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Bees can be pests. Nobody likes getting stung by a bee. That being said, bees are essential to the way we grow food, and therefore, to our life on earth. And they’re in danger.
Bees pollinate the majority of the food that we eat. The world we live in is so complex, and in urban situations we so rarely interact with our food systems, that it’s easy to forget how food actually ends up on our tables. Bees are also indicator species, meaning an ecosystem’s health can be gaged based on bees’ health, and that we absolutely should be paying attention to them.We owe an enormous amount of our nourishment to these little insects, so it’s important to understand what is happening to them and how we can help.
In recent times, bees have been disappearing at alarming rates. Something called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), meaning affected bees just pick up and leave the hive, is spreading at an alarming rate. Bees are simply disappearing, which makes it rather hard to study what might be wrong with them. It seems, though, that there are multiple factors at play here, and multiple studies have been, and still are, underway to determine just what the underlying problem might be. Recent findings point to immune system damage, but there are many potential contributing factors.
Primary concerns include pesticides, and other toxins, used in conventional agriculture. Neonicotinoids have been common insecticides since the 1990’s, even though they are known to be toxic to bees. These insecticides linger in the soil, making the problem of detoxing our food systems rather problematic. Another concern is loss of habitat, as we transform the natural systems that bees live in. Abnormal levels of fungi and parasites are also being found in bee hives.
Many of the ways in which you can help save honey bees are helpful to food systems for other reasons as well. Everything in nature is interconnected, after all. So, here’s what you can do:
1. Plant a bee-friendly plant.
Whether you live in a one bedroom apartment or in a large country home, you probably have room to put one planter in (maybe on your window-sill?) for one bee-friendly flower. Bees especially love flowers that are purple, yellow, or blue, such as buttercups and clover. If you have a larger garden, bees are generally attracted to flowering trees.
2. Provide habitat, don’t systematically address pest-control in your gardens.
Bees require safe habitats to live in. You don’t need to be a beekeeper to encourage bee habitats, as wild bees love to make their homes in loose soil and wood blocks with lots of holes in it. So if you have some wood lying around your lawn, don’t get rid of it- just pile it up in a place where you won’t mind some buzzing friends! Certainly getting rid of any pesticides and herbicides in your garden will be good for the bees and for your own health as well. Encourage your neighbors to give up herbicide use in their lawns as well to make your properties more biodiversity friendly.
3. Support local bee keepers.
Even if your plant-based diet doesn’t include honey, encouraging your friends who eat it to buy local and organic bee products is a good idea. Or gifting them a jar from a local hive. Even if you belong to a vegan family, touring your children around a hive is a good educational experience so that they understand the important role that bees play in our food system. Beekeeping isn’t as popular a hobby as it once was, but if you’re really keen, maybe consider giving it a try.
4. Eat organic.
Evidence shows that organic bee hives are doing much better than ones that are confronted with pesticides and GMO farming. A report released this summer by the U.S. department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland showed that bees exposed to even low levels of pesticides are more susceptible to diseases, pathogens, and generally weakened immune systems. Mono-crop agriculture, which generally employs large levels of pesticides and insecticides, also offers less in terms of flowering plants for bees, and destroys natural bee habitat. Organic bee products can also be found, a good idea if honey is in your diet, since organic raised bees show lower signs of stress than conventionally raised bee colonies.
5. Be engaged.
Fight for GMO labeling and awareness. Remember that every time you buy produce you are choosing to support something or someone. This is a great opportunity to become involved in community, to find other people who care for the environment, and to join to together to take action and to help our buzzing friends.
Image Source: Paul Stein/Flickr