How You Can Save the Bees

by classicalgeek

Yes, you can easily do your part to save the bees--so they can save us!

If you haven't heard about the problems that bees are having, it is about time to pay attention. Throughout the world, bees are suffering from a variety of misfortunes that are causing whole hives to die off, while others are not thriving. In the winter of 2013-2014, one-quarter of honeybee colonies in the United States died.

Now, you may be frightened of bees because of their stings, but we must all learn to understand that without the bees, there will be no food. Why? Bees are responsible for pollinating one-fifth of the world's crops, upon which both humans and livestock depend. If these hard-working insects die off, the world will suffer enormous food shortages, and many plants that provide food will go extinct, because all flowering plants reproduce through pollination, and most pollination is accomplished by bees.

European Honeybee Extracting Nectar
European Honeybee Extracting Nectar
Public Domain

Understanding Ecosystems

Just like everything, bees do not live in isolation. They are part of a larger network of plants and animals, from the microscopic to the large, that inhabit an area, and they have filled in a niche which is necessary for that network to continue. However, with our manicured lawns, and our lookalike foundation plantings and flower beds, we upset that network. And believe it or not, our ancestors did not have lawns that all looked alike; we have fallen victim to Victorian propaganda!

In the early days of the United States, and still in much of the rest of the world, houses were not surrounded by lawns, but by gardens full of fruit, flowers, vegetables and herbs, with hard paths in between for easy access. Since many families grew all their own food, the front and back of a house might be surrounded with as many as a hundred different kinds of plants.

Victorian Gardens: The Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds, A Victorian Guidebook of 1870

It was this man's vision and desire to emulate the richest European aristocracy that inspired the Garden Clubs of America, the U. S. Golf Association, and the United States Department of Agriculture to promote the idea of short, manicured lawns.

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In particular, the Department of Agriculture saw the opportunity for increased industry in the manufacture of lawn mowers and other lawn maintenance equipment, fertilizers, and weed killers, as well as the manual labor necessary to maintain lawns. All three organizations held contests for the most beautiful yards, and writers of garden magazines pressured homeowners into adopting lawns.

Something to Ponder

Few people realize that there are many different species of bees, even within a very small region, and each species has different requirements for food. While some plants can feed many types of bees (I have seen four different species of bees simultaneously feeding from one oregano plant), some specialized bees that fill a very narrow niche in the ecosystem are adapted only for very specific plants, and in order to support these bees, some research into your local bees and their preferences will be necessary. By providing even a few flowering native plants to be used by these hard-working insects for food, you will be playing a part in keeping the ecosystem and the food supply healthy for your family. So if you think you can't do very much, just remember that you don't need to do it all singlehandedly. 

Support Your Local Bees!

Whether you have a large lawn, or just an apartment with a single windowsill, you can support your local bees with very little fuss or danger. The key lies in providing plants that the insects in your area are adapted to eat--this means native plants. It doesn't matter what area you live in; what is important is that you provide your bees with plants that they recognize as food. Since bees are pretty undemanding, as long as you grow flowering plants that are native to your region, you will be supporting the bees! Even if you have a single plant growing in a single pot on your windowsill, you will be helping; and every native plant you establish will support more and more of the pollinators necessary for plants to produce food.

Remember not to use pesticides or artificial fertilizers on the plants you are growing to support the bees. (Unfortunately, many nurseries selling "bee-friendly" plants are actually selling plants treated with pesticides, so consider starting your own bee-friendly plants from certified organic or heirloom seeds.) Instead of fertilizers you buy in the grocery store, consider composting instead. Not only does compost generate healthier soil, but composting also keeps your kitchen and outdoor waste out of the landfills.

Put out a bowl of fresh distilled or filtered water every day for the bees. They need water just like any other living creature.

Some varieties of bees drink from still water sources; others drink from droplets in the air. Since many localities have restrictions on running oscillating sprinklers, this lovely little solar fountain, from a reliable company, can easily provide your local wildlife with a drink of water, while observing watering restrictions. In addition, the moving water will discourage mosquitoes from breeding.

Solarrific G3033 Floating Solar Fountain for Bird Bath

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There are very good reasons anyway for avoiding pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides, including their effects on your family and pets. But did you know that many of these products contain aluminum? Recent research has shown that aluminum may be the cause of dementia-like symptoms in bees, so it's especially important to avoid this ingredient in your garden.

If you want to help the bees more, consider planting flowering plants that will bloom both early in the spring and late in the fall, to extend the time the bees have to gather pollen (most plants bloom within a sixty-day period in summer; those early spring and late fall plants will help them extend the time they have to gather food to survive the winter).

Remember, supporting the bees supports the entire earth!

Finding Native Plants

A few of the right plants can make all the difference!

Obviously, you will want to start with native plants that flower. Unfortunately, many plant nurseries just want to sell you something, so they will tell you a plant is native, when they may not really understand which plants are native, which plants simply grow well in your area, and which plants are naturalized. Fortunately, there are searchable databases of native plants, and many universities and county extension agricultural agents are great sources of accurate information. Most areas also have a native plant society, and most chapters have meetings that are free and open to the public, which will allow you to learn more about what kinds of native plants can best support your local species of bees.

Native plants are absolutely essential to supporting all kinds of wildlife in your area. It's not only the bees that are in crisis, but entire regions with all the wildlife associated with them. The native plants support certain kinds of beneficial bacteria that insects, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals depend on. The birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals depend on those insects for food; and so on up the food chain. Alien plants do not support the right kinds of bacteria and insects, and the entire ecosystem comes crashing down like a house of cards.

Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Updated and Expanded

As development and subsequent habitat destruction accelerate, there are increasing pressures on wildlife populations. But there is an important and simple step toward reversing ...

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Other Benefits of Native Plants

How you can heal your entire ecosystem

In addition to supporting the bees, native plants have a number of other desirable characteristics. Choose the right native plants for your lawn and foundation plantings, and you will virtually eliminate mowing, watering, fertilizing, and weeding, thereby saving you untold time and thousands of dollars (my father even sold his lawnmower because he never has to mow any longer). You will attract more desirable garden inhabitants, such as birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects, and drive off undesirable insects such as fire ants, which thrive in areas with only a few plants. And the increase in biodiversity will make your entire neighborhood healthier, because different plants filter out toxins from the environment!

What You Plant Makes a Difference!

Scientists are helping to study ways to restore the bee population. This video shows important research into how to attract bees with your plants.

Are you supporting your bees?

How to Live Peacefully with Bees

So many people are needlessly afraid of getting stung by a bee. While it is true that a few people are highly allergic to bee stings, and have good reason to fear contact with bees, most of us can survive a sting or two, and if you don't bother the bees, they won't bother you.

In order to avoid contact with bees, remember a few simple rules:

  • Do not wear perfume, cologne, or aftershave when you may come in contact with bees. They don't know the scent doesn't belong to a flower that is food to them. If you use scented shampoo or soap, wait for your hair to dry completely before going outside.
  • Try to avoid scented laundry detergents or dryer sheets. Use unscented or fragrance-free alternatives instead.
  • Do not disturb a bee, especially when it is feeding. Give it a wide berth, or wait until the bee flies away.
  • If a bee comes over to investigate you, stand quietly. I know your impulse is to scream and run, but that may upset the bee. Once it figures out you are not food, it will leave you alone. Any attempt to swat at or scare the bee may cause it to sting you in self-defense or defense of the hive.
Updated: 06/20/2015, classicalgeek
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