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For the last ten years, bees in North America have been dying off at an alarming rate-- some studies show nearly 30 percent of the population dies each year. Now, you may be wondering why does that matter? Aren’t bees only good for a sharp sting? The truth is, many lives on our planet, including people, will change if plants pollinated by bees become extinct. This not only reduces food production, but could also have an impact on our economics. According to one study $19 billion of agricultural crops in 2010 were thanks to honey bees. They are important to the growth and harvest of broccoli, asparagus, cucumbers, pumpkins,watermelons, almonds, apples and cherries.
(Speaking of stinging, for the record bees don’t sting as often as our fears lead us to believe. There are even entire bee species that don’t sting, and of the ones that do, most of the male population doesn’t.)
So why are the bees dying off so quickly? The leading theory is called Colony Collapse Disorder, where entire hives just die out, all at once. The cause remains a mystery, but some ideas include:
However, there’s still hope for the honey bee, and a bright future ahead if individuals, do a small part to make a big impact. Here’s how you can help:
Get the kids involved in gardening
We all have a painful memory of being stung as a kid, and for some of us that memory turns into fear. You can help your family avoid developing an irrational fear of bees by planting a bee-friendly garden in your backyard. Bees pollinate certain flowers in every season, so getting your children to help you maintain a year-round garden is one way to help the bees and reduce fear. Gardening can teach kids how to respect the bees, work alongside them safely and cultivate a deep respect for their impact on our complex food chain. You can:
Let the kids pick out the plants
Give them a specific project-- like tending to one particular plant or doing a chore they enjoy -- and offering a reward at the harvest
Get them their own gardening tools and gear
Educate them as you encourage them
Grow foods that attract bees
Eating foods from your garden means you’re fueling your body with produce never touched by chemicals and pesticides, which doesn’t just hurt bees, but also humans. Plant fruits and vegetables that bud or flower in order to get the bees’ attention. What attracts the bees will be slightly different depending on where you live, but for the most part bees will be drawn to:
Sage, thyme, lavender and other flowering herbs
Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and other bright, sweet berries
Cucumbers, tomatoes, pumpkins, melons and flowering broccoli
You can make a nice salad or dessert right from your own backyard when you focus on planting for bees. You can also make a big impact by buying or eating foods made with local honey. Ask for local honey when you eat at organic restaurants, or find a coffee shop that uses local honey in their lattes.
Avoid putting chemicals and pesticides on your plants
When you plant your vegetable garden, stay away from toxic chemicals and pesticides. When bugs keep chomping on your broccoli, it might get tempting to just take the easy way out and spray everything down, but remember that pesticides hurt you and the bees. You can choose an earth and bee-friendly alternative or even plant naturally bug-repellent plants. Try sprinkling coffee grounds around your plants to deter the bugs, but not the bees. If you are tending your garden regularly, you’ll see the signs of a bug invasion and can easily research how to protect your plants without harming bees.
Bees are an important part of our environment and our lives. Getting your family involved in choosing local, organic foods, finding substitutes for pesticides and teaching your kids about the joys of gardening can all protect the bees from a dark, bleak future.