Mar 26, 2017 09:37AM
● By Ann M. Reid
Because bees feed only on flowers, they are by far our most effective pollinators. While grains are primarily pollinated by wind, all our fruits, nuts and vegetables are pollinated by bees. In fact, bees are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat. But bees are in big trouble. According to Dennis Van Engelsdorp, professor of entomology at the University of Maryland, and director of the Bee Informed Partnership, “Beekeepers across the U.S. lost 44 percent of their honey bee colonies during the year spanning April 2015 to April 2016.”
But what’s killing our bees? Scientists know that bees are dying from a complex range of causes. However, humans are responsible for two of the most prominent causes: pesticides and habitat loss. Wild bee habitat shrinks every year as industrial agribusiness converts grassland and forests into mono-culture farms. Additionally, biologists have found more than 150 chemical residues in bee pollen. These pesticides are present in soil, on foliage and flowers. This is a deadly “pesticide cocktail” for our bees.
What can we do to help our bees? Support ecological farming and gardening. Ecological farming avoids large, mono-culture crops and maintains diversity by preserving natural composting systems, restoring soil nutrients and avoiding soil loss from wind and water erosion. Huge mono-culture crops, like the almond orchards of California, bloom for only 3 to 4 weeks each season, without offering any additional food to sustain bees during the rest of the year. According to Claire Kremen, Ph.D., a conservation biologist at the University of California, Berkley, what bees need most is a diverse community of flowering plants and bloom throughout the spring and summer. Abundance and diversity is essential. Additionally, it’s important to support organic farming and gardening methods where our food is grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides that damage our ecosystems and our bees’ health.
Bee Kind to Bees
- Plant a pollinator garden that blooms from early spring through fall. For a list of bee-friendly plants and a table which shows their bloom times throughout the seasons, download the Penn State Agricultural Extension publication, “Conserving Wild Bees in Pennsylvania” (Extension.psu.edu/publications/uf023/extension_publication_file).
- Go native. Pollinators are best adapted to local, native plants.
- Practice organic gardening instead of using harmful pesticides and herbicides. Swap your old “weed killer” spray for this effective, inexpensive spray made from kitchen ingredients that will not hurt pollinators.
Mix together: 1 gallon distilled white vinegar, 1 cup of table salt and 2 Tbsp. of dishwashing liquid soap and use in a sprayer.
Ann Reid, RN, MA, is a freelance writer, beekeeper, holistic nurse and founder of the Lancaster Chapter of the American Holistic Nurses Association. Connect at [email protected].