I love honey bees — know why? Because I love food!
"But what do honeybees even have to do with the food I eat?"
With today being National Honey Bee Day there's no better excuse to learn about the importance of their survival in relation to our own; including their direct impact on our own food supply and the key role they play in keeping the world fed, as well as how we can help support a healthy, thriving honey bee population.
In 2010 honey bees and other pollinating insects helped US farmers to produce approximately $19 billion worth of agriculture crops through their pollinating services¹ — that's an estimated one-third of everything we eat! Sadly, studies show that the worldwide honey bee population is declining rapidly and researches estimate nearly one-third of all honey bee colonies in the United States have vanished; which is bad news for our food supply and ultimately us.
Imagine a world without tasty food staples like broccoli, asparagus, cantaloupes, coffee, pumpkins, cucumbers, blueberries, watermelons, almonds, apples, cranberries, and cherries²... To name just a few. I don't know about you, but that terrifies me, as I frequently enjoy having these nutritious foods available to me and would like to keep it that way for a long time.
The disappearance of honey bees has been aptly named Colony Collapse Disorder to describe the occurrence of seemingly healthy bees abandoning their hives by the masses, never to return. There is still much research that needs to be done to determine the exact cause of this disorder, but scientists believe there are a combination of factors making the bees sick; including an inadequate food supply, pesticide exposure (such as Monsanto's Roundup), invasive parasitic mites, and a new virus that targets bees immune systems.
Here are some things that you and I can do to help support and save honey bees
1.) Choose non-chemical & non-damaging treatments for dealing with insects & pests in and around the home.
Most can be dealt with without the use of harsh chemicals, which are not only bad for the environment but can also be dangerous to pets and children playing around them. (Read more about natural alternatives for the home and garden here.)
2.) Provide a water source for bees and other pollinators.
Bees use water for cooling the hive by evaporation, and for thinning honey to be fed to larva. A strong hive can use over a quart of water on a hot day! Shallow water sources, such as birdbaths, with edges that provide the bees with stable footing so they don't drown or get swept away are ideal and easy to incorporate into your backyard.
3.) Support local beekeepers by buying locally produced honey and other beehive products; such as soaps, lotions, chapstick, and candles.
4.) Leave "unwanted" dandelions and clovers alone!
Not only are they are a great source of pollen & nectar for honey bees and a wide variety of insects, but they also offer beautiful, bright color to any lawn.
5.) Choose local, organic and non-GMO certified foods
When grocery shopping try to avoid buying food grown with the harmful pesticides that contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder of the honey bees.
6.) Plant a bee friendly garden with native and nectar producing flowers and utilize plants that can grow without extra water & chemicals.
Some plants that are native to Vermont include:
- New York Aster
- Wild Geranium
- Spiked Blazing Star
- Black-eyed Susan
- Lowbush and Highbush Blueberry Shrubs
- Red Columbine
- March Marigold
- Red Trillium
Other herbs and flowers that benefit our pollinating friends include:
- Sweet Alyssum
Choosing to do even just one or two of these things is better than doing nothing to help save the dying honey bee population!
Decide which will be the most achievable & realistic for you and start there. Not only might you end up with a beautiful garden but your belly will thank you when you are able to continue providing it with fresh fruits & vegetables — courtesy of those little honey bees in your backyard.