Bees and other pollinators are essential to our food supply – and they are in dire straits. Here are 5 things you can do at home to help protect our important pollinators…
Did you know that at least one in every 3 bites of food you eat was pollinated by a bee? It’s pretty amazing when you think about it! But how much time do we actually spend considering the plight of pollinators? I don’t just mean honeybees – but also the many other native bee species that help to pollinate our food crops. Approximately 70% of plants would be unable to reproduce (or provide food) without these pollinators. In fact, without bees and other important pollinators, worldwide famine and mass starvation would quickly wipe out a large percentage of the human population. However, according to recent surveys of U.S. beekeepers, annual hive losses are at alarmingly high levels and continue to worsen.
There are a number of factors impacting this disturbing decline in the bee population, including loss of habitat, parasites, and diseases, but one of the worst killers of beneficial pollinators is chemical pesticides. In particular, nicotine-based pesticides known as neonicotinoids are especially dangerous to bees – in fact, some estimates show that they are up to 10,000 times more toxic to bees than other pesticides.
While there isn’t a lot you can do to reduce widespread pesticide use in commercial farming, one thing you can do is to choose to eat organic whenever possible. Reduced demand for conventionally grown food is the best way to shift farming towards more sustainable and eco-conscious methods of growing food in the long term. However, if you really want to take matters into your own hands, there are also several other steps you can take to help protect bees and other critical pollinators:
1. Plant pollinator-friendly flowers. Many flowering plants provide forage for pollinators. You can even select pollinator-friendly plants by the season. To learn more, see this handy fact sheet.
2. Create nesting sites. Wild bees need safe habitats. In nature, they find them in the ground, in old beetle tunnels or cracks in wood and in other tiny corners. You can create some of your own – with wooden blocks or bamboo bundles, for instance – using this guide from the Xerces Society.
3. Avoid using pesticides in your own backyard, especially systemic insecticides such as neonicotinoids. Not sure which products contain harmful chemicals? A good place to start is with this list of bee-toxic pesticides to avoid. It’s also important to make sure that pollinator-friendly plants you purchase have not been treated with neonicotinoids (that’s more common than you think). Before you buy, be sure to ask your nursery supplier if the plants were pretreated with neonicotinoids.
4. Get involved and engage your community! Support local beekeepers in your area by buying their honey. Better yet, consider keeping bees yourself – look up your local beekeepers’ association to get started. You can also get involved with making your neighborhood bee-safe (as in this grassroots effort in Boulder, Colo.). You can even take it one step further by calling on your local officials to ban toxic pesticides on city property, as residents did in Eugene, Ore., and Seattle, Wash.