How to help bring back the bees
Without bees, a third of the food we eat wouldn’t grow. The busy pollinators dip from stamen to stamen, foraging for nectar to make their food, pollinating other fruits and vegetables in the process. It’s a win-win situation for bees and humans—we all get to eat.
Farmers know their importance. Every year, truckloads of bees travel from the East Coast to California’s almond growers, among others, to pollinate the trees for an abundant harvest.
Residents in new subdivisions attempt to beautify their landscapes with gardens, and scratch their heads as to why the flowers they’ve planted for years elsewhere aren’t doing as well. One reason: Very few bees.
“There are fewer, not just beekeepers, but wild hives out there,” says Karen Foster, who started Hidden Valley Honey with her husband, Chris Foster, 12 years ago. “They’ve succumbed over the years to things like mites and other diseases. People can really help them survive either by keeping colonies or supplying forage for them.”
Part of the drop-off in bee population may be due to human development. Local areas once covered in bee-friendly clover, for instance, are now home to strip malls and warehouses. Then there’s that phenomenon you’ve likely heard about: colony collapse disorder, in which bees leave their hives to go foraging and don’t come back. There’s still no consensus about exactly what is causing their disappearance or the extent of the problem, though it appears to affect bees that are transported from state to state more than those that stay in one place. Leonard Joy, who was a Nevada bee inspector for 25 years before starting Joy’s Honey Ranch about 10 years ago, says the research points to a combination of factors: The stress placed on migratory bees leaves them more susceptible to disease and mites, which also spread disease. They’re also not getting as much quality pollen, due in part to pesticides, so the lack of nutrition leaves them and their baby bees weak.
“We need all the bees we can get, whether they’re honey bees or the wild bees—anything that will provide nectar and pollen,” says Joy.
While the cause and extent of why colony collapse disorder is still being researched, one thing is certain: It doesn’t hurt to plant a little for the bees. “They’re very good pollinators, and they help other plants grow, and they help plants for the wildlife to feed off, as well,” says Joy. “It isn’t just we humans that benefit from it; everything benefits from it.”
Try to plant a variety of plants that bloom at different times of the season. Foster and Joy say summer blooms are especially needed, given that nectar tends to dry up more during that time. A few of their recommendations for bee-friendly plants: For herbs, try lavender, catmint, other forms of mint, rosemary and oregano. Bees love black locust and fruit trees. Also attractive to the eye and the bee are honeysuckle, Russian sage, aster, sunflowers, California poppies, marigolds, cosmos, purple coneflower, butterfly bushes and goldenrod.
“We don’t have much problem in the spring or fall,” says Joy. “It’s summertime. We want summer-blooming flowers.”