Why we love and need bees
Did you know that 90% of our world’s food supply comes from about 100 crop species, and 70 of those crops rely upon bees for pollination? In fact, bees are responsible for one third of the food we eat!
However, in recent decades, their colonies have begun to collapse due to human-induced variables, including climate change, deforestation and habitat loss, and, primarily, pesticides used in industrial and large-scale farming.
Below are a few humble (bumble?) ways that we can help ensure the lives and well-being of these critically important and keystone species:
Grow a bee friendly garden
Bees are flower-feeders, and they get all of the protein that they need from pollen and all of their carbohydrates from nectar. As they move from flower to flower, they provide us with an invaluable pollination service, making them, according to the Earthwatch Institute, the most important living being on Earth. In fact, scientists agree that the relationship between bees and flowering plants is one of the most extensive, harmonious, and interdependent on the planet.
Be sure to plant a variety of flowers in your garden; you can even leave weeds, such as dandelions and clover, in your yard, as these are a tasty and highly nutritious snack for your local bees! Of course, be sure to keep your space free of pesticides, fertilizers, and sprays, as these chemicals invariably harm bees, their families, and their hives, and, in turn, us.
Treat bees to a little sugar
A tiny dose of sugar water (never honey!) goes a long way in reviving a tired bee. Simply mix two teaspoons of white granulated sugar with one teaspoon of water and put it on a plate or drip it on a flower for her to drink: she might even remember you! Bees recall faces, and researchers have found that they can distinguish people who provided sugar water from those who did not. Like humans, bees use a technique called configural processing, piecing together the components of a face: eyes, ears, nose and mouth to form a recognizable pattern that helps them identify who is on their side.
Choose sustainable honey
When done right, bee farming can be beneficial for wild populations. To be sure, choose honey that is harvested from local and individual beekeepers who practice organic farming and sustainability. Otherwise, the pesticides and insecticides used in industrial agriculture not only results in bees’ sickness, weakened immune systems, and rapid decline, but also are then found in the honey we eat.
Like most good things in life, seek to eat honey in moderation: a single worker bee produces only 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime, and she and her hive rely on this slow food source to sustain themselves over the long winter months.
Buy organic (almonds & almond milk)
Like all bees, honeybees thrive in a biodiverse landscape. But on California almond farms, where most of the world’s almonds are produced, bees are raised in monoculture environments that are laden with pesticides. Of course, pesticides are used for all kinds of crops, but the almond is sprayed with greater absolute quantities than any other. One of the most widely applied pesticides is the herbicide glyphosate (also known as Roundup), which is a staple of large-scale almond growers and has been shown to be lethal to bees, as well as to cause cancer in humans.
In the same breath, the sheer quantity of hives required for almonds far exceeds that of other crops, and the bees are concentrated in one geographic region at the same time, exponentially increasing the risk of spreading sickness to entire colonies.
On top of the threat of pesticides, almond pollination is uniquely demanding for bees, as colonies are woken up from their winter dormancy one to two months earlier than is natural, thus disrupting their natural foraging and breeding cycles.
When you can, please consider buying local and organic vegetables, fruits, and flowers, free of chemicals and sprays: when we protect our bees, we benefit ourselves. You might also look for the Bee Better certification when buying almond milk to ensure that it has been produced using hive friendly methods.
These are just a few ways you and your little one can help our bees. There are also many great organizations doing really wonderful things and we encourage you to reach out and learn how you can get involved. Net proceeds from our book, Little Bee-lievers will be donated to Hives for Humanity, a Vancouver-based nonprofit society that creates opportunities for connection to community, through nature, bees and the culture of the hive.