“Planting for Bees from Backyards and Up” by Jessica Swenson
The honey bees are dying off at an alarming rate. Over 100 United States crops rely on the honeybee pollination to grow and survive. The honey bees are slowly losing their natural environment, which is drastically causing the species to die. With our help, they can strengthen in numbers. We must re-create their habitats by making our neighborhoods and homes more bee friendly.
It is common knowledge that bees collect nectar and pollen from plants for food and then make honey from the nectar. However what few are aware of is pollen is their sole protein source that is critical for the survival of their young. In addition, one of the most important plants bees rely on are wildflowers. Of these, probably the single most valuable early spring wildflower is the Dandelion. For a Texas beekeeper the goal is to help their hive over-winter and get them to the dandelion bloom. Beekeepers know the bees will be safe from starvation if they can make it to the dandelion bloom. The nectar from the dandelion gives the bees a huge boost to the hives health and wellbeing after the stress of dealing with winter. Therefore, people should refrain from killing dandelions in their lawn. If we can educate the public perhaps they may change their view of a dandelion from a weed to an important part of bee survival. In order to maintain and perhaps boost bee populations bee awareness and education needs to be shared.
Federal and city officials should be included in the sharing of bee education and perhaps they might consider planting wildflowers along highways and roads. Wildflowers are being continuously pulled up from highway mediums and roadsides, so by talking to government officials about putting wildflowers by roads and mediums we can give the bees back their natural environment. Restaurant owners can grow small crops and herbs with wildflowers on their property making their food extra tasty.
Another person of interest for bees would be the farmers. Farmers can help by planting wildflowers along their property and around their crop. By having wildflowers near their crop could increase crop pollination. In some states the government offers incentives to encourage farmers to plant wildflowers. Commercial pollinator Jackie Corley, has made a living for 30 years taking his bee colonies to pollinate crops for farmers. Jackie makes over sixty-five dollars a hive. Farmers have a financial opportunity if they consider placing wildflowers in and around their property they can save some money…not that I want Jackie to go out of business.
As for the general public, spreading awareness can occur in multiple ways: “save the bees” events, presentations to gardening clubs, schools and home-owner associations. These presentations would teach the attendees on the important on bees and how people can make a difference with little effort. For example, something as simple as small decorative bird bath in the yard for the bees to have a nice refreshing drink. People can be educated on bee friendly ground cover like planting Dutch clover instead of grass. The bees thrive on various weeds in lawns, so people could allow their lawn to grown out a little. In words of my sister, a commercial beekeeper in Florida, “there is no such thing as bad weeds!”
As for the common gardener, teaching sustainable organic methods for controlling garden pests can be very helpful. One farmer spoke of natural methods of controlling pests and the benefits of companion gardening methods. One example was planting onions next to carrots since they repel each other’s pests. Chemicals are toxic to honey bees and can have a high residual toxicity. Timing of when pesticides are used is another factor. It is important to for people to know if they are going to spray their gardens to do it at late evening when the bees are not working. If bees are gathering pollen from plants that have been sprayed, there is a risk that the whole hive could be killed because foragers return with toxic pollen that is fed to whole colony. My sister who mentored in queen rearing by Dr. Marla Spivak stated some research suggest chemicals could have some connection on why our queens are failing.
I live in a suburban deed restricted community that has nicely landscaped common areas. I contacted our homeowner association to see if I could have two beehives in my back yard and they did not know what to say because their policy did not cover insects as pets. I explained by allowing the bees to freely access your garden, your flowers and fruit trees will be frequently pollinated. Frequent pollination will increase the amount of flowers, fruits and veggies. The consumer would also gain from all the health benefits of eating fresh harvested food. I explained how, my sister started a program called “Host a Hive” which places rescued re-queened hives in urban back yards and provides bee/gardening education. Many “hosts” became beekeepers and the neighborhood became lusher with plant life, organic gardens, butterflies, and birds making the neighborhood more desirable and selling attribute for realtors.This caught my association’s attention and we hope to provide a presentation to them in the spring.
Making an effort to educate the community, from high schools to religious centers about bee awareness is a huge help for the bees. Bee ignorance is deadly to honey bees and I feel is responsible for ordinances banning bees and unreasonable fear. Honey bees maybe dying, but there is hope. Bee awareness will give the bees safety around humans. If the public would take steps to help the bee’s environment, by not using pesticide, allow clovers and other wildflowers to grow from the curbside of the urban house to the farmland or the simple bird bath could make our world a better place. So much can be done to help our bees, we just need to take action, because we need bees… just as much as bees need us.