Have you been hearing about honeybees and bumblebees dying? In honor of June being National Honeybee Month, today we'll tell you how you can do your part to save the bees! The good news is that honeybee populations are now doing much better than they were when we first started hearing about Colony Collapse Disorder. Even so, many different human practices (and natural phenomena) are harmful to honeybees, and some of our native bee species are in serious danger. There is plenty of room to change our behavior. There are things we can do to help populations get back into balance sooner and repair some of the damage done by human activity. The following six ideas are a great place to start. Each one can be scaled up or down to fit into a wide range of lifestyles, budgets, and interest levels.
Add some bee-friendly plants to your garden.
For ideas of what to plant, check out our post on pollinator friendly gardens from earlier this year, or use the Xerxes Society's planting guides. Bees are rarely aggressive unless their hive is threatened, so the risk of getting stung if you make a bee-friendly garden is lower than you might think (of course if someone in your family has a serious bee sting allergy, this is a risk you might not want to take). To connect to the larger national efforts to promote pollinator health, you can register your pollinator friendly landscape with the Pollinator Partnership's S.H.A.R.E. program. Even if all you have is a window box, you can be part of the program.
Never use neonicotinoid insecticides on or near plants that are in bloom.
When in doubt about whether your target spray area is too close to flowering plants, pick a different product. A product's label will tell you if it is unsafe for bees (or people or pets). Always read the label completely on any pesticide product you use! While neonicotinoids get the most attention for killing bees, any insecticide can if it's not used properly.
Provide habitats for wild bees.
Our native bees need homes too. They can live in old logs, burrows in the ground, hollow trees, and many other places. If you can't safely leave dead trees around your house, or if you don't want mounds of loose dirt, there are more attractive ways to provide bee habitat with bee blocks or nesting boxes. As with planting bee-friendly plants, providing habitats doesn't mean you will have to deal with aggressive bees and stings. Placing these habitats in low traffic areas will keep both you and our pollinator friends comfortable. Learn more about native bee habitats here.
Let clover and dandelions grow.
For some, the sight of clover, dandelions, and other flowers in their yard is intolerable. But if you've been looking for an excuse to leave them, you have one now. Bees of all kinds absolutely love the flowers that want to grow in our turf. If you do choose to let your yard go natural but still want or need insecticides at times, you need to be careful or you will harm the pollinators you're trying to help. Recent research out of the University of Kentucky has shown that you can either use a granular product or mow off the flowers immediately after treating to prevent harm to the bees. New flowers will spring up quickly to replace the ones you mowed off.
Support local beekeepers.
Buy their honey and other products. Shop for local produce when possible. Local honey may have additional health benefits for those of us with pollen allergies, and shopping local also strengthens your local businesses and economy. You can often find products from local beekeepers at farmers' markets, or use a search engine to look up places to shop in your area. If you're especially enthusiastic about helping bees, you could even consider becoming a hobby beekeeper yourself! Look online to find other hobbyists in your area, andmost of them would be overjoyed to help you get started. If you live in Indianapolis, check out the Central Indiana Beekeeper's Association.
Educate your family, friends, and community.
We don't have to wait for changes in policy or law to make a difference for bees. Do your part by spreading the word about CCD and its causes and what we can do to help.
What are you waiting for? Go help some bees! For more information about how to help bees and other pollinators, you can check out the Pollinator Partnership and The Honeybee Conservancy. Both are respected non-profit organizations that are dedicated to responsible research and organizing grassroots community efforts to protect our pollinators. Are there other ways you work to protect our bees? If so, please share in the comments!