I have always worried about bees. Not in a typical environmentalist-colony-collapse kind of way, but in a I-may-die kind of way. I had an allergic reaction when I was stung in the foot mowing the lawn barefoot as a tween. Yes, I know, mowing the lawn barefoot?!?! What was I thinking? What were my parents thinking?
To be fair to the species, I don’t know if it was a wasp, a bee or some other yellow insect, but I do know that my allergic reaction started with hives, then made my face so distorted, I was unrecognizable in the mirror. The worst was when the swelling started to close my windpipe. That’s when my physician father, who had been monitoring my symptoms from the dinner table, finally stopped eating his stake and thought that we should take a trip down to his office for a shot of epinephrine. I survived.
I’ve never held a grudge against either my father or bees. And to this day I am not afraid of being stung. While some people flail away at summer picnics, I sit calmly and eat because I know that we need every last bee on the planet and that they are currently in crisis. Bees are losing habitat all around the world due to intensive monoculture-based (one single crop) farming practices, our pristine green sprawling suburban lawns, and from the destruction of native, natural landscapes. Most of us don’t realize that over 40% of our food is pollinated by bees making their crisis our crisis. Without bees the delicate balance on our planet could be disrupted.
There is a new movie about the plight of bees premiering next week on February 4th at Saint Anthony Main theater in Minneapolis, Queen of the Sun – What are bees telling us? Taggart Siegel, the genius behind The Real Dirt On Farmer John, directed this groundbreaking film.
The movie is a look at the global bee crisis examining the problems of monoculture and pesticides and refreshingly, unlike many films in this genre, it also provides solutions. The key to bee colony survival and to some extent our own, is no big surprise or secret: it is simply renewing a culture in balance with nature. If you don’t have time to catch the film, know that there are things that you can do to help get us back in balance and save the bees:
Plant bee friendly flowers and flowering herbs in your garden and yard. Just planting flowers in your garden, yard, or in a window-sill planter, and not chemically treating those flowers will provide bees with forage. Plant plenty of the same type of bloom together, bees like volume of forage. Some good plant types: Spring – lilacs, lavender, sage, verbena, and wisteria. Summer – Mint, cosmos, squash, tomatoes, pumpkins, sunflowers, oregano, rosemary, poppies, black-eyed Susan, passion flower vine, honeysuckle. Fall – Fuschia, mint, bush sunflower, sage, verbena, toadflax.
Weeds can be a good thing. Contrary to popular belief, a lawn full of clover and dandelions is a haven for honeybees (and other native pollinators too). Don’t be so nervous about letting your lawn live a little. Wildflowers, many of which we might classify as weeds, are some of the most important food sources for North American bees.
Don’t use chemicals and pesticides to treat your lawn or garden. The chemicals and pest treatments that we put on our lawns and gardens can damage honeybees. These treatments are especially damaging if applied while the flowers are in bloom, as they will get into the pollen and nectar and taken back to the bee hive where they also get into the honey, the bees’ food (and our food).
Buy local, raw honey. Go to your farmer’s market and shake hands with the beekeepers you meet. Have a conversation with them, find out what they are doing to their hives, and how they are keeping their bees. If they are thoughtful, respectful beekeepers who keep their bees in a sustainable, natural way, buy their honey.
Provide a small basin of fresh water outside your home for thirsty bees. If you have a lot of bee-visitors starting to come to your new garden of native plants, wildflowers and flowering herbs, put a little water basin out (a bird bath with some stones in it for them to crawl on does a nice trick). They will come and be glad!
Buy local, organic food from a farmer that you know. What’s true for honey generally holds true for the rest of our food. Buying local means that you can find out if the food is coming from a monoculture or not. Another option is to get your food from a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm.
Perhaps the biggest thing that you can do is to help kids and others understand that honeybees are not out to get you and that they are a critical part of our food chain and web of life. Of course if you happen to step on one while mowing the lawn barefoot, they might just let you know!