Bees, Food, and You

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Bees, Food, and You: What You Need to Know to Protect Pollinators

There’s no getting around it: If you like to eat, you need to care about bees.

Bees don’t just pollinate the wildflowers that dot the landscape. They’re also responsible for pollinating nearly 100 crops that humans rely on. From tomatoes to cotton, bees pollinate the crops that sustain us. Without bees visiting their crops, farmers wouldn’t be able to produce as much food with their land. This would lead to big price increases at the grocery store and farmers market and a dwindling selection of fresh food. Some crops might disappear completely, including watermelons, almonds, squash, and avocados. Even coffee relies on bees to increase its yield through pollination.

Bees’ impact isn’t limited to fruits and vegetables: Livestock production relies on bees to pollinate alfalfa, buckwheat, and other animal fodder, and the rangelands used to graze pastured cows and sheep provide foraging and nesting habitat for bees.

It’s clear that humans have a vested interest in saving bees. But how can the average person make a difference? Here are a few changes you can make today to protect the environment for tomorrow:

1. Stop Using Pesticides

Pesticides are a major contributor to declining bee populations. Not only do some insecticides kill bees directly, but other pesticides can interfere with bees’ ability to forage and reproduce. While the most attention has been paid to conventional pesticides like neonicotinoids, even some organic products are toxic to bees. Instead of spraying around the home or garden, opt for bee-friendly pest control methods.

2. Choose Food Grown Without Pesticides

In addition to stopping pesticide use in your own home, start buying food grown without synthetic or organic pesticides. Unfortunately, there’s no labeling standard to make buying pesticide-free food easy; while organic food has its benefits, many large-scale certified organic growers still use pesticides. Buying directly from a local farmer whose growing methods you know and trust is the best way to ensure your food is truly pesticide-free.

3. Buy Pastured Meat

When rangeland isn’t overgrazed, it serves as an important habitat for bees. Bees dine alongside cattle, swine, and sheep in fields filled with forage grasses, and pithy plant stems and bare ground provide homes to cavity-nesting and ground-nesting native bees. That means that when you buy pastured meat instead of meat from animals raised in concentrated animal feeding operations, also known as factory farms, you’re supporting bee health.

4. Give Them Water

Bees need to drink water just as much as people do. Water is important for hydrating worker bees, cooling the hive, and making honey. Keep your local bees hydrated by keeping a water dish with cork or stones for the bees to stand on while they drink. If you’re worried about mosquitoes, opt for a feature that keeps the water moving, like a simple DIY bee waterer.

5. Plant a Pollinator Garden

Restoring habitat is perhaps the best way to make a difference for bees. When you plant a garden filled with nectar- and pollen-rich flowering plants, you provide food to dozens of hungry bee species. Get started by picking out flowering plants that grow well in your region, choosing a couple of varieties that bloom in each season except winter. Choose plants with different flower colors and shapes to appeal to the widest variety of bees, and plant clumps of each type so bees can easily locate them. Combine plants with different heights, shapes, and growing patterns to make the most of limited garden space. While sprawling pollinator gardens are wonderful, even apartment-dwellers can get involved by planting small flowering plants in pots on a balcony or patio.

Making a difference for bees doesn’t require a lot of work, so why not make your lifestyle a little more bee-friendly? Your efforts will pay for themselves through the vibrant, delicious food that bees help bring to your table every day.

Image via Flickr

This article was written by guest contributor Christy Erickson.  Christy’s aim is to collect and distribute the most accurate and up-to-date resources on the bee crisis and information on how to help in the community.

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