Have you ever eaten almonds, apples, avocados, blueberries, cherries, cucumbers or plums? If so, you can thank the humble honeybee.
Honeybees pollinate an estimated $15 billion worth of U.S. crops every year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says. About one-third of the food consumed by Americans is tied directly or indirectly to honeybee pollination, according to the American Beekeeping Foundation.
Yet that pollination and, in turn, much of the food on your kitchen table is in jeopardy.
Findings of a survey conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership show beekeepers across the U.S. lost 44 percent of their honeybee colonies from April 2015 to April 2016. That continued a years-long decline in honeybee populations around the country, blamed on factors such as pesticide exposure, parasites, diseases, habitat loss and climate change.
“No one expects bees to disappear altogether, but if bees continue to die at the current rates, we may experience increased food prices and decreased food availability,” University of Florida Extension warns.
OK, so you’re aware of how vital — and imperiled — honeybees are. But what you can you do about it? Actually, there’s a lot you can do. Here are six recommendations.
1. Grow native flowering plants around your home.
Flowering plants, which supply both pollen and nectar, are critical to pollination of crops by honeybees.
Landscaping with flowering plants “is the healthiest thing you can do for local bee populations. Everyone can do it, even if you just have an apartment patio,” says conservationist Terra Wellington, author of “The Mom’s Guide to Growing Your Family Green.”
Put more emphasis on creating honeybee habitats and less emphasis on producing perfectly manicured gardens, she says.
“It’s fine if you want some lawn space, but for the rest consider a more natural look with native plants,” Wellington says. “It will look more interesting and varied, and cut down on your maintenance time.”
If possible, the plants should bloom at various times — some in the spring, others in the summer and some in the fall.
“If everything in your garden only blooms in the spring, pollinators have to look somewhere else for food the rest of the growing season,” Wellington says.
For advice on the types of flowering plants that are ideal for where you live, check out this guide from the Pollinator Partnership.
2. Reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides at home.
Generally speaking, traditional pesticides pose a threat to honeybees. In particular, you should avoid neonicotinoid products, which have been linked to a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder involving the disappearance of a majority of a colony’s worker bees. The Xerces Society, an insect conservation group, says residue from neonicotinoid pesticides can be lethal to bees, butterflies and other flower-visiting insects.
To sign a petition calling for a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, visit this page.
3. Provide water for bees.
Especially in the summer, bees need water, says urban beekeeper Nicole Buergers, founder of the Bee2Bee Honey Collective. So why not set up your own water station for bees?
“Consider a ‘bee bath’ with shallow water and a textured surface — think a bird bath with rocks or marbles,” Buergers says. “Make sure the water source is replenished regularly so bees can count on it.”
4. Get familiar with your local beekeepers.
“Know the source of your honey and where the hives are located,” Buergers says.
The label on any locally produced honey should indicate whether it’s raw, and should list the beekeeper’s address, phone number and website, she says. Be sure to inquire about whether the beekeeper has adopted sustainable beekeeping practices, Buergers says.
5. Buy organic food.
Organic farming boosts the health of honeybees by decreasing exposure to toxic chemicals and protecting native habitats, according to the Organic Trade Association.
“One of the simplest ways to conserve our pollinator populations in an agriculturally reliant world is through organic farming. Consumers can rest assured that every time they purchase an organic product, they are supporting pollinator health,” says Jessica Shade, director of science programs for The Organic Center, a nonprofit that conducts research about organic food and organic farming.
6. Support companies that support bees.
An array of businesses have embraced saving our honeybee population. Here are three examples:
- Beepods is donating a portion of each sale of its organic Bee Better Butter balms and salves to a Pollinator Partnership program that promotes pollination by encouraging students to plant gardens.
- Ice cream brand Häagen-Daz has installed one of the largest, privately funded pollinator habitats on 840 acres of farmland maintained by its almond supplier in California. The bee-friendly habitat consists of 6½ miles of hedgerow and 11,000 native drought-tolerant shrubs and flowering plants.
- MediNatura, a manufacturer of prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals made from natural medicines, is matching consumers’ donations of at least $30 to the nonprofit Heifer International for a project that provides beekeeping equipment and training for farmers in developing countries. The company says it’ll donate up to $15,000 through July 15, 2018.