This week (June 17 – 23) is Pollinator Week! Woohoo!
We love our pollinators and try to thoughtfully design our planted spaces in ways that help pollinators thrive so that they can also help us—and the plants we share—thrive too. Just in case you don’t know, non-native European honey bees are what produce the honey we all eat and also the species that most people think of when they think of “bees” or “pollinators.”
However, according to the Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society, there are actually at least 770 varieties of bees native to the eastern US where we live, and a total of 20,000 bee species worldwide. Contrary to popular belief, not all bees live in hives or produce honey, but they do all play an essential role in the web of life.
Bees = Food
The vast majority of commercial fruits and veggies that you buy and eat require European honey bees (Apis mellifera) to pollinate them or they would not be able to produce food.
As such, bees—and especially European honey bees—are essential to the survival of our civilization (at least until we release the bees’ robotic replacements into the wild after we make the real ones extinct). Given the important roles that bees play in our food supply, we think everyone should care enough about them to learn a little bit about how they work, how their populations are doing, what they need to continue to exist, etc.
Bee Colony Collapse Disorder?
If you’ve been following the news over the past year, you may have heard that American beekeepers are experiencing a massive, unprecedented die-off in their bee populations (up to 90% loss in some places). This phenomena is called “colony collapse disorder.” If it continues, many experts believe honey bees will be completely extinct within the next two decades or sooner unless we act now. Yes, “now” means today.
What’s causing colony collapse disorder?
The chemical companies/pesticide industry and the EPA currently say that it’s unclear whether the pesticides that we use (especially neonicotinoids which have already been banned in Europe to help save their bees) are causing colony collapse disorder, so no action should be taken yet. However, beekeepers and independent scientists on the front lines know full well that pesticide exposure is the primary culprit. The problem is that we have a food system that is designed to be addicted to synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Our edible “Titanic” might look impressive on the surface, but it’s horribly designed and can’t easily change course unless it’s forced to do so by policy makers, the market (consumer demand) or both. Asking the chemical cartels if they think they need to change the way they do business is about as smart as asking a barber if you need a haircut.
Three Things You Can Do Right Now To Help Save the Honey Bees
You are the market. Your voice, your vote and your dollars can have a profoundly positive impact today as well as on the future we’re creating together. If you care about having access to healthy food that is grown in a manner that doesn’t destroy our natural resources or cause food prices to double or triple in the next few years, here are three things you can do right now to help save the honey bees:
- Say No to Pesticides – Stop using pesticides in your yard. Per acre, American homeowners actually use twice the quantity of pesticides on their yards as the average chemical-covered farm field does. Since bees can range over 5 miles in search of food, chances are you are killing local honeybees and harming their colonies if you (or your yard crew) are using pesticides in your yard.
- Grow Flowers – Start growing flowers to feed the bees and other pollinators. Even if the flowers don’t produce edible food for you, they’ll produce pollen for the bees. Plus, gardens with lots of flowers around are going to attract more pollinators than ones without flowers, so you’ll end up with more food in your garden if you plant more flowers.
- Buy Local, Organic Food & Honey - Buy *organic produce, ideally from local providers that you know and trust, even if it’s not “Certified Organic.” Also, buy honey from local beekeepers. Supporting and encouraging a diverse, decentralized group of beekeepers is better for bee populations than leaving this essential task in the hands of a few massive, commercial bee operations (in 1950 there were 500,000 beekeepers in the US; today there are about 1,600 of them). *Note: Certified Organic growers can still use certain approved natural pesticides, like spinosads and pyrethrin, which can be harmful to bees. Even though exposure to multiple types of pesticides is partly to blame for colony collapse, neonicotinoids are the primary class of pesticides causing the most problems for bees, and these pesticides are NOT allowed under Certified Organic guidelines.
Of course, spreading the word to everyone you know about what’s happening to our honey bees and how you can help solve this problem is a HUGE help too. There are 320 million people in our country, and every single one of us should know and care about this issue regardless of other issues we might disagree about.
Here’s a simple image you can share to help spread the word and save our honey bees:
We’re planning on taking beekeeping classes and keeping our own bees in 2014. Who knows, maybe you’ll even decide to start keeping bees yourself one day. We hope so. Thanks for caring and thanks for sharing!
Aaron & Susan