Help Save the Bees

Edited by Sarah Maloney, Eng

Last month the United States announced a new member to the endangered species list. The rusty patched bumblebee became the first wild bumble bee to join the list. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service's reports that since the late 1990's, the bumblebee population has plummeted nearly 90%. In September of 2016, Hawaii placed several varieties of bumblebees the endangered species list. [1]. The decline of bumblebees worldwide has actually been documented since World War II, however, in the past couple years the decline particularly in North America has become calamitous with apiarists reporting hives that were once full completely empty and for no perceptible reason.

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Although you might think the decline of the bumblebee to be relatively insignificant the consequences of the decline is far reaching and extraordinarily impactful on the global food supply.

Know your Bees

You know those plump, fuzzy, hairy black and yellow bees that hang out in your flowerbed? That's the bumblebee or honeybee! And it is the decline of the bumblebee that is most damaging to our universal wellbeing. There are other species of bees, most are known as solitary bees (they do not have colonies or hives and do not product honey). Most solitary bees do pollinate and there has been an increase in providing resources for these bees given the recent decline of the bumblebee.

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This is how it works. The primary responsibility of wild bumblebees (as opposed to commercial bees) is to pollinate and make honey. And although the gorgeous flowers flora and plants in your garden are affected by the decrease in the population, the more significant affect is on the pollination of food plants and vegetation. Reports have documented that nearly one third of the world's global crops are dependent on bumble bees. The BBC reports bumblebees pollinate 70 of the around 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world [2]. Crops dependent on bumble bees includes fruits and vegetables, including wheat, rice corn and nuts as well as their by-products (oil). The impending extinction of bees would mean a real threat to the global food supply.

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If you want to know more about the bee decline and our dependence on bees, check out Vanishing of the Bees a remarkable documentary or Marla Spivak's captivating TedTalk available here Marla Spivak TedTalk Bees.

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Reasons for the Decline

The main reason for the decline of bumblebees is GMO's (Genetically Modified Organisms). When GMO's were first introduced in the 1990's, they were believed to be the solution to world hunger increasing crop yields and decreasing crop destruction by pests. However, diseases and pests have evolved with the GMO's and have become resistant, causing the need for increased amounts and diversity in the type of pesticides utilized to ensure healthy crops. This gets into a very large and complex debate about finances, Monsanto and other GMO seed producers. What is significant to the bumble bee is the amplified use of neonicotinoids, a pesticide widely used on crops, grass, gardens, flower beds and forests. Neonicotinoids are particularly damaging to honeybees because they are absorbed into the plants entire system, including the nectar and pollen. Worker bees are critical to the health of a bee colony and neonicotinoids have damaging affects on both the queen bee and the worker bees leading to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). CCD was first discovered in 2006 and is the reason for the reports of bee colonies literally disappearing. When the majority of worker bees die or disappear, only the queen, nurse bees and baby bees are left, unable to operate the hive and collapsing (die).

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Steps to Help the Bumblebee Population

There has been as universal effort to increase and save the bumblebee population. One of the most prominent campaigns is Cheerios Bring Back the Bees campaign launched with the removal of their bee mascot from cereal boxes last year and the distribution of millions of free wildflower seeds this month. Criticism has arisen since the campaign ranging from concern over Cheerio's use of pesticides and GMO's on their own product and invasive species included in the wildflower packages.

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Like so many campaigns and operations it's difficult to muddle your way through the debate. You like bees. You like honey. You decide you want to save the bees. But how do you know what is the right thing to do? This list will give you suggestions and initiative that really will help the bees.

