Just how important are honeybees to the human diet and all life on Earth?
Bees are of inestimable value as agents of cross-pollination, and many plants are entirely dependent on particular kinds of bees for their reproduction.
These under-appreciated workers pollinate 80 percent of our flowering crops which constitute 1/3 of everything we eat. Losing them could affect not only dietary staples such as apples, broccoli, strawberries, nuts, asparagus, blueberries and cucumbers, but may threaten our beef and dairy industries if alfalfa is not available for feed. Essentially, if honeybees disappear, they could take most of our insect pollinated plants with them, potentially reducing mankind to little more than a water diet.
In some areas, losses of honeybees are reported to be as high as 75 percent. The situation means a lot more than high honey prices: bees are primary pollinators in both the human and animal food chains. The collapse of bee populations is bad news if researchers can’t get a handle on the issue, and bee colonies don’t recover.
So what could be happening here? There’s some research pointing to unusually high concentrations of parasites and fungi — which are normally present in bee colonies — but nobody knows why the levels are so high. Pesticides, genetically modified crops and climate change are all being investigated. A theory that cell phone radiation might be a factor was quickly dismissed after briefly topping media reports.
Few of us are research scientists capable of chipping in some lab time to help out, but there are some things we can all do to assist honeybee and natural bee populations close to home. We’ve got five specific areas for you to consider. Let’s get buzzin’!
Plant things that bees like
Bees are all about pollen. If you want to support the many different varieties of bees which range through your yard, plant some things which will feed them.
Provide bee habitat
A secure place to live is crucial to solitary and colony bees. Unlike honeybees, which live in the waxy hives with which we’re all familiar, natural bees make use of many kinds of shelter: abandoned animal burrows, dead trees and branches and in underground nest tunnels.
You can help wood-nesting bees by setting out a few inexpensive bee blocks. These are basically blocks of wood with holes of various sizes. Providing a mound or two of loose earth — particularly if they’re close to a water source — is like opening a rent-free apartment complex for burrowing bees.
Eliminate garden pesticides
Pesticides are bad for humans. They’re worse for bees. Investigate organic and natural means of pest control.
Let your veggies bolt
If at all possible, allow a few leafy vegetables in your home garden to “bolt,” or go to seed, after harvest.
Support your local beekeepers
Beekeeping as a hobby has declined in recent years. Commercial pressures and unstable bee populations has made raising bees less attractive, but we still rely heavily on domesticated honeybees to pollinate our crops and gardens. Seek out your local beekeepers and buy their honey. There are health benefits to eating local honey, and keeping small beekeepers in business is good for everyone. You’re likely to find them selling honey at local farmers markets and weekend flea markets. Treat yourself to some filtered or comb honey and enjoy one of nature’s treasures.
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