Fantastic Friday: The Bees Have It

Earlier this year, Cheerios made headlines by giving out millions of seed packets (though not without controversy) in an effort to help people plant more flowers, thus providing more pollen for the bees.

As you’ve likely heard, bees are essential to Earth’s ecosystem and responsible for much of our food supply. Yet in recent years, their natural population has been on the decline: with colony collapse disorder, bees were abandoning their hives. Many factors have been blamed, including changing climate, crowded living space, mites, and pesticide use. Regardless of the cause, it’s important to save pollinators. Bees and butterflies help sustain the plants that we need to eat and sustain the rest of our food chain.

Despite the “bee-pocalypse,” as it was dubbed by Time magazine, I have been heartened recently to hear about the excellent steps people have been taking to help remedy the situation. I often hear people say things like, “What does it matter? It’s a drop in a bucket.” I like to think that a bucket is made of many, many drops, and put together, each individual drop contributes to the whole.

I snapped this shot of a bee pollinating a Rose of Sharon plant in my front garden a few years ago.

I snapped this shot of a bee pollinating a Rose of Sharon plant in my front garden a few years ago.

I was heartened to learn in a recent newsletter that Franklin & Marshall College, my alma mater, has done its small share to save this important species. At the schools’ Center for the Sustainable Environment, there’s an observation hive built into the wall in the director’s office. It was constructed by Dan Chambers of the Lancaster County Beekeepers Society to allow people to observe the ways bees work and live but also to provide them a sanctuary. The college also has hives at another campus, a mile down the road. Though small, the effort to provide more homes for bees is doing its small part to help the population that might just help save our planet.

It’s also important that people stay educated about bee populations and recognize “good” bees from the more harmful wasps they might be inclined to exterminate.

I was especially heartened to learn that the private market stepped up: because of the crisis and the demand for bees, beekeepers stepped up to the challenge, and now the honeybee population is more than it was when the colony collapse disorder began. Beekeepers and farmers have been working together to rent out bees for farms needing them, or to rent space on farms for bees to have hives if honey is the desired product. I always love hearing about how the private market steps in and helps people work together voluntarily to solve a problem.

If you’re looking to help the bees, consider planting a pollinator garden. Several sites on saving bees recommend sticking with native plants (which is what most of the controversy was surrounding the Cheerios packets), so a bit of local research might be necessary, including researching pesticide use (or lack thereof). Though this contradicts advice if you’re looking to prevent mosquito-breeding, many sites remind us that bees get thirsty, so if there is not water nearby, consider a bird bath.  If you’re feeling brave, you can purchase or build your own hive, or provide a location for bees to “move in.” F&M College has provided a guide for anyone interested in starting a pollinator garden.

Bee Lazy!
And another fantastic piece of information for a Friday: leaving weeds and letting lawns grow a bit can actually help the bees: clover (which grows on lawns) contains flowers that help feed the bees, and many weeds (like several variety in my own yard!) flower, too. Mowing, I often see bees frequenting the flowers. So don’t call it slacking when you let your lawn get a little unruly—calling it doing your part for the bees :-)

Recently, I’ve started taking over a bit of my front garden. The previous owner(s) had covered it in several strata: landscaping mesh, rock, and mulch of varying degrees. Now that the landscaping mesh is starting to disintegrate, I am reclaiming the garden bit by bit, trying to plant hardy, native flowers. (One of the suggestions is to plant flowers that bloom at different times of year so that the bees will always have something). This is my goal. Though I’m in a constant battle with deer that seem to eat even “deer resistant” vegetation, I hope that my garden will help at least a handful of bees and butterflies and do its small part to help our entire ecosystem.