In 2017, the hashtag #SaveTheBees went viral after seven bee species were added to the endangered list. Most of us associate bees with their honey-making talents, but creating honeycombs only scratches the surface of what bees can do. In fact, not all bees even produce honey.
Bees also play a critical role in the health of the planet, its ecosystems, and the people who depend on those ecosystems. Not only are honey and beeswax highly medicinal substances, but pollination—which happens to be a bee's full-time job—is crucial for crop production.
Bees help pollinate over 90% of the world's crops. Without them, there will be no more nuts, coffee, cocoa, tomatoes, apples, or almonds... and that's just the shortlist. Researchers estimate pollination is worth $34 billion due to the direct association between farmers' crop yield and the presence of bees. With how much work they put in, these fuzzy pollinators are seriously underpaid.
It's pretty clear why we want to save the bees. Today, bee populations are in much better shape than they were four years ago thanks to regenerative farming—a fancy term that means planting lots of native flowers. Still, there are many things that continue to present a threat to bee populations worldwide, including habitat and biodiversity loss, industrial agriculture, and climate change. There's also industrial beekeeping.
"I think the problem we've got is not only the climate change, not only the industrial agriculture, which gives no biodiversity for the bees," Jonathan Powell, a trustee at Natural Beekeeping Trust and a natural beekeeper himself, tells Brightly. "We've also got industrial beekeeping on a vast scale, which is, I think, causing this major major loss in the bees."
Are you interested in giving bees a helping hand (and saving coffee and chocolate along the way)? Here are some easy ways you can help save the bees.
8 Ways You Can Help Save the Bees
1. Plant a Bee Garden
Remember regenerative farming? You can participate in regenerative farming in your own backyard by planting native flowers or scattering wildflower seeds. Unsure which plants to pick? Choose a variety of colorful, fragrant pollinator flowers for bees—and there are so many to choose from!
If you're a gardening veteran, consider planting flowers that will bloom all season or that will flower at different points throughout the season. That way, the bees will never go thirsty.
Planting native flowers can provide many benefits and will be more attractive to local bees. With over 20,000 known bee species in the world, bees' preferences tend to vary. For the biggest impact, offer them local bee cuisine. Not only will your bee garden protect the bees, but it will attract butterflies and other pollinators and turn your backyard into a colorful landscape.
Don't have a yard? If you live in an apartment, use a windowsill plant tray. City bees need pollen, too!
2. Support Local Beekeepers
While wild bees are critical for supporting agriculture, farm bees support local bee populations. Local bee farmers are best known for nurturing these on-site bee communities, but they often rescue swarming beehives, too, which protects the colony from extermination.
When you purchase local honey products, you're not only supporting these hard-working beekeepers—you're also getting the (delicious) benefits of local honey. As an added bonus, raw honey straight from the hive is unheated, unpasteurized, and undiluted, which means it's packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
Raw honey is meant for more than eating, too. It's a well-known healing remedy for minor burns or cuts and can provide relief for colds and sore throats. You could also consider trying other bee products, like locally made beeswax candles, lotions, or soaps. We even have beeswax wraps in our shop! Check them out in the video below.
3. Avoid Neonicotinoids
Neonicotinoids are harmful chemicals that affect bees' nervous systems, resulting in paralysis and death. When you're looking for pollinator plants at the nursery, be sure they're neonicotinoid-free.
"Quite a lot of plants from nursery say they're bee-friendly, but they've been treated with neonicotinoids, which are very harmful to bees," Powell says. "As a consumer, always ask questions about the thing that you're buying."
4. Plant a Cherry Tree
According to Powell, a cherry tree is a great pick if you're looking to add more life to your backyard.
"If you've got a small backyard, why not plant a cherry tree?" he says. "A cherry tree produces ten times more nectar than an apple tree, for example. That's wonderful for pollinators."
5. Go Organic
Synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and other harmful chemicals have a lot to do with bees' recent endangered status. When bees feed on local plants, these substances can weaken or kill the hive.
If you want to save the bees, buy organic from your local store or farmers' market. By doing so, you're helping to support a farming industry that protects bee populations. You can also try your hand at growing your own food to ensure all of your fruits and vegetables are free of chemicals.
6. Don't Use Pesticides
Outdoor pest control treatments are detrimental to bees, especially if applied to blooming flowers. Pesticides linger in the nectar and pollen of flowers, where bees will likely come into contact with these chemicals. Not only can these pesticides weaken bees, but they make them more susceptible to parasites—the other culprit in bees' population decline.
Instead of treating your outdoor spaces and gardens with synthetic chemicals, try organic products or natural solutions. Sprinkling salt around the edge of your garden (avoiding the soil) will deter slugs and snails, and corn gluten is a natural herbicide. Both of these options are bee-friendly pesticides.
7. See a Bee? Snap a Photo
Scientists aren't the only ones who can contribute to bee research. You can help collect data on our beloved bees using the iNaturalist app or by participating in the Great Sunflower Project—the largest citizen science project focused on identifying which pollinators need help. Both initiatives encourage citizens to take and upload pictures of bees and bee habitats.
How does taking pictures of bees help? Your images can provide critical information about bee populations' health, habits, and preferences. These citizen-led databases have already proved useful. A 2020 study using this type of citizen science revealed important information about the impact of soil management on bee populations and activity.
8. Create a Bee Bath
Bees may drink nectar, but they need water, too. Consider installing a bee bath, especially during hot summer months. All you need is a bowl with clean water and a few pebbles or rocks.
Arrange the rocks so bees can perch on them while drinking (we don't want the bees to drown!). Bees and other pollinators can land on the rocks and cool off before checking out your new bee garden.
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