New Internationalist

10 ways to help save the bees!

Issue 425

Over 90 per cent of the world’s plants rely on insect and animal pollinators for fertilization and reproduction. Bees are the most common and most important of those pollinators and they’re in serious trouble – mostly because of us. We have destroyed much of their natural habitat, planted millions of hectares with monocrops like soy and maize, and doused our farmlands with poisonous chemicals.

Reforming the dominant agricultural model is a major challenge. But in the meantime we can do a lot to help our buzzing buddies.

Illustrated by Scott Ritchie.

1. Get off the chemical treadmill
Modern insecticides are powerful, persistent and deadly to bees and other insects. Probably the single most important thing you can do is to stop using them, completely. And don’t be afraid to proselytize. Convince your friends and neighbours to drop the chemical addiction too. Some jurisdictions have already banned or limited pesticide use. There are better ways of dealing with pests – like biological and organic controls.

2. Go wild
If you have space in your garden, let some of it go wild to create a safe haven for bees, insects and small mammals. Gardens that are too tidy are not wildlife friendly. So leave some messy spots with dense plantings and brush piles that bees, birds and other animals can use to construct nests. By encouraging natural predators like frogs, toads, spiders, birds and ladybugs you’ll end up with fewer garden pests like aphids and slugs.

3. Boost diversity
A diversity of plants and flowers will provide bees, butterflies and other pollinators with food throughout the growing season. Select plants that provide a lot of nectar and pollen. Many ornamentals have been bred to produce little or none of these essential foods. To attract bats and nocturnal moths, consider night-blooming plants. To provide bees with the best sources of food – and to prevent the spread of invasive species – choose as many plants native to your region as possible.

4. Avoid the demon seed
Many farmers now buy seeds coated with clothianidin and other systemic insecticides. These can cause the entire plant to become toxic to bees and other insects. The same coatings may soon appear on garden seeds. Check your seed packets carefully. If there’s any doubt don’t buy until you know the whole story.

5. Beware hidden killers
Some commercial compost now contains imidacloprid, a deadly insecticide. It is highly toxic to all insects and all soil life, including earthworms. Plants absorb the chemical and if you use this compost in hanging baskets bees seeking water from the moist compost may be killed.

6. Drinks on the house
It’s hot and dry and you’re thirsty. Hey, so are the bees. Give them something to drink. You can provide water in a birdbath or shallow bowl; add a few pebbles so bees can easily climb in and out. Bees and butterflies love a mud puddle (they soak up valuable nutrients from the soil) so don’t worry if things get a bit mucky.

7. Be a guerrilla gardener
Buy a few packs of wildflower seeds and comb your neighbourhood for a patch or two of wasteland. All you need to do is scratch the seeds into the soil and let nature do its work. You’ll improve the neighbourhood as well as increase the number of native plants. And your pollinator friends will love you for it.

8. Help the natives
Unlike honeybees, native bees (there are thousands of different kinds) live in burrows in the ground or in trees. Most bumblebees build nests in grassy tussocks. But some local bees will also nest in a bee box in your garden. Providing shelter for bees will also guarantee a healthy harvest of fruit and veg. (Note: generally, the ‘solitary’ bee species that use these nests don’t swarm or sting.)

9. Give bees a chance
If you have space you could offer a corner of your garden to a local beekeeper as a place to keep a hive or two. They will need to have regular access, so bear this in mind when considering a site.
The flowers will love you.

10. Support your local beekeeper
The 100-mile diet is more than a fad. It’s recognition that high-tech farming is bad news for the environment and for human health. So buy direct from your local beekeeper, preferably one who avoids chemicals and produces natural, unpasteurized honey. You’ll never buy supermarket honey again.

Sources: Adapted from ‘10 Things you can do the help save the bees’, Phil Chandler, www.biobees.com with additional information from North American Pollination Protection Campaign, www.nappc.org;  The Co-operative, www.co-operative.coop; David Suzuki Foundation, www.davidsuzuki.org

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