Beautiful Bees- How You Can Help the Pollinators

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A bumblebee on a purple zinnia flower.
A bumblebee on a zinnia flower.

Are you a bee lover? If not, that's okay. Many people are not. For many, bees can be quite the anxiety trigger. Even more so if they have allergies. But without bees, we wouldn't eat. Bees are essential pollinators for our world food supply. Other pollinators are important as well, such as butterflies, some moths, bats, hummingbirds, and more. But our bee population is declining, and without them, we will all suffer. Much is being done to study why populations are declining and how we can help save the bees, and fortunately, there are simple things you can do in your own yard to help our pollinators.


Why are bee populations declining?


There are multiple reasons that both wild bee and managed bee populations are declining. This article from Scientia blog does a wonderful job of discussing the main issues. The three biggest factors behind the falling numbers of bees are:

  • habitat loss

  • exposure to insecticides/pesticides and herbicides

  • pests and pathogens


A bumblebee on a native hibiscus flower.
Bumblebee on a native hibiscus flower.

Habitat loss includes both natural disasters such as fires and human-created concerns such as deforestation for building projects. Bees feed on the nectar and pollen of plants, and they need a variety of plants to be healthy. Imagine if all you ate was rice. Or ground beef. You would not be taking in nearly the nutrients needed for your body to be healthy. Since different plants offer different nutrients to the bees, they need a variety same as us. Habitat loss due to any reason decreases the number of plant species for the bees to feed on, thus negatively impacting their overall health. It also reduces the number and type of nesting sites available for the bees.


The use of chemical pesticides is widespread in agriculture. Many of these chemicals are proven to be dangerous, but they are still legal to use. While it is true that insects that threaten our food supply must be managed, most insecticides don't discriminate. Sure, they may kill cutworms and weevils. But they also kill bees and parasitic wasps. They don't know good bugs or bad bugs. Even if the pesticides don't kill the bees, they still have negative impacts including loss of navigation, meaning the bees get lost and cannot find their nests. I implore you to read the Scientia blog post linked above. It goes into detailed information about how bees and learn and navigate and it is very interesting.


There are also many parasites and pathogens that can negatively affect the health of bees, either individually or in entire colonies. Just as humans and other mammals or birds are affected by bacteria and viruses, so are bees. They can suffer from mites, gut parasites, fungal diseases, and more. These things can be fatal on their own. And when bees are already in a weakened state from coping with lesser food sources secondary to habitat loss, the effects can be even more devastating.


A bee on a yellow purslane flower.
A bee on a purslane flower.

Impacts of declining bee populations:


Obviously, a declining population of bees will adversely affect our food supply. Not every plant we consume relies on pollinators such as bees to produce fruit, but so many do. Some plants are pollinated by the wind and others are self-pollinating, but many still rely on bees to get the job done. So while we wouldn't lose all of our food if we did not have bees, our diets would be severely impacted and there are many things we would not have anymore. And it goes deeper than just the vegetables and fruits we consume. It could also impact the feed supply for farmers which would decrease our meat supplies as well.


Outside of the impacts on our food supply, the loss of bees is bad news for other aspects of life, too. Did you know that many medications are derived from plants? How about building materials? So many things are directly or indirectly impacted by declining bee numbers and it really should sound the alarm for us all.


How can you help?


Many studies are being conducted around the world by researchers trying to figure out the exact cause behind problems like Colony Collapse Disorder that affects honeybees as well as other population declines. But you don't have to be a scientist to help the bees. All you need is a yard or even a flower pot.


I have a great post that is all about creating a pollinator garden, and you can check it out here. By planting flowers that cater to bees, you can help provide them with food and security. If you grow a wide variety of plants, you can help ensure the bees are getting the varied nutrients they need to be healthy. A great place to start is with a simple wildflower seed mix. * These ready-to-go pouches contain a variety of seeds that have been chosen because the bees love them. The pictures below are of bees on a brown-eyed susan plant.



Another great way to help the bees is to avoid using chemical insecticides/pesticides or weed killers. Using commercial fertilizers on your flowers or garden could also be harmful to the bees. Consider using natural methods like composting to help boost plant health. There are also some natural fertilizer options that work well. You can manage many pests like various worms by simply inspecting your plants daily and pulling them off the plants. The site eartheasy has some great tips for managing pests naturally if you need some ideas.


Providing bees with shelter helps them as well. You can buy a cute little bee house such as this one * and hang it in a protected area. We have the exact one in the link hanging in our garden and it's been used by mason bees. If you can leave areas of fallen leaves on the ground instead of raking them up, this also provides bees with a safe place to rest. Planting sunflowers like the ones below provide bees with food and a place to rest. I often see bees sitting for long periods of time amongst the emerging seeds on our giant sunflower blossoms.


 

It's understandable that bees trigger anxiety in many people. But by knowing that bees are not inherently bad and they aren't out to hurt you (many do not sting) hopefully we can all learn to co-exist with the peaceful creatures we rely upon so heavily.


Do you have any tips for helping the bees? Please share them with me in the comments!


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