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  1. 1
    Plant a Bee Friendly Garden
    Visit your local greenhouse or look online. There are a lot of seeds and plants that very prominently display themselves as "bee-friendly," so even if you aren't an experienced gardener, you can very easily find the best bee friendly choices for your garden. Bee balm, cosmos, Echinacea, forget-me-nots and daisies are all great choices. It doesn't have to be a big garden and if you've got a little bit of space, there are many hardy perennial choices that are low maintenance. As a plus, a lot of the bee-friendly flowers are also butterfly attractants.
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    The National Pollinator Garden Network has launched the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. The goal is to create 1 millions pollinator gardens across the U.S. and runs for the next two years. Additional information can be found on the NPGN website.
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  2. 2
    Plant some Clover
    I personally love the look of clover mixed in my lawn. It is lusher than grass, lower maintenance and a beautiful vibrant green even in the drought of August. White clover provides the small white flowers for pollination. The only consideration here is clover does attract bees low to the ground (in the grass) and if you're got little ones or pets you have be careful running around barefoot.
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  3. 3
    Check for Neonicotinoids
    If you are an avid gardener, ensure you are inspecting the plants you are buying for the use of neoniotinoids. Many plants are treated with the pesticides to make them pest or animal resistant. If you see a plant with a label resistant from aphids or deer resistant, it's probably been treated with neonicotinoids. The labels must state their treatment (usually on the back).
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    Stay away from these plants and find native species or ask your local gardening centre or look online, there are many options to choose from. At the end of the season if greenhouses notice none of the neonicotinoid treated plants sell change might be made for the next season.
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  4. 4
    Avoid Using Pesticides
    There are many all natural pest control options. Have a look online or ask your local garden centre.
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  5. 5
    Leave your Weeds
    I'm not sure why, but society has labelled the wild dandelion as imposters. I kinda like the bright yellow sprinkled throughout my lawn. Try to learn to live with the dandelion. These are the first sources of pollen for bees.
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  6. 6
    Honey Honey
    Buy your honey from local farmers or sustainable sources rather than the commercial honey found in supermarkets. Beekeeping has increased in recent years and finding pure sustainable honey has become easier. Check out your local farmers markets.
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  7. 7
    Keep bees
    Beekeeping has become a popular hobby in recent years. As part of the First Lady's White House garden, Michelle Obama initiated a space for 70,000 bees. The bees produce White House honey that is given to visiting dignitaries and can be purchased in the gift shop.
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    The Fairmount Hotels have more than 40 bee apiaries on their roofs, supplying honey for guests. Our local college has introduced a bee keeping course and other community organizations offer seminars. Bee keepers are usually very passionate about their trade, if you're interested in keeping bees, attend a seminar or speak to a beekeeper. You don't need have a huge number of hives and you don't even have to keep the honey. Maintaining the hive is enough for the colony to survive. It is a flexible hobby that you can spend as much or as little time on as you'd like. There are some considerations before you initiate keeping bees. In Michelle Obama's book American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America (a fascinating read in one sitting look into White House gardening) there are humorous stories about the bees interrupting White House business, including a 2015 egg roll incident when bees interrupted President Obama reading Where the Wild Things Are to a group of children on the White House lawn. Do some research and talk to a beekeeper before embarking on this new hobby.
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  8. 8
    Build a Bee Waterer
    With all the flying and pollinating, bees need water too. Fill a bowl or container with water and marbles, corks or smooth rocks. The marbles and rocks are needed so the bees have somewhere to rest while they drink and won't drown.
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  9. 9
    Don't Destroy Hives or Swarms
    A bee swarm can look frightening. Bees swarms when they are reproducing a new queen and working on establishing a hive. Though it can look menacing, the bees are non-aggressive and will usually move off after a day or two. If you see a bee hive, depending on its placement, you may want to remove a hive. In either case find an agency that guarantees removal without destruction. Beekeepers will often remove the bees.
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  10. 10
    Bee Hotel
    Bee hotels are intended for solitary bees. You can buy a bee hotel online or easily make your own. These are homes and rest stops for solitary bees. Ensure you place the hotel a few feet above the ground and maintaining it regularly.
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  11. 11
    Bee Roads
    Bee roads have become popular in Europe and are just starting pop up in North America. Unfilled green spaces across municipalities on highways and roads have been planted with wildflowers creating bee fielding pollinating gardens in spaces once unused. Visit your local council and inquire about starting your own Bee Road.
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  12. 12
    Since the decline of bumblebees has become a prominent issue in the news and on social media, there are a lot of groups working as advocates for the promotion of bee advocacy. Greenpeace, Honey Councils, The Honeybee Conservatory, Avaaz and local Beekeeping groups all have advocacy campaigns. Check out your local council and groups or check out organization's websites online.
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If you have problems with any of the steps in this article, please ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.


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Categories : Green Living

Recent edits by: Sarah Maloney

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