The 50th Anniversary of Earth Day is taking place today and in celebration of this…
Grassy hillsides during a California spring are typically painted in an array of different colors with large swashes of green or brown (depending on April showers), pops of purple and orange, and bright patches of white. Stretches of California poppies and plumes of painted ladies contribute to the bright orange landscape while lupin, purple sage and pride of madeira make up the purple clouds. The white splotches might be ceanothus or dandelion. Hovering near these fragrant sweet plumages are often pollinating insects, but in recent decades one particular insect has been present in far fewer numbers; the western honey bee.
The honey bee population sustained a 40% decline between 2018 and 2019, approaching an unsustainable precipice. Honey bees are an essential piece of the pollinator puzzle helping to propagate flowers, fruits and vegetables, playing a crucial role in crop production. With natural and managed populations dwindling in tandem, honey bees are being shipped around the country to help pollinate the produce aisle of our grocery stores. Watermelons, apples, peppers, nuts, they’re all being supported by millions of bees managed by bee keepers. Without honey bees, humankind faces the very serious threat of starvation.
Wild habitats also depend heavily upon bees for cross-pollination and reproduction. Pollinators increase the genetic diversity of wild plants, improving the overall health and resiliency of an ecosystem. Data shows honey bee populations are diminishing more with each passing year.
The largest contributor to honey bee population decline is a parasite known as varroa mite. This deadly parasite invades hives and spreads disease like wildfire, wiping out entire colonies in its wake. However, parasites alone cannot be blamed for bee population descent. Honey bees have become more susceptible to disease from these parasites as a result of exposure to harmful chemicals due to pesticides used during industrial agricultural practices and yard maintenance. Industrial agriculture has also led to the fragmentation of natural and semi-natural bee habitat.
Not unlike many wildlife populations, climate change also poses a serious threat to our winged-striped friends. Increasing temperatures, shifting seasonality patterns, changes in rainfall, and more erratic or extreme weather events may all have negative impacts on bee population numbers.
So, what can you do to help bolster these populations? For starters, buy organic products when possible to help limit the use of harmful chemicals in farming practices and promote ecological farming systems. Agriculture, while sometimes detrimental to bee populations, can also provide a helping hand. By providing ecologically mixed cropping systems farmers can increase habitat heterogeneity, thereby benefiting many pollinator communities.
Aside from the implementation of these organic and varied farming systems, increasing plant diversity can also provide major benefits to honey bees. Consider incorporating bee-friendly plants and flowers into your garden. Some plants you can assimilate into your garden include lilacs, lavender, sage, mint, tomatoes, pumpkins, sunflowers, rosemary, and poppies, just to name a few. For a fuller list of bee-loving plants visit: http://www.queenofthesun.com/get-involved/10-things-you-can-do-to-help-bees/
Another gardening tip to help out the honey bee is to let the dandelions be! Resist the urge to remove flowering weeds from your natural landscape as these flowers are immensely beneficial to pollinators. Avoid using chemicals or pesticides when gardening as this can severely diminish pollinator health if it accumulates in pollen and nectar. Consider incorporating water into your landscape as well; bees get thirsty just like we do!
Next time you’re in the market for fresh fruits and veggies, think about buying local and organic to ensure your produce isn’t coming from a monoculture and pesticides are not being broadcast. Finally, one last way to help our bees is to become a beekeeper yourself! If you have the time, space and interest, consider managing your own private beehive to benefit your garden, your neighborhood and the planet. Find out how to become a beekeeper here: https://www.betterbee.com/become-a-beekeeper/
Bees and other pollinators provide invaluable services not only to wild ecosystems but to human managed crops as well. Before spring comes to a close consider incorporating pollinator plants into your garden, buying organic, and perhaps even read up on how to start a new beekeeping hobby. Saving the bees means not only benefiting wildlife but also mankind.
Images courtesy of Canva.com