Everyone has heard about the dark cloud over bee hives. In 2006-07 beekeeping operations lost 45% of their hives, and 2008-09 was no better.
Everyone has also heard about the birds and the bees. Pay more attention to the bees. 70 percent of the plants in the world need help from animal pollinators to reproduce. Two thirds of our crops in the U.S. need insect pollination. And most of those crops are the yummy ones – apples, almonds, citrus, and many vegetables. O.K., you meat eaters, beef and dairy depend on insect pollinated alfalfa.
We are all counting on bees, the most important pollinators. This is because bees are one of the few insects who provide for their young. They create and provision a nest for their little ones. To that end, they must collect and transport pollen, and in the process – pollinate the plant world.
INTERESTING FACT: Bees are vegetarian. While wasps feed their young on other insects, bees are feeding their young on pollen – just one more reason to love them.
Think a few bees here and there don’t matter? Their decline will hit your pocket book. According to Eric Mader, outreach coordinator for The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, who spoke yesterday at the Winter Enrichment Lecture Series of the UW Arboretum, 2 million honey bee hives move around this country pollinating one crop after another. As these hives continue to fail, they are raising the price of food. For example, almond growers in California used to pay about $45 per hive to have their almonds pollinated. As of 2006 it was up to $200 a hive.
INTERESTING FACT: Honey bees are not native to this continent. They were originally imported in 1622 — not for their honey, but for their wax, which was highly valued.
Of course, honey bee hives are not trucked to every field and garden. Native bees pollinate much of the plant kingdom, but native bees are also in decline.
You and I may not be able to do anything about all those poor little bees being hauled around by the truckload, but we can make a difference for the native pollinators. They make a difference for us.
Native bees are active earlier in the season and in the day than honey bees. They collect pollen and nectar. They don’t charge rental fees.
We ignore their simple needs at our peril.
1. KEEP IT BLOOMING. Bees need a succession of blooms throughout the year from maples and pussy willows in the early spring to asters and goldenrod in the late fall. You can learn about what and were to plant at the Xerces website . They have considerately broken it down by areas for you.
2. LAY OFF THE PESTICIDES. Mader marveled at how the same pesticides that are tightly controlled in agriculture and sold over the counter to home owners. Does this make sense to you? Mader also says even those approved as organic can hit native pollinators hard. Even if they say they are safe for honey bees, they can still hurt native bees, who may be smaller or more sensitive.
If bees could read, they would be cheering the 2008 Farm Bill. For the first time, it is making pollinator conservation a priority. Farmers will be able to get some assistance to create habitat friendlier to pollinators on their farms. If you are a farmer, go to your USDA Service Center and learn about this. If you are a home owner, you can make a difference too. Check out the Xerces website while you are planning your plantings for the coming summer.
Let’s keep things humming.
Categories: Eco activism