Now that everything is in bloom, you’ll probably be seeing creatures both great and small paying a visit to your backyard or garden. Of all the animals you might see, our buzzing bee friends are among the most important. You might be a little wary of these striped insects, but they’re actually an essential part of our ecosystem. Without them, we’d probably cease to survive.
Of course, bees love flowers — you might giggle in delight while looking at this recent viral post of some adorable, fuzzy ‘bee-hinds’ sticking out of blossoms. By pollinating those plants, bees bring lots of color to our world and help other species thrive. But flowers aren’t the only reason we need bees. The reality is that they’re chiefly responsible for crop production in the United States. In fact, one-third of our nation’s crop production — or at least 90 different types of crops — requires pollination. Because bees are our country’s primary pollinators, that means that one out of every three food items you consume is thanks to the hardworking bees who do their jobs every day.
But the bees need our help; they’re disappearing at an alarming rate. U.S. beekeepers estimate that nearly one-third of all honeybee colonies here have vanished. Beehives were plentiful in the 1940s, with approximately 6 million of them found nationwide at that time. Now, there are only about 2.5 million left. Colony Collapse Disorder, the name given to the mass disappearance of our bees, is thought to be caused by a number of factors including global warming, pesticide use, parasites, and habitat loss.
If we don’t mend our ways, we could lose bees forever. Life would be a lot less sweet (both literally and figuratively) without these humble honeybees to help us.
So what can we do? Believe it or not, you can make a big impact right at home. Even if you don’t feel equipped to take on beekeeping or you don’t have a large garden, there are steps you can take to ensure bees feel welcome and thrive in your green space.
Buy Local Foods
Purchasing local, organic produce is a great way to support area growers and eco-friendly practices. Whenever possible, make sure that you support small farms that do not use pesticides, meaning the produce is bee-friendly. And of course, buying local raw honey is another great way to help the bees. Not only will this put money back into the community and help to support beekeeping in your area, but it’s also a great way to improve your own health. Proponents of raw honey say that it’s a fantastic allergy cure and even helps soothe burns. The more raw honey you use from local resources, the better off both you and the bees will be.
Go Au Naturale
If you don’t exactly enjoy pulling weeds out of your lawn or garden, leave them (or at least some)! Flowering weeds like clover and dandelions are much-loved by our buzzy friends; by leaving them alone, you’ll help pollinators immensely. Don’t be too quick to remove purposeful plants, either. After the main blooming season is over, bees still need food to survive. By waiting to harvest or deadhead flowers and vegetables until they’re completely done, you’ll be helping the bees in a time of need. You might not totally love the look of a messier yard, but remember that you’re pursuing a noble mission of protecting pollinators.
Pick Preferred Plants
“Busy as a bee” is an expression for a reason; a single honey bee can visit 5,000 flowers in a day’s time! But while bees pollinate a wide variety of plants, there are some they adore more than others. You can’t go wrong with wildflowers native to your area, as they’re a favorite for bees. Consider herbs like lavender, sage, thyme, rosemary, and mint — they’ll make your yard smell amazing and will attract pollinators from far and wide. Vegetable gardens and fruit trees are great choices, too. As far as flowers are concerned, be sure to select a variety that will bloom from early spring through late fall, as this will ensure bees can feed throughout many months and will make your garden look breathtaking at any given moment. Having trouble choosing? Aim for black-eyed Susans, bee balm, sunflowers, bachelor’s buttons, daisies, marigolds, calendula, and other single flower tops (they’re easier for bees to access and provide more pollen). Blue and purple flowers have also been known to attract bees. Try to keep plants within the same color family planted together, as this will help the bees to find their favorites.
Provide Fresh Water
Bees need more than pollen to survive. They need access to H2O, too. By giving them a shallow water source (like a flat container filled with pebbles and twigs or a sloped bird bath), they’ll have a place to rest and hydrate. Some people will even fill a bucket or pail with water and put a bunch of wine corks on top where they can stand and sip. Make sure to freshen this water daily to let them know they’re welcome to come take a drink whenever they need it.
Build Some Shelter
It’s important to create a welcoming environment for bees where they can feel safe. After all, bees sting only when they feel threatened. Pieces of untreated wood, wild hedges, and spots with mud or uncultivated soil work as makeshift nests for lone bees. Even being creative with how you arrange your potted plants can make a good spot for bees to take refuge during a rainstorm. By dedicating a little tucked away corner of your yard to this purpose, you can make your bees very happy.
Help Tired Bees
With all the pollinating a bee does on a daily basis, it’s no surprise they can get tuckered out. If you spot a bee that seems like it’s struggling to fly, it might not be injured — it may simply need a little bit of sugar. You can help revive a tired bee by mixing together 2 tbsp of white granulated sugar (do not use honey or artificial sweeteners!) with 1 tsp of water. Then, place this mixture on a plate or spoon and bring it to the bee to drink. You can also leave this mixture in shallow containers around your garden to provide an easy way for bees to fuel up whenever they need it. Just be advised that a motionless bee may not need your help; it may simply be resting, so until you’re sure, don’t try to move it.
Seek Community Support
If you’re ready to expand your efforts beyond your own backyard, partnering with community organizations can be a huge help. There are countless initiatives dedicated to reducing pesticide use on a wider scale and amping up bee conservation efforts. Reach out to neighbors, gardening associations, and local businesses to spread your bee knowledge and find out how you can help even more. You can even apply to make your hometown a Bee City, which certifies your community has pledged to protect bee populations.
Being Active Can Preserve Our Pollinators
Protecting our bees requires a conscious effort on our part. To make your yard a more welcoming place for bees, be sure to keep these tips in mind and conduct additional research about the unique needs of pollinators in your area. With your help, we can strengthen the bee population — and in so doing, ensure our own survival in the future.