The world is run by bees.
Not in a literal sense, mind you, but in a very real way life on this planet is made possible by the work of bees and other pollinators who ensure that new flowers and plants are able to grow and thrive. In return, we have air to breathe, fruits and vegetables to eat, and beautiful spring meadows to enjoy.
Bees, however, are in trouble. According to many different organizations, including the David Suzuki Foundation, The Bee Conservancy and the Canadian Wildlife Federation, factors like decreasing habitat space due to land development, the use of neonic pesticides, and the growth of invasive plants are all contributing to a crisis in the insect world, including bees and other pollinators.
If the bees go, so too do humans. However, there are many ways that individuals can help bees and pollinating insects by making different choices and changes in their own lives. By changing the way they use pesticides, what flowers they choose to plant and more, home gardeners can make a big impact on their local bee population.
One of the biggest things that can be done for bees is to make the garden a pollinator-friendly space. Because bees don’t have the ability to appreciate different flowers like humans do, they cannot always make the best use out of different imported species, or ones that are not native to their area. The Canadian Wildlife Federation recommends researching what flower species are native to your area, and then planting a wide variety of those flowers in order to accommodate different types of bee and other pollinating species.
Along a similar train of thought, but much harder to break away from in the ever-looming shadow of 50s white-picket life and urbanization, another way to help the bees is to let your grass rebel and grow long. Not forever! Not even all summer! Instead, consider taking part in what’s known as “No Mow May.” Started in the U.K., the idea is to let your lawn grow for the month of May in order to give insects and other wildlife the chance to wake up with the spring in a more natural surrounding. Well-trimmed green grass lawns may look idyllic to homeowners, but by cutting down lawn-blooming flowers so early, it deprives bee species an early-year snack, so to speak.
For those who hate the idea of mowing at all, you’re in luck! Not only are green-grass lawns a literal chore to take care of, but they generally provide little benefit to insects overall. Instead, as suggested by Better Homes and Gardens, you could consider reseeding your lawn with a bee lawn seed mix. Such a seed mix includes turfgrass as well as different flowering plant species like white clover and creeping thyme, which not only provides a different overall aesthetic to your home, but according to the University of Minnesota, it can also reduce the need for mowing and watering throughout the summer, as these mixes can contain more drought-resistant native grasses.
Now, admittedly, there’s nothing worse than putting all kinds of hours into growing your garden only to come back and find nasty pests have had a fine dinner on your hard work. In those cases, it’s tempting to reach for the bottle of high-grade pesticides and re-enact scenes from “Apocalypse Now,” but hold your horses there, cowboy. Studies have shown that chemicals in a class of pesticides known as neonics, because they contain neonicotinoids, are hugely devastating to pollinators and bees, not just the destructive bugs you’re looking to eradicate. The Canadian Wildlife Federation notes that neonic pesticides, chemically related to nicotine, remain active for many months, and can remain in soil for several years. Instead of using pesticides, they recommend instead to make sure to keep your garden soil healthy, plant species that can thrive in your area and conditions, set insect traps, use floating row covers, or take advantage of natural insect repellants by planting things like mint, garlic, clove or sage.
It may take some work to help make a garden or lawn bee-friendly, but that’s little to ask in return for all the hard work bees and other pollinators do for us. So the next time you’e enjoying some fresh, locally-collected honey with your breakfast or dessert, take a minute to think of the bees who made it all possible, and help to ensure we continue to co-exist with those fuzzy little bumblers for years to come.