Everyone’s Buzzing About World Honeybee Day
World Honeybee Day, celebrated on the third Saturday in August since 2009, reminds us of the importance of honeybees to our food supply, and the need to help boost their declining population. Get to know these amazing insects and learn how you can help them thrive in your area.
It’s a Fact – We Can’t Survive Without Bees
The USDA estimates that through pollination, bees increase America’s crop values by more than $15 billion annually. Globally, it is estimated that annual crop pollination by bees is worth $170 billion.
There are thought to be 25,000 bee species around the globe, but only four are honeybee species; of those honeybees, 250 are different types of bumblebees.
Bees are responsible for one of every three bites of food we eat! They pollinate most of our fruits and vegetables, cocoa beans, coffee and tea plants. They pollinate crops like alfalfa that are grown for livestock feed, and oilseed plants like sunflowers that are processed for cooking oil. Bees even contribute to our clothing by pollinating cotton crops. And it’s not just humans who benefit from bee pollination. Think of all the fruits and seeds eaten by the world’s birds and small animals. Obviously, bees are critical to the health of our global food chain and the world’s ecosystems.
How do bees pollinate plants?
Simply put, honeybees are hairy little creatures – hairier than most bee species – and when they visit a flowering plant, they pick up pollen on their bodies. When they visit another plant, some of that pollen is left behind. Some bee species have long tongues, allowing them to get at the nectar within long, tubular-shaped flowers, and they pollinate the flowers in the process.
Honeybees are guided to flowers by their sense of smell. They use both smell and memory to determine the level of sugar in each plant’s nectar and can tell which plants have no nectar at all.
By moving from flower to flower, picking up and distributing pollen along the way, the bees contribute to the health and success of our farmed crops and flower gardens alike, never even knowing the tremendous service they provide to mankind.
2018 Was a Very Bad Year for Bees
Bees face enormous challenges in today’s industrialized world, including man-made threats like pesticides in the neonicotinoid family (neonics) which are highly-toxic to insects, habitat destruction, pollution and global warming. Natural causes are to blame too, including drought and hive infestations of varroa mites which, during the winter months, feed on both adult bees and bee larva.
A recent survey of 4,700 beekeepers estimated that nearly 40% of their 320,000 honeybee colonies were lost during the winter of 2018-2019. This was the greatest one-year loss reported since the survey was initiated in 2003. The combination of mite infestations and extreme cold are thought to have contributed to these devastating losses.
How to Lend Honeybees a Hand
Across the country and around the world, individuals and communities have sounded the alarm about bee decline and are taking action. In a tremendous show of support for bee health, the country of Bhutan has moved to allow only organic farming practices. In much simpler, manageable ways, you too can help the honeybee population in your area grow and thrive with some of the ideas listed here:
- Minimize use of neonic pesticides in your home or yard
- Learn about efforts to install and maintain honeybee hives in urban areas
- Participate in citizen science programs that track bees around the U.S.
- Plant a pollinator garden. By planting native flowers in your yard without all the pesticides, you can provide a food source for bees and other pollinators like butterflies and hummingbirds.
Which plants are best For a pollinator garden?
The plants you choose will depend on your geographic location, and the amount of sun/shade in the area where you plant your garden. Here are some tips from the U.S. Forestry Service to guide you:
- Use local, native plants. As a bonus, these types of plants typically need less water than ornamentals. Pay attention when you’re outside to which plants seem to be attracting bees and which attract butterflies and plant a variety of each to attract all types of pollinators.
- Refrain from using chemicals including pesticides and herbicides. Even if a product claims that it is safe for bees, birds and butterflies, it may still contain harmful chemicals
- Don’t use weed blocking cloth or heavy mulch in your garden as most native bee species like to nest under the ground
- Plan your garden so that something is always in bloom. Your local greenhouse can help you with a plan for season-long flowering plants
- Choose a sunny, south-facing spot for your garden; if you don’t have much sun, there are a few shade-tolerant plants that also attract pollinators
It may take some time for local bees, birds and butterflies to find your pollinator garden, so be patient. By providing food and shelter in your garden, you become part of a global group of concerned citizens and communities who are committed to saving bees and making the planet a healthier place for pollinators.