Save the Bees?

Bee on Lonicera korolkowii_Blue Leaf Honeysuckle 'Blue Velvet'_HudsonGardens-CO_LAH_5781

Here’s one less thing to worry about in the coming year. Recently, one of the garden sites I frequent published a link to this article from the American Council on Science and Health, an organization devoted to debunking junk science: “The Bee Apocalypse Was Never Real; Here’s Why.” I strongly urge you to check it out.

Yes, it appears that, for the most part, honeybees are doing just fine. What a relief! It’s good to know that the markets will continue to carry fruit, and we won’t be out hand-pollinating our veggie plants.

I admit I was quite surprised to read this, especially after encountering story after story about how honeybees are in a dangerous decline. But a bit of searching turned up a number of similar reports, such as this one. What’s really going on?

Like similar “news” items, there’s a strong tendency for the various media to promote the most frightening scenario of any issue. They aren’t interested in actually reporting the facts as much as garnering readers, and fear sells. (If you run a nonprofit, fear also brings in lots of donations.) Thankfully, the world is in much better shape than many “experts” would have you believe. It always pays to consider that any news source has to gain from slanting their reporting to bit a particular agenda. It’s there—you just have to look for it.

However, there are bees that do need some saving.

I think part of the confusion is that, when we hear the word “bee” we immediately think of honeybees. But there are lots of kinds of bees—over 16,000 species, and more than 4,000 of those live in the U.S.

The articles above are about honeybees, not wild bees. Worldwide, insect numbers in general are declining, including those of wild bees and other pollinators. Here in the U.S., seven species of Hawaiian yellow-faced bees were placed on the Endangered Species list in 2016,  and the rusty patched bumblebee, found in the US from Minnesota to Ohio, was added in 2018.

While not many of us want to be beekeepers, there are some simple things you can do to make your yard welcoming to bees and other pollinators. Like most wildlife, bees need food, water, and shelter.

Of course, we know bees visit flowers to collect nectar and pollen, but not all flowers make these easily available to bees. (Some have co-evolved with other pollinators, such as the long, tube-shaped flowers that attract hummingbirds.) Also, choose flowers with a range of bloom times, so there will always be something on the menu.

Water is easily provided, either in a shallow dish or as droplets on plant leaves. And by the way, water droplets won’t burn plant leaves—that’s a common myth.

As important as planting a garden full of flowers is offering bees a place to lay their eggs. Most wild bees are solitary. They nest in burrows, either in hollow plant stems, old beetle tunnels (think of the spaces borers leave behind), or underground in tunnels dug through loose soil—as do these sweat bees.

If we cover every inch of our yards in mulch, the bees will have to look elsewhere, so pick an out-of-the-way spot and leave some soil bare.

Similarly, keep the bees in mind when pruning brambles, elderberries, or other plants with hollow or pithy stems, and leave some cut stems in place. And if your landscape lacks plants with hollow stems, you can always buy or make a bee “house” to add to your garden. Mason bees, in particular, will be happy to move in.

Too often, our news feeds are full by scary-sounding issues that take our attention away from what’s actually important. Instead of panicking about the honeybee industry, why not focus your energy on conserving the wild bees that call your yard home? That’s a worthwhile cause!

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