It’s National Pollinator Week, a good time to talk about what we can do to help the bees. Bees are so not different from us. All they need is safety, food, shelter, and a little help from our friends. By safety, I mean no pesticides. By food, I mean flowers. By shelter, I mean a little space set aside. By help, I mean speaking up. Here are seven ways you can give bees a helping hand:
- Don’t use pesticides.
Unlike pest insects, which have evolved to resist the defensive chemicals that plants can put into their leaves, bees have co-evolved with plants. Plants don’t put poisons in their flowers. Since bees are not expecting to be attacked by plants, they are more vulnerable to insecticides. The worst are systemic insecticides, such as neonicotinoids, which are absorbed into every part of the plant, including pollen and nectar.
- Choose food grown without pesticides.
Organic, sustainable, IPM — it all means minimal or no use of pesticides. You can look for certified organic, or ask at your local farmers market what they do to control pests.
- Plant flowers.
The best plants for native bees are the plants native to the regions they live in. They also love old-fashioned varieties of garden flowers, with open faces and abundant pollen. Flowering plants also include trees, vegetables, and herbs. Just allowing dandelions and clover into your lawn makes a difference. If you buy live plants, make sure to ask your local nursery or garden center for plants that have not been treated with neonics.
- Avoid disturbing the ground.
70% of bee species dig into the ground, make their nests, add food, and then lay eggs. Often they are active only for a few weeks. They are counting on the ground going untilled for the rest of the year.
- Leave some wild corners.
Don’t be so hasty to clean up the garden. Bumblebee queens overwinter underground and emerge in the spring, looking for abandoned mouse nests, old compost piles, or other dark cavities. A little bit of clutter in a corner could be a good home for them.
- Add bee hotels.
The remaining native bees nest in hollow stems and crevices. Simply allowing dry stems to stand over the winter can help. You can also offer “bee hotels”, which range from bundles of reeds to blocks of wood with holes drilled in them.
- Spread the word.
Tell your friends and neighbors why you’re helping bees and planting flowers. Ask your town or city to plant flowers. Ask your representatives to ban neonicotinoids and — wait for it — plant flowers!