenpeace, a single bee colony can pollinate 300 million flowers in a single day. Seventy out of the top 100 human food crops, which supplies 80 percent of the world’s nutrition, are pollinated by bees.
In fact, bees, and other pollinators such as beetles, moths, butterflies, wasps and even birds are responsible for almost half of the food that you eat and contribute over $500 billion a year to global food production. Over 1,000 plants that are grown for food, beverages, medicines and fibers for clothing, need pollination. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, bees make 80 percent of the crops that we eat fruitful including broccoli, apples, asparagus, blueberries and coffee. They also pollinate alfalfa and grass that feeds dairy and beef cattle.
Tragically, bees are dying at an alarming rate. According to the Pollinator Project, the world’s bee populations have decreased by half since the 1940s. Commercial beekeepers in the United States have reported that honeybee colony loss rates are averaging 30 to 50 percent each winter compared to historic losses of 10 to 15 percent.
The reasons for this striking decline include the loss of habitat and parasites such as Acarapis and Varroa mites. But the greatest killers of bees are the pesticides and fungicides that we use on industrial farms and to control weeds around the house.
Colony Collapse Disorder
The abnormal phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) occurs when most of the worker bees in a hive disappear. They leave behind the queen bee with plenty of food and a few nurses to care for the immature bees. CCD has affected colonies around the globe causing significant economic losses because many agricultural crops depend on honeybees for pollination. Bees are part of a complex and delicate ecosystem. Scientists and researchers who have reviewed 170 studies on CCD suggest that there could be many contributing factors to the loss of bee colonies. These range from climate change to the use of cell phones. It has been suggested that radio frequency exposure and electromagnetic fields produced by cellular technology can keep bees from being able to find their hives.
The Big Three Bee Killers
There are three big factors contributing to the loss of bee populations.
The first is habitat loss. As our cities and industrial farms grow, our natural wild spaces like hedgerows and meadows are lost, making it difficult for bees and other pollinators to search for flowers and food. For instance, in England, 97 percent of wildflower meadows disappeared between the 1930s and 1980s, greatly reducing the bees’ habitat and impacting their ability to survive.
Parasites like the Varroa mite are known to be one of the world’s most destructive honeybee killers. Bees infected by parasites bring them back to their hives where deadly viruses spread throughout the colonies, completely destroying entire hives. Similarly, bees exposed to fungicides and insecticides can get a fungus called Nosema apis, a killer known for the widespread death of honeybees.
But the biggest killer of bees and pollinators is by far pesticides. On industrial, non-organic farms, pesticides are sprayed on crops to kill insects and control pests. Pesticides such as neonicotinoids block bees’ neural pathways causing disorientation, the inability to feed and eventually death. Once seeds are coated by these pesticides, every part of the resulting plant becomes toxic to bees and poisons nearby water and soil. In a 2013 study, researchers found that the pollen they collected from bees contained nine different pesticides and fungicides. It turns out that fungicides that were thought to be harmless to bees may have a significant role in CCD as bees exposed to fungicides are three times more likely to be infected by parasites.
What You Can Do
The good news is that there is a lot you can do for bees and other pollinators to help them survive and thrive. While urbanization and the use of herbicides, insecticides, and pesticides have contributed to bee loss, these are problems have been caused by human actions and they can be reversed. Here’s how you can help.
Bee-Friendly Plants and Trees
Bees need a safe place to find food sources. Planting beautiful bee-friendly flowers and plants in even just a section of your yard will create a pollen-filled forage for honeybees. Plant a variety of flowering plants to attract bees such as crocus, sweet alyssum, sunflowers, coneflower, butterfly weed, geranium, mint, bee balm, poppies, lavender and clover. You can also plant trees that bloom like apple, pear and plum trees. Did you know bees get up to 80 percent of their nectar from tree blossoms?
If you don’t have a yard, you can help by planting flowers that bees love even on your condo patio or balcony. Consider planting such bee-friendly plants as calendula, tulip, daisy, borage, thyme, buckwheat, mallow, marigolds, fennel, rosemary, dill, parsnip, coriander, and alfalfa.
Give Bees a Drink
Fill a shallow bowl or bird bath with clean water and add some small stones or pebbles. Make sure that bees can land on them, but still get to the water without drowning. Gathering pollen is thirsty work. Once a bee finds your water source; she will tell her friends! Keep the location of your water source constant so local pollinators will visit you.
Provide a Bee Haven
Believe it or not, most bees are solitary and do not actually live in bee colonies or hives. Instead, they live in burrows underground or nest in small places such as hollow stems or holes in wood. Loss of habitat is one of the major reasons we are losing bees. Why not create a bee hotel that they can call home. Fill a coffee cup with hollow reeds such as bamboo and hang it on a tree outside. You can also purchase ready-made bee condos on Amazon.
Food that is industrially grown is done so by using pesticides that kill bees. By eating organic fruits and veggies from local pesticide-free farms, you are eating food that is good for bees and good for you, too. If you have not already, try buying organic honey from local beekeepers. It is seriously delicious.
Use Natural Weed-Killers
Don’t poison your soil, vegetables and bees with popular weed-killing products that contain neonicotinoids or glyphosate – the most widely used herbicides in the country. These cancer-causing chemicals will kill both you and the bees. Be sure to use all-natural weed and insect control. Beneficial insects such as lady bugs also help to keep pests away. Bees also love dandelions and clover. It’s the perfect excuse to skip the yardwork, but try letting some grow in your yard instead of killing or pulling weeds.
Stay informed and sign petitions to ban the use of neonicotinoids that kill bees. You’ll find a list of organizations that are helping to save bees and restrict the use of pesticides and insecticides that kill them.
Don’t Kill Bees
Many people are afraid of bees, but they are generally very docile creatures. Model bee-friendly behavior for children. Friends don’t let friends kill bees.
Support Local Beekeepers
Buy locally produced honey and beeswax products (such as lotions, soaps and candles). Honey is a great alternative to sugar that is rich in antioxidants and high in triglycerides. It lowers blood pressure and improves cholesterol. Join and support environmental groups and organizations that are saving bees such as The Bee Conservancy, the World Bee Project and Operation Honey Bee that promote bees and protect our pollinators.
Bee the Change
There are over 4,000 species of wild bees in North America and over 20,000 species in the world. Remember that 90 percent of all wild flowering plants need pollinators. Without bees, flowering plants will sharply decline and cause dangerous consequences for all ecosystems.
Because of positive efforts by caring people everywhere, the number of honeybee hives is actually increasing. It is estimated that there are approximately two trillion honeybees currently in the world.