It’s no secret that the world’s pollinators are in trouble and many are working hard to save the bees. Colony collapse disorder has been studied for decades now, and just last year, The Royal Society published a paper about the continuous decline in pollinator populations and how this decline impacts the crops we grow. Researchers found that about five of every seven crops grown experiences a yield increase when more pollinators are present.
“Our findings show that pollinator declines could translate directly into decreased yields or production for most of the crops studied, and that wild species contribute substantially to pollination of most study crops in major crop-producing regions,” the authors wrote in their paper.
How to help save the bees
Put simply: declining bee populations can reduce crop yield and increase the price of food. So if you’re not looking to hike up your grocery budget, it may make sense for you to look at some practical ways to help save the bees. These are 9 practical things you can do to help your local pollinators.
Don’t use pesticides
Straight up, one of the best things you can do to reduce the decline of bee populations is to stop using chemical pesticides in your garden or elsewhere on your property. Insect pests can be annoying, but when you spray chemicals to get rid of them, it also gets rid of many positive insect species that benefit your garden, like pollinators. Choose alternative, organic methods of pest control instead of spraying pesticides.
Leave your dandelions alone
Dandelions have long been considered a weed, the scourge of the master gardener, but I’ve never understood where that idea comes from. Dandelions aren’t just beautiful and their greens aren’t just edible for humans, but bees rely on them as an early source of food each spring. Dandelions are one of the first flowers to begin blooming which produces a vital food source for bees. So next time you plan to pick your dandelions, think twice! You could be hurting your local bees.
Choose native flowers
Before humans came along, the biodiversity of different regions changed very, very slowly. The plants and animals in each individual environment are accustomed to interacting with one another. Human migration around the world brought countless new plant species with them, many of which are not native. Your local pollinators may not be properly accustomed to collecting food from non-native plants. To properly help save the bees, choose native plants that your local pollinators will be well accustomed to.
Plant native flowers that bloom at different times
Planting native flowers is good, but consider when these flowers bloom. If your flowers all bloom, say, in mid summer but don’t bloom any other time, you’re only helping save the bees for a brief window of time. Try to find different native flowers that bloom at different times of year. Identify flowers that bloom early, throughout summer, and into the fall as well. This will help supply your local pollinators with food at all times of the year, excluding winter if you’re in a cooler climate.
Leave water out for your bees
You aren’t the only one who gets thirsty after spending time outside in the hot summer sun. Bees need water too! And water isn’t always the easiest thing for bees to find, especially in hot, dry climates. You can help save the bees by providing water to them. But don’t just fill up a bowl of water! Bees could easily slip in and drown. Instead, fill a basin of water and then place floating objects in it, like wood bark or wine corks. You can also place stones in a dish of water. The bees just need something to land on that prevents them from drowning in the water by accident.
Purchase organic food
We’ve been talking a lot about what you should do outside of your house, but let’s pivot to talk about how what you cook in your kitchen can save the bees. In the same way that pesticides that you spray at home can harm pollinator populations, the same can happen on commercial farms. Conventionally grown crops that are sprayed with pesticides can do substantially more harm to bees due to the size of these farms. Organically grown crops are not sprayed with these harmful pesticides. Choosing organic produce helps reduce this negative impact on bees.
Build a bee hotel
Human hotels might feature things like hot tubs, king sized beds, and mini-fridges but don’t worry, you won’t need to include all that in a bee hotel. Bee hotels won’t attract an entire hive of bees. Instead, they will attract what are called solitary bees, or solitary pollinators. These pollinators don’t exist in hives but build individual burrows. Bee hotels tend to feature a series of long, narrow wooden or bamboo tubes that solitary bees can build a nest in and lay their eggs. National Geographic has a great guide on building a bee hotel.
Leave your leaves
It’s an autumn tradition, or at least a chore, for many people around the northern hemisphere to rake up leaves and other dead plant life and discard it, maintaining a beautiful yard going into winter. But doing so actually destroys vital bee habitat. Many solitary bees do not survive the winter months, instead burying their larvae under dead plant material like wood and leaves. Leaving a pile of leaves over winter provides vital habitat for solitary bees.
Don’t fear the swarms
Swarming bees can be kind of freaky. Bee swarms happen when a new queen emerges and leaves, bringing part of the hive with her. The goal of a swarm is to find a new place to set up shop. Swarming bees generally are not dangerous. A swarm is not an inherently aggressive group of bees – they’re looking for a new nest, not to pick a fight. Swarming bees can be compelled to sting defensively though, so your behavior when interacting with a swarm will likely be what determines how aggressive the swarm gets.
If you encounter a swarm, stay calm, don’t swat at the bees, and do your best to get out of their way as they move past you.