I’ve talked about my concerns about the future of honey bee populations here before, but the bees are in the news again this week, with reports of 31% of colonies not surviving this past winter.
- Wired: One-Third of U.S. Honeybee Colonies Died Last Winter, Threatening Food Supply
- Time: Beepocalypse Redux: Honeybees are still dying – and we still don’t know why
- NPR: Bee Deaths May Have Reached A Crisis Point For Crops
This is bad. Really bad.
If you’re not familiar with what’s happening with honey bees, I highly recommend the links above. They’ll get you the basic idea of this problem, which is widespread (worldwide) and not getting better.
What can we do? Well, there’s not a lot of concrete knowledge, but there are a few tips floating around.
- Support organic produce – one of the big red flags for a lot of these studies is the presence of neonicotinoids, a type of pesticide that is neuroactive. It’s probably not the ONLY thing affecting the bees, but purchasing produce that doesn’t use these chemicals helps, in a small way, to reduce their heavy and widespread use.
- Keep your yard weedy – bees thrive on wild grasses and “weeds”, and a lot of farmland and yard land has done away with the native grasslands that bees need to get the nutrition they need to survive. Reducing pesticide and herbicide use in your yard not only directly helps keep bees from getting sick, it increases the variety of plants they can eat for survival. Cultural diversity in your yard may not look like a golf course, but it’s better for the environment for a ton of reasons.
- Stop using commercial pesticides – just like commercial herbicides are bad for bees, pesticides directly affect them. Move in the direction of organic garden and yard care. It might be a bit more work, but it’s better for you, for the environment, for your local waterways, AND for the bees.
- Plant a bee garden – it won’t look as manicured as a rose garden, but many varieties of plants are bee-friendly. Plant them in an area not near your walkways and home entrances (especially if someone in your house is allergic). This is a good list to start from (there are lots to choose!) if you’re not sure what kinds of plants are bee attractors. Even if you can’t devote a whole garden to your honey bee friends, planting bee-friendly plants, especially native ones, is helpful!
- Buy Local Honey – this helps keep local beekeepers in business. With so many hives dying out, apiarists are in high demand, and the more we support them, the better their chances of staying in business to help keep our food crops pollinated. If you’re not sure where to get local honey, or your grocer tends to only stock Big Name Brands that aren’t even guaranteed to be from the US, try asking at a farmer’s market or your local hardware store. I buy my honey by the quart at the hardware store, and it comes from about 20 miles from my house.
- Support Groups that Support Bees – Not everyone on that list gets a true thumbs up from an environmental perspective, but there are several research groups there that accept donations and are actively working to further honey bee research.
It all seems like a drop in the bucket – and it is. There’s not much one individual can do in the face of a worldwide bee collapse that is likely being worsened by our commercial agriculture methods. But as with so many other things, every little bit helps. It is daunting, but I feel like it’s important to try anyway.
So have some honey in your tea, and enjoy your almonds, blueberries, melons, and fresh vegetables. But don’t forget the bees that make those things possible. The bees need our help.
If I find more information on how to help fund honeybee research, I will post it as well.