Honeybees are some of the most undervalued species on earth. Seen as an annoying or even aggressive insect that may well sting you, bees are often killed to protect oneself from an alleged attack. But unlike wasps, the more aggressive relatives, honeybees are more peaceful than commonly believed and only attack when provoked. And even more - they are critically endangered. You may think "What do I care? It's just another insect", but you will once you realise the tremendous benefit bees have in our life. In fact, if bees die - we die just shortly after. Why is that?
Bees are incredibly important in pollinating crops. The process of pollination enables the plant to grow its fruits, and those fruits make a significant part of our food. In fact, out of the 100 crop species that provide us with 90% of our food, 70% are pollinated by bees. If you enjoy foods like broccoli, cauliflower, cherries, blueberries, beets, potatoes, kiwi, peppers, papaya, watermelon, coffee, oranges, apples, buckwheat, carrots, strawberries, avocados, plums, almonds, pears, eggplant, tomatoes and grapes - to name only a few - be aware that those items will no longer be available if we don't start putting actions in place to save this little insect.
But what is putting the life of bees at risk?
1. Increasing urbanisation
The rapid expansion of cities and concrete plastered areas leave less room for bees. Even our gardens, often meticulously maintained like parks, lack diversity of plants and flowers. Especially bumblebees who nest on the ground have to fly longer distances to find their preferred species-rich floral patches. Bumblebees are not producing honey but are crucial in pollinating plants and flowers.
Monoculture is an industrial type of farming and defined as a field composed of a single crop species. Such fields are easy to grow and maintain and therefore lower in cost which leaves higher profits for the farmers. No wonder that the new procedure took the agricultural world by storm. However, the disadvantages are not deniable. Monocultures not only deteriorate the soil but also destroy local biodiversity. Honeybees are the primary means of pollinating monocultures yet, that lack of diversity has a negative impact on the insects.
Like humans, bees require a balanced diet, and monocultures offer the insects only one type of pollen as a food source which can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Moreover, certain crops only bloom for a limited time, leaving bees short of nectar and pollen for several months of the year. Popular monoculture crops like wheat and corn do not provide nectar or pollen at all. Without diversity, however, bees and their larvae are more likely to get affected by microbes and pathogens.
3. Pesticides & GMO's
The negative impact of pesticides on bees has caused heated discussions over the past years. While companies like Monsanto, the manufacturer of a whole range of highly toxic pesticides and genetically modified crops, are denying the danger, science can prove them wrong. Pesticides do not only cause mass-collapses among bees and other insects but also have a profoundly harmful impact on us humans, with young and unborn children being at highest risk. Not only the pesticides cause reason for concern, but also GMO's (Genetically Modified Organism) have an impact which can't even be fully assessed yet. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines them as organisms whose DNA has been altered in a non-natural way. The reason for the alteration is a higher resistance to pest and viruses along with a higher tolerance to pesticides and herbicides. The problem with GMO's is twofold. Genetically modified crops have lower nutritional value for pollinators like bees and butterflies which is weakening their immune system and causing a higher risk of starvation and infection through bacteria.
The other significant threat is that pesticides and herbicides are commonly used with GMO's and therefore might be toxic to the insects.
So what can we do as individuals to save the life of honey bees and other insects that are crucial for sustaining our food source? Here are 10 ways you can help bees to survive:
1. Plant flowers
A diversity of floral patches in your garden is not only nice to look at but provides insects with a large table of nutrient-rich food. Not all plants are equally attractive to bees so here some examples of flowers that makes a good variety:
Spring: Lilacs, Penstemon, Lavender, Sage, Verbena, and Wisteria.
Summer: Mint, Cosmos, Squash, Tomatoes, Pumpkins, Sunflowers, Oregano, Rosemary, Poppies, Black-Eyed Susan, Passion Flower Vine, Honeysuckle.
Fall: Fuschia, Mint, Bush Sunflower, Sage, Verbena, Toadflax
2. Leave room for weeds
Weeds are not always bad, and some plants classified as weeds make colourful patches in your garden. Wildflowers such as Clover and Dandelions are excellent food sources for insects. If you want to get rid of weed, let it bloom first for the bees and then before it goes to seed, pull it out or trim it back.
3. Don't use chemicals and pesticides
Pesticides and herbicides are the worst insect killers of all and the major culprits in Colony Collapse Disorder in beehivees. Especially when used during the blossoming season, pesticides can get into pollen and nectar and be transported back to the beehive where it eventually ends up in our honey.
4. Buy local, raw honey
Majority of honey sold in supermarkets is neither raw nor natural but often contaminated with pesticides. Instead, buy from a local farmers market where you can have a chat with the beekeepers and get an understanding if their bees are kept sustainably and naturally. Let's support our local businesses and give a sign towards food industries that we are choosing to live a natural and healthy life.
5. Leave a small water basin outside your home.
Believe it or not - even bees get thirsty and need to drink. Leaving a small water basin with little stones or pebbles ensures the insects can drink safely without drowning.
6. Offer sugar water to compensate for lack of plants.
If you don't have an own garden or balcony but still want to help, place a spoon with sugar water outside your window to provide tired bees and bumblebees with energy.
7. Buy locally, eat seasonally.
Buying from a farmer that you know means knowing if the food comes from monocultures or not. While eating seasonally used to be normal two decades ago, today supermarkets offer summer fruit like strawberries year-round which forces farmers to use unnatural ways to make produce grow out of season. We have the option to choose where our food comes from, how it is grown and what impact it has on the ecological balance of our environment.
8. Don't harm or kill bees.
Bees are not aggressive by nature and won't sting you unless they feel threatened. So if a bee comes close to you or even sits down on your hand, don't make hectic movements by trying to chase her away. Be aware that a bee usually dies after a sting so don't make it reach this point.
Other than wasps, bees are vegetarian and not interested in your lunch meats. To avoid mistaking bees for wasps, get familiar with the differences in looks. Bees are darker with a more round, hairy body while wasps are slim and smooth with a flashy pattern of black and yellow stripes.
9. Spread the word about bees and engage your community.
Multiply your efforts by engaging your family, friends, and community. Tie up with local beekeepers in your region and offer giving information to schools and universities. Educate your children about bees and their importance to our environment so they can engage their friends and classmates.
10. Support petitions for the protection of bees or initiate one on your own.
The more people are getting aware of the alerting situation bees, and other pollinating insects are in, the better we can stand our ground against the destruction of our flora and fauna.
As always, please share this information with your family, friends, and colleagues and lets work together for a healthier environment. I look forward to hearing about your activities and initiatives to protect our honeybees!