It’s easy to overlook bees, yet we’re indebted to their proverbial industriousness for pollinating flowers and food crops.
• The honeybee is only one of about 4,000 U.S. bee species, including 45 bumblebees.
• Native and domestic bees (along with other pollinating insects) ensure production of 15 to 30 percent of our food.
• U.S. honeybees produce 200 million pounds of sweet gold annually.
• Most native bees are solitary nesters, unlike honeybees, which live in colonies called hives.
• Honeybee populations declined by 50 percent in the last fifty years (National Geographic News, October 5, 2004).
Originally introduced into America by Europeans, honeybees are now threatened by pesticides, disease, and parasites; native bee populations are also in decline due to pesticides and loss of habitat. Do your part to keep bees buzzing:
1. Refrain from broad-spectrum pesticides, especially aerosol sprays that “drift.” Instead, handpick pests off plants or spray soap-and-water solution on leaves.
2. Encourage bees with flowering native plants. Choose a variety of colors, shapes, and species to attract pollinators; plan so you’ll have flowers all season. (Consult the local agricultural extension office, nursery, or botanic garden for hardy regional species.)
3. Provide a home for native pollinators. Scientists think lack of nesting habitat, not lack of flowers, explains non-honeybee population declines (Xerces.org). Among threatened nest habitat: dry earth not covered by a lawn or bark mulch, hollow plant stems (such as reeds), hole-ridden wood (such as dead trees).
4. Never destroy a “nuisance” hive. Call your extension office or a pest-control business to find a beekeeper who will move it.
5. Don’t fret or swat. Most bees are not aggressive unless provoked.
6. Eat local organic honey from your farmer’s market or green grocer.