The Importance of Bees and How Everyone Can Do Their Part to Save Them
Written by: Christy Erickson
Vegetables, fruit, nuts, oils, cotton, coffee, tea, chocolate, and livestock feed are all vital crops that humans use and rely on every day. Around 84 percent of these crops need bees to pollinate them, which equates to a global worth of $170 billion every year. But bees are worth more than just their monetary value. Many other animals rely on plants that are pollinated by bees, making bees an integral a part of a healthy ecosystem. However, their populations are rapidly declining, and their extinction would be detrimental to the Earth. Although people are a big part of the decline in the population of bees, we can help reverse the damage and save the bees.
Declining Bee Populations
Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is the culprit in the disappearance of honeybees. In the United States, CCD first emerged in 2007 and wiped out a third of honeybee colonies. Each year since then, the U.S. has suffered a loss of 40 percent. Although the cause of CCD is not fully understood, scientists believe it’s a combination of parasites, viruses, poor nutrition, and pesticide usage.
Solitary bee populations are dwindling as a result of intensive farming, insecticide use, and climate change. The habitats of wild bees are also disappearing due to modern farming practices and urbanization. Urbanization replaces fields of flowers and plants with concrete parking lots and skyscrapers. The bees need the flowers for food, and the flowers need the bee to reproduce. The destruction or loss of either disrupts their relationship.
Modern farming is a three-fold issue. The first issue affects honeybees, which are raised in one state and then transported around the country to pollinate crops. The transportation has been found to damage the development of the bees, affecting their ability to feed members of the colony. Also, the stress of transportation makes bees more susceptible to fungal infections, and the concentrated bee populations on a bee farm enables the infections to spread rapidly.
The second and third issues harm native bees and honeybees alike. Modern farming features monocultures, which means acres and acres of land are dedicated to one crop, so not only are honeybees getting poor nutrition, but the native bees are losing their food as well. Bees need to eat throughout the year, but monoculture crops bloom all at once, and when blooming is done, native bees are left with no food. Additionally, modern farming uses insecticides, pesticides, and fungicides, which are harmful to bees.
Helping in Your Garden
If you want to help bees, start by buying local produce, which bypasses the bee industry altogether. Planting a garden that attracts and protects bees is also helpful. If you’re lacking in space, plant in containers and choose the largest ones you can fit in your space. In each container, add a few different types of plants of varying colors, textures, and heights. Plant densely in your containers, and add climbing vines that produce pollen and nectar to vertical areas, such as a wall or trellis.
Keep in mind that bees need nectar and pollen, so choose plants that offer both or plant a good mix of plants that offer each. Some plants that bees love include catmint, bee balm, lavender, crocus, and anise hyssop. Remember that bees visit the same type of plant when they’re eating and they don’t want to travel far, so place similar plants in clusters rather than spreading them out. Also, choose native plants and add annuals and herbs. Don’t forget to include a place to raise their young and a source of water for bees to drink.
Gardening has benefits for bees and your family. When you garden with kids, children learn about plants and the environment. Think of it as a daily science lesson and experiment. They also learn to care for something, which teaches responsibility and helps them feel proud when they see their hard work come to life.
We need bees in order to survive because they pollinate so many of our essential crops. Because we have destroyed their habitats and negatively affected their health, bees now need us to survive too. Bees are “guardians of the food chain and the biodiversity of our species,” which is why it’s so concerning that their populations are dropping rapidly and why stepping in to help them is so vital.