Guest Editorial: Who speaks for the bees?
"Bees don't really affect me. In fact, I'd like to see less of them so I don't have to worry about getting stung."
It's that kind of apathy that's allowing a bad problem to get worse. Simply put, our bees are in trouble and they need our help.
According to the science magazine, Discover, colony losses among commercial beekeepers reach 30, 40, even 50 percent or more annually — a pace that threatens the beekeeping and agricultural industries — and everyone who eats. Bees pollinate some $30 billion in U.S. crops each year, including most fruits and leafy greens, playing a critical role in human health, the magazine noted.
More than 300 different species of bees call Minnesota home, according to the University of Minnesota. Worldwide, the number is more than 20,000. And yet pollinators, especially bees, have seen massive population declines in recent years due to habitat loss, pesticide use, parasites and disease, according to the U of M. The phenomenon has a name — colony collapse disorder.
In a news release issued last week, the university provided the following information about the bee crisis and simple steps people can take in their yards and gardens to help bees and other pollinators survive and thrive.
More than one-third of the world's crop species depend on bee pollination, an ecological service valued in North America at more than $20 billion a year. But bees don't care about the money — they're just interested in finding flowering plants that supply them with pollen (protein) and nectar (carbohydrates) so they can keep doing what they do.
Beyond bees, other insects and animals like wasps, flies, ants, butterflies, moths, beetles, some birds, and even bats are pollinators. Play a part in their revival by planting and maintaining a lawn or garden that is hospitable to their — and our — survival.
Flowers for bees
Some flowers are better at providing pollen and nectar to support bee nutrition. Sunflowers, zinnias, catmint, and purple coneflower are just a few that are attractive to bees and can be easily integrated into most Minnesota landscapes.
Even a change of perspective can help bees. Consider that dandelions, often thought of as a weed, are a first source of nectar for pollinators — most notably Minnesota's native bumblebees, which emerge hungry in early spring.
Bee lawns are starting to get a lot of buzz. The U of M has researched flowers that bees love and can be added to a lawn without drastic changes in care routines or aesthetics. (You can still mow, play ball, and picnic on your bee lawn.) A list of bee friendly flowers is on the U of M's website, www.beelab.umn.edu/bees/flowers.
U of M research has shown that adding Dutch white clover, self-heal and creeping thyme into a lawn will attract many kinds of pollinators, including honeybees, bumble bees, and solitary bees.
For more information about how to help bees, go to the U of M's website, www.beelab.umn.edu/bees.