As a species, we humans depend on many other species on earth. One species in particular that we depend on heavily, is bees. It’s hard to imagine that without these small flying insects we would not be able to survive much longer, but it is the truth. Much of our food sources depend on the pollination of bees. Sadly, the number of bees around the world is declining fast because of our actions.
Since the last century, the number of bees has declined by circa 60%. Bees dying without a significant or clear cause has been reported since the year 1868. We call this Colony Collapse Disorder. But nowadays, the rate of death is higher than it has ever been. Investigations show that bee declines are probably driven by a combination of all sorts of problems: pesticides, parasites, drought, air pollution, global warming As well as a lack of flowers and plants. Many of these causes are interrelated. In this article, we will look at 10 ways for us to help save the bees.
1. Do not use pesticides and herbicides
Pesticides are substances that mainly farmers and garden keepers use. It kills or controls certain forms of plant or animal life that are considered pests. Pests eat or overgrow plants and harvest if they are not controlled. Among the best-known types of pesticides are herbicides, which destroy unwanted vegetation such as weeds. Herbicides are not directly lethal to bees, but they prevent the growth of wildflowers which are food sources for bees and other pollinators. Insecticides are another type of pesticide, which are used to combat a wide variety of insect species. Unlike herbicides, pesticides are directly lethal to bees and other pollinators due to the chemicals they contain. Even organic approved insecticides can be harmful. Other than that, several toxic chemicals found in pesticides are suspected to be the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder.
Instead of using toxic pesticides or any substance at all to keep unwanted pests out of your garden, you could best fight pests by preventing them from becoming a problem. You can do this in several ways, such as rotating the crop, planting sacrificial plants that attract the pests, and creating a diverse environment of many different plants.
If that does not work or you want an alternative for pesticides, you could use bee-friendly natural alternatives. ‘Natural pesticides’ come from natural sources, do not cause more harm than good and are not harmful to humans. White vinegar is a good example. Without harming or killing the pollinators, it kills ants, rabbits, fruit flies, bugs and several other pests. Other examples are garlic-pepper spray, cayenne pepper spray and insecticidal soaps. Using natural pest repellents is also a good way to fight pests and also provide food sources for bees. You could plant lavender and lemongrass for example, which repel many unwanted animals and are loved by bees.
2. Make your garden bee-friendly
A simple, yet very effective way to help save bees is to keep your garden wild or plant a wild garden. Bees rely on plants and flowers that contain their only source of food: nectar and pollen. In most modern gardens, we have lawns without any (wild) flowers. By rethinking your garden and planting flowers and wild vegetation that provides the bees with food, you support the bees living in your city. Thereby you support the production of food sources that humans depend on. If you do not have a garden, you can place a flower bed on your windowsill or balcony.
The best way to make your garden wild is by planting patches of native flowering plants, which enables bees to pollinate more efficiently. Choose diverse species with different shapes, colours and bloom times. Also, preferably plant single top flowers, since these flowers have more nectar than double top flowers. Several good options for a wild, bee-friendly garden are lavender, chives, hyacinth, and asters. Examples of seasonal options are calendula and wild lilac flowers in the spring, snapdragons and echinacea during the summer months, and goldenrod and sedum in the fall.
3. Build bee homes
Except for the famous honey bee, most bee species are solitary. About 70 percent of solitary bees live underground, while 30 percent live in holes found in hollow stems and trees. Despite the name, solitary bees are not lone rangers in the field and often occupy the same living spaces. You can provide them with these living spaces by building or buying bee hotels that consist of several sorts of hollow stems, holes and tiny rooms in which the solitary bees can take residence.
Luckily, solitary bees are not very picky when it comes to living spaces. Most species will take advantage of a proper bee hotel. One of the simplest ways to build a bee home is by using bamboo. You can place a handful of bamboo canes in a wooden box and hang it preferably somewhere sunny. This simple yet very efficient bee home will be attractive to carpenter bees and mason bees in particular.
Another type of bee home is the wooden bee house. It is similar to a birdhouse, but the ‘house’ is open and loaded with wooden blocks with holes in them. You could also use wooden planks with slots in them. However, instead of using one of these forms, most people build bee homes that contain a variety of holes, slots and other types of safe residences for bees.
4. Provide trees for bees
You probably wouldn’t expect it, but bees get most of their nectar from trees. A blooming tree provides hundreds of blossoms for bees and other pollinators to feed on. Besides being an important food source for bees, trees also form essential habitats for them. Natural wood cavities provide the bees with great shelter, and the resin and leaves provide them with nesting material.
Unsurprisingly, trees are very essential to bees. But as you might know, deforestation is on the rise. Trees are being cut down to make space for keeping livestock, plantations, industrial development or new homes for humans. You can make a difference by helping to maintain the natural habitat of bees. For example, you could plant trees in your garden, join a tree-planting party in your area, or talk to the township about building and protecting the natural habitat of bees.
5. Become a beekeeper
If you want to commit to saving bees, you can become a beekeeper. As a beekeeper, you take care of one or more honey bee colonies. For many people, this is a hobby as well as a small business as you can harvest and sell the excess honey that the bees produce.
Becoming a beekeeper sounds easier than it might seem. Beekeeping will take you quite some time and effort. Preferably you will have to follow and pass a beekeeping course to gain the right knowledge about bee behaviour and taking care of the bees.
As a beekeeper, you will need a hive that needs roughly 7 feet / 2 meters of outdoor space. If you don’t have outside space for a hive, you could check if there is a place in your area where your hive can be placed. After buying a colony or even collecting a wild swarm if legal, you are ready and set. Once your hive is established, beekeeping requires very little daily effort. On most days, you will just check in on the colony and see if they are productive and healthy. You have to take care of the bees, protect them against parasites like the varroa mite and feed them when needed.
6. Install a bee bath
Just like humans, bees need water to survive. The foraging and collecting of nectar can make the bees very thirsty. There is not always water nearby for the bees, so providing them with a bee bath helps local bees a lot. You could fill a shallow bowl or plate with water and place it in your garden. It would be best to make some space for the bees under or next to the bath. This way, the bees will have a safe place to land, settle down and rest, and they can get hydrated whenthey are feeling thirsty.
Placing stones and sponges in the bath is a good idea as it prevents the bees from drowning. If you have pollen-rich plants in your garden, place the bee bath close to those plants. This makes it easier for the bees to locate the bee bath. Also, place the bee bath in the shade to prevent the water from evaporating.
You can easily make a bee bath yourself, but you could also buy one.
7. Make your roof green
Cities are now beginning to recognize the importance of creating green spaces and habitats for bees and other pollinators that contribute to rich urban biodiversity. Green roofs are considered a way for cities to compensate for the loss of natural habitat. Big cities like Toronto and London are now investing in green spaces and green roofs. The Dutch city Utrecht is often mentioned due to making the roofs of pretty much all bus stop shelters green.
You can turn your roof to a green roof, either by doing it yourself or by letting a professional install it. A green roof is usually 7 to 20 centimetres deep. You will need things like a waterproof layer and a root barrier before you can place the soil and plant the seeds of pollinator-friendly vegetation.
8. Be active online
If you want to talk about the importance of saving bees with like-minded people or if you want to spread a message to people that are not very familiar with the topic: both can be done online. There are many local, national and international groups on Facebook and Instagram which you can join that have members that are passionate about bees. If you are a beekeeper, you can join a group of beekeepers. If you want to start a campaign with others, you can surely find a group with people that would be interested to do that with you. You can also sign up for newsletters concerning bees so you can stay informed, or sign petitions to pressure your state and country to pass regulations that help the bees.
9. Support ethical beekeeping
Supporting local beekeepers and supporting bees goes hand in hand. If possible, buy local raw honey from beekeepers and farmers instead of honey in the supermarket from which you are not sure of its quality and provenance. The reason for this is that commercial honey is often produced through unethical beekeeping, which means that the bees are overworked and under-compensated. Ethical honey comes from beekeepers that are more concerned about the welfare and health of bees than maximizing their honey output. Ethical beekeeping means that the bees are allowed to eat natural diets, exercise their natural behaviour in a healthy and free environment, and live as closely as possible to how bees live in the wild.
10. Educate others
Educating others on why bees should be saved and how to do it could be just as important as doing it yourself. Talk to neighbours, family and friends about ways to save bees, or show them your bee home, bee bath or bee-friendly garden. If you have kids, you could educate them as well and letting them give their presentations about bees and their importance in class. You could also think of ways to educate a wider audience. For example, you could write a blog about the topic, make videos, give presentations for organizations, create a bee-information booth at events, or start a campaign or fundraiser.