From the makers of the film Queen of the Sun
1. Plant bee-friendly flowers and flowering herbs.
Bees are losing habitat all around the world due to intensive monoculture-based farming practices; pristine, green (but flower-barren) suburban lawns; and from the destruction of native landscapes. Just planting flowers— in your garden, yard or a planter—will help provide bees with forage. Avoid treating your flowers with chemicals, as chemicals can leach into pollen and negatively affect the bees’ systems. Plant plenty of the same type of bloom together: Bees like volume of forage (a square yard is a good estimate).
Here are a few examples of good plant varieties by season. Spring: lilacs, penstemon, lavender, sage, verbena and wisteria. Summer: mint, cosmos, squash, tomatoes, pumpkins, sunflowers, oregano, rosemary, poppies, black-eyed Susan, passionflower vine, honeysuckle. Fall: fuchsia, mint, bush sunflower, sage, verbena, toadflax. Themelissagarden.com has a great list of plants honeybees love.
2. Weeds can be a good thing.
Contrary to popular belief, a lawn full of clover and dandelions is not just a good thing—it’s a great thing! It’s a haven for honeybees, and other native pollinators, too. Don’t be so nervous about letting your lawn live a little. Wildflowers, many of which we might classify as weeds, are some of the most important food sources for native North American bees. If some of these are “weeds” you chose to get rid of (say you want to pull out that blackberry bush that’s taking over), let it bloom first for the bees. Then, before it goes to seed, pull it out or trim it back!
3. Don’t use chemicals or pesticides to treat your lawn or garden.
Yes, they make your lawn look pristine and pretty, but they’re actually doing the opposite to the life in your biosphere. The chemicals and pest treatments you put on your lawn and garden can cause damage to honeybee systems. These treatments are especially damaging if applied while the flowers are in bloom, as they will get into the pollen and nectar and be taken back to the beehive, where they also get into the honey—which in turn means they can get into us. Pesticides, specifically neonicotinoid varieties, have been one of the major culprits in colony collapse disorder.
4. Buy local, raw honey.
The honey you buy directly sends a message to beekeepers about how they should keep their bees. For this reason, and for your own personal health, strive to buy local, raw honey from hives that haven’t been treated by chemicals. It can be hard to find out what is truly “local” and truly “raw”— and even harder yet to find out what is untreated. Here are a few guidelines: If it’s imported from China, don’t buy it. There have been a number of cases recently of chemically contaminated honey coming from China. If it’s coming from the grocery store, but it doesn’t say the words “pure” or “raw” or that it’s untreated by chemicals, don’t buy it. If it’s untreated, the label will say so, as this is an important selling point.
We recommend a simple solution: Go to your farmers market and shake hands with the beekeepers you meet. There are beekeepers at nearly every farmers market, selling their honey and other products. Have a conversation with them, find out what they are doing to their hives, and how they keep their bees. If they are thoughtful, respectful beekeepers who keep their bees in a sustainable, natural way, then make a new friend and support them!
5. Bees are thirsty. Put a small basin of water outside your home.
You may not have known this one—but it’s easy and it’s true! If a lot of bees are starting to come to your new garden of native plants, wildflowers and flowering herbs, put a little water basin out (a bird bath with some stones in it for them to crawl on does a nice trick). They will appreciate it!
6. Buy local, organic food from a farmer that you know.
What’s true for honey generally holds true for the rest of our food. Buying local means eating seasonally, as well, and buying local from a farmer that you know means you know if that food is coming from a monoculture or not. This is much easier in the summer when you can get your fresh produce from a local farmers market. Another option is to get your food from a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm. Keep in mind, USDA Organic Certification can be expensive and you may find many great farmers and beekeepers with excellent food and honey that isn’t USDA-certified, simply because they don’t produce a high quantity or opt for the expense of certification. Don’t let this get in the way of supporting them—and if you’re worried about their products, have a conversation with them. (A huge challenge for beekeepers is to keep their bees in an area where there is no chemical spray within three miles, as this is really what is required to guarantee truly organic honey. All the more reason for us to avoid the use of harsh chemicals.)
7. Learn how to be a beekeeper with sustainable practices.
Hook up with a local bee association that offers classes with natural approaches in your community. Visit the resources and links page at queenofthe sun.com to start reading and exploring first steps!
8. Understand that honeybees aren’t out to get you.
They want to forage pollen and nectar from flowers up to three miles from their hive and bring that food back to feed themselves and the beehive. Contrary to what the media might have us believe, they are not out to sting us. Here are a few tips to avoid getting stung. 1. Stay still and calm if a bee is around you or lands on you. Many bees will land on you and sniff you out. They can smell the pheromones that come with fear and anger, which can be a trigger for them to sting you. 2. Don’t stand in front of a hive opening, or a pathway to a concentration of flowers. Bees are busy running back and forth from the hive, and if you don’t get in their way, they won’t be in yours. 3. Learn to differentiate between honeybees and wasps. Honeybees die after they sting humans (but not after they sting other bees!); wasps do not. Wasps are carnivores