Bees play a vital role in maintaining a healthy and diverse ecosystem. We need them because they pollinate the plants and crops we grow for food and in this way ensure our food security. Bees are also valued for producing honey which is in high demand.
Bees actually make honey for themselves, storing it as food in their hives so they can survive the winter period when there are no flowers around to collect nectar from. Honey producers take this honey for the consumer market, replacing the bees’ food with sugar syrup which doesn’t contain the vitamins, fats and nutrients they need.
The reality of industrial honey production is that it’s unsustainable because it harms bees and their ecosystems. It’s usually one species of the bee – the honeybee – that’s used to pollinate a specific monocrop, for example, almonds. Hives of honeybees are loaded onto trucks and transported thousands of miles for this purpose, because there are not enough local bees to do this huge job.
Because they’re such important tiny creatures, bees are overworked and exploited. It’s no wonder bee populations are in decline across the world. According to Greenpeace, the number of bee colonies per hectare of crops requiring bee pollination in the US has fallen by 90 percent since 1962.
There are several factors which have been linked to the decline of bees. They can suffer from deficiencies if their natural food source is taken away and their diet of nectar and pollen is not available to them. Increased habitat loss and extreme weather due to climate change affects the availability of their food sources. The use of pesticides and insecticides is toxic to bees as well as other pollinators. Also, bees are vulnerable to disease and parasites, as well as infections that are common in industrial honey production.
Here are eight simple ways we can help the health and diversity of bees and other pollinators. By helping bees, we’re also preserving our own ecosystem and food security.
1. Plant flowers and flowering plants.
You can create a paradise for bees by planting flowers in your backyard. This will provide bees and other pollinators with a source of nectar and pollen. Flowering plants native to your area are the best choice because they’re best adapted to local conditions. Since bees forage from the spring to late September, depending on the region you live in, try planting different flowers for each season. Also, consider planting the same types of flowering plants in clumps, as bees like to visit one type of flower at a time.
2. Create a bee habitat.
You can help bees and other pollinators by creating an artificial hive or nesting box, a so-called “bee hotel”. You can do this by leaving a sunny and sheltered section of your backyard uncultivated, covering it with piles of twigs, reeds, and branches. Pollinators like to burrow and nest in these mini-habitats where they lay eggs. This is a simple way to give the bee population the resources they need to thrive and survive.
3. Eliminate the use of pesticides.
Pesticides are toxic to bees and pollinators. You can protect them by not using these harmful substance in your flowerbeds, gardens, and backyards. Consider using natural alternatives to insecticides instead if you need to keep bugs and insects away. Microbial insecticides, neem oil, diatomaceous earth, insecticidal soaps, pyrethrin (from chrysanthemums), and plant-derived alkaloids are a few possibilities.
4. Support local sustainable agriculture.
One of the best ways to help bee populations is by buying local and organic as much as possible. Organic and sustainable farming practices protect bees and pollinators from harmful pesticides and fertilizers, and promote biodiversity. By supporting sustainable agriculture, you will be protecting your own health and well-being as well as the bees.
5. Leave water out for bees.
Water is important for the survival of every living creature, including bees and pollinators. They mix water with pollen and nectar to produce food and use it to control the temperature in their nests and hives. During hot weather when water becomes scarce, leave out bowls and containers of clean water for the bees.
6. Teach others not to kill bees.
Many people often kill bees because they’re seen as a menace and are afraid of being stung. Teach them that bees won’t sting if left alone and that we should let them do their thing unhindered and not be afraid of them. Explain to children why bees are so valuable to us and why they’re practically an endangered species that shouldn’t be harmed.
7. Support organizations working to protect bees.
Consider supporting organizations that work to help bees and other pollinators. A few examples include the Xerces Society, the Pollinator Partnership, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and Buglife.
8. Don’t buy honey.
We know that industrial honey production is unsustainable and harmful for bees and other pollinators. There are many honey alternatives on the market, including maple syrup, molasses, agave syrup, and date syrup, to name only a few.