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No really, you can help save the bees by raising native bees!

Here are some simple ways that you can help support and protect bees and ensure the future of our healthy food.

  • Become a Native Beekeeper
  • Grow Native Flowering Plants
  • Reconsider Weeds
  • Reduce & Avoid Chemical Use
  • Advocate & Raise Awareness about Bee Diversity
  • Vote with Your Wallet
  • Help Monitor Wild Bees

We all know the immense problems that honey bees face and sometimes the enormity of the problems make us feel helpless. We worry about honey bees because they seem to be the only bee that pollinates our fruit and crops. We may also worry about not being able to enjoy honey and beeswax. The truth is, honey bees in North America are facing many problems but, because of how they are raised commercially there are a lot of people researching, studying, and taking care of honey bees' hives.

Sadly, there are not as many people taking care of North America’s wild and native bees, of which there are about 4,000 different species. In February 2016, the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) concluded that 40% of insect pollinators and 16.5% of animal pollinators are facing extinction. The problems that our wild pollinators face are vast: changes in land use (suburban sprawl, intensification of agriculture), loss of wild and native habitat, invasive plant and animal species, climate change, pesticide and other chemical use, disease, and parasitic pests. We have also recently learned from a Swedish study that honey bees suppress the native short-range flying bees within 1 km of the honey bee hive shadow. The Swedish government is considering legislative action to restrict honey bee hives to one per square kilometer.

These environmental issues may seem too big to tackle alone but we’re optimistic that together we can provide healthy habitats for pollinators. We believe that by raising native hole-nesting bees you will create an environment that is beneficial to many other pollinators and help create an overall healthier ecosystem.

The following are some of the easiest and most effective ways that we can work together to save all the bees.

How to Help

Become a Native Beekeeper

Raising native hole-nesting bees, like mason and leafcutter bees, is an easy, fun, safe, and rewarding experience. As we take care of the bees, they take care of us, resulting in healthier, tastier, and more nutritious food. Raising bees is a wonderful way to instill a feeling of responsibility and build a strong relationship with pollinators. Getting to know native bees helps us understand the needs of all bees and we start to look at our backyards and farmlands a little differently. We start to see our land as places to provide healthy habitat for our pollinators.

Grow Native Flowering Plants

Our backyards may seem small to us, but to an insect the yard is home. Consider converting a patch of lawn to a BeeReady garden and remember that native flowers are the best source of nectar and pollen for bees. Native plants are four times more attractive to bees because they evolved to attract and feed pollinators. Cultivated or hybridized plants are not as attractive to bees because they’re bred for looks and often have changed or reduced their nectar or pollen loads. Some native bees and butterflies are directly dependent on native plants and your patch may be a true haven for a rare bee, butterfly, or moth species.

Don’t have a yard? No problem! Even a window box or an apartment patio of potted plants can help feed bees. Every little bit helps.

Reconsider Weeds

Many weeds are not harmful or detrimental to an area, they are simply perceived as unattractive. However, weeds are a perfect, and often abundant source of food for bees. Just think about how many times you’ve seen a bee on clover and dandelions. A simple way to feed all bees is to let our lawns grow a little taller and not worry about pulling every weed out. Set your lawnmower to the maximum height to allow the short weeds to flower and feed bees. Early spring blooming weeds are often the most reliable food sources for bees emerging from a long winter hibernation.

While we want to change our view of the role of weeds, there are some that really should be controlled. Noxious weeds are weeds that can harm our parks, livestock, and farmlands. They are usually poisonous, sometimes toxic to touch, and very invasive. Look up your state’s or province’s regulations about noxious weeds to learn more about what’s on the list and how best to control it. Your local farmers and wildlife will appreciate your effort to control noxious weeds.

Reduce & Avoid Chemical Use

It’s best to avoid chemicals as much as possible and if they are absolutely necessary, do what you can to protect bees. Some pesticides have been shown to cause brain and reproductive damage in bees. Affected bees are less able to learn how to feed on complex flowers, they can’t remember how to get home, and their ability to reproduce is greatly diminished. Chemical fertilizers are also known to disrupt the relationship between a plant’s root system and beneficial bacteria and fungi. Healthy soil leads to healthy plants, which lead to healthy bees. Native beekeepers with previously healthy bee populations have experienced bees vanishing from their yards after fertilizers and herbicides have been used, suggesting these also hurt bee populations. If you must use chemicals, spray them after dusk or before dawn while bees are tucked into their nests and you might also need to keep bees from flying out until the chemical has worn off.

Advocate & Raise Awareness about Bee Diversity

Once you have learned more about what bees need, consider talking to your friends and neighbors. One of the biggest reasons for raising awareness about native bees is the simple fact that bee diversity increases seed yield and improves crop quality. Bees of different sizes, shapes, lifestyles, and nesting habits all contribute to bee diversity. A variety of bees can actually make honey bees better pollinators. Honey bees use the feeling of competition as a reason to work faster and sloppier and we all benefit. Bee diversity means more food for more people!

Awareness is important because we need people thinking beyond honey bees for our food’s pollination. Relying solely on honey bees as our only agricultural pollinator is not a sustainable practice. Raising native bees and supporting wild bees are sustainable ways to ensure that our crops are pollinated properly.

Vote with Your Wallet

One of the best ways to see a real change in how we manage our land and our pollinators is to vote with our dollars. Buying organic plants and seeds, which have not been treated with systemic pesticides like neonics (neonicotinoids), and organic food is a great way to influence large companies. Show them that organic, holistic, and sustainable practices are important to the future of our food systems.

Help Monitor Wild Bees

Help studies and programs that are gathering data to understand the health of our wild bees! Consider joining these programs and become a citizen scientist. Many programs are fun and they help teach you how to identify the bees and other pollinators you see while on walks through your garden or park. Monitoring bee populations and noting the flowers they visit are important data points that are missing from our academic libraries.

Bumblebee Watch

Northwest Pollinator Initiative

Check out Xerces Society's list of programs

Increase & Support Biodiversity

All of the above steps ultimately lead to improving our land’s biodiversity, which includes increasing the diversity of insects, plants, and birds. And, because wherever we live is also a part of larger watershed systems, fish and other aquatic species downstream will benefit from our combined efforts to avoid chemicals and support insects. Taking care of native bees is a part of our holistic effort to take care of natural places right in our own backyards.