(Beyond Pesticides, February 29, 2012) Bees are in trouble –in large part because of pesticides– and policymakers just aren’t acting quickly enough to help them. But backyard gardeners, sideline beekeepers, and ordinary people all over the country have been stepping up. Beyond Pesticides and Pesticide Action Network North America have launched HoneyBeeHaven.org, a site where individuals who are taking matters into their own hands can add their pesticide-free pollinator habitat to the map, while we continue to pressure EPA to protect honey bees and wild pollinators from pesticides.
On the website, visitors are encouraged to take the pledge to go pesticide-free and protect bees, and then put your yard, park, or school grounds on the map. It’s easy to do, and will demonstrate the groundswell of citizen support to protect pollinators from pesticides now. Display a Pesticide Free Zone sign to show your neighbors that pesticide-free spaces are important for health and the environment.
You don’t need to be a beekeeper or avid gardener to create a safe haven –tucking a few containers of bee-friendly plants on a balcony or front stoop will get you started. Like any other living organism, bees need food, water, and shelter in order to thrive. There are several steps you can take to attract these beneficial insects to your garden and protect them and their habitat.
1. Food. You can begin by planting a bee garden filled with flowering varieties that will attract the bees. This will not only provide habitat and sustenance to the pollinators, but will also help your plants to flower more plentifully. Bees are attracted to most flowering plants, and are especially fond of blue and yellow flowers. Other colors such as purple, white, and pink also serve to attract bees. Make sure there are plants that will flower during different parts of the season to keep your garden flourishing throughout the summer and well into fall. This serves to provide a steady supply of nectar and pollen for bees. A diversity of flowers planted in close proximity to each other strongly attracts bees. Gardens with 10 or more species of flowering plants attract the greatest number of bees. The best plants are those native annual and perennial wildflowers that naturally grow in your region.
2. Water. Bees also need sources of water. Water can be provided in very shallow birdbaths or by adding a quarter inch of sand to a large saucer, such as those designed to fit beneath clay flower pots. Fill the saucer so that the water rises about a quarter inch above the sand. Add a few flat stones, some should rise above the water and some should just touch the surface. These stones will allow bees and other insects to drink without drowning. To avoid creating a mosquito breeding site, be sure to change the water at least twice a week.
3. Shelter. Many bees do not live in hives or colonies. By creating an ideal nesting site, you can attract species to nest and hibernate in your garden. Bumblebees, for example, hibernate and nest in abandoned rodent nests, birdhouses, snags and logs. They also are attracted to piles of cut vegetation, compost heaps, and mounds of earth and rubble. Leaving some areas in your garden bare, preferably in a sunny location, provides other ground-nesting bee species areas to dig tunnels into the soil to create nests. Brush piles, dead trees, and some dead branches or dried pithy stems attract stem-nesting bees such as leafcutter bees, while others such as the blue orchard bee prefer to use mud to build their nests.
Doing more: Backyard beekeeping
For those who may be feeling highly motivated, there is also the option of keeping your very own colony of bees in your backyard. Although not all bees live in hives, certain species, notably honeybees, are easily and safely kept in artificial hives for their shelter. This provides a safe haven for the bees while also allowing you the opportunity to harvest the fresh honey!
Aspiring beekeepers must decide which subspecies of honeybee to acquire and purchase protective equipment. If you are interested in keeping honeybees, the American Beekeeping Federation recommends that you find a local bee club in your area. Most clubs either offer courses in basic beekeeping or can direct you to such courses. These are often given at the beginning of the year, in order to prepare people to start their hives in the spring. Be sure to look for those offering organic beekeeping, so that you can be sure that your bees are not being exposed to any harmful substances. See our Backyard Beekeeping factsheet.
Choosing organic food is not only good for your health, but it also helps protect honey bees and wild pollinators. In addition to serious health questions linked to actual residues of toxic pesticides on the food we eat, our food buying decisions support or reject hazardous agricultural practices, protection of honey bees and wild pollinators, as well as contributing to healthy working conditions and communities for farmworkers and farm families. Learn more about organic food on our Eating with a Conscience database.
Beyond Pesticides recently submitted comments to EPA, with over 250 organizations and businesses as signatories, telling the agency to ban the bee-killing pesticide clothianidin. The open comment period is part of the agency’s pesticide review process. Read the comments. For more information, see our Pollinator Protection webpage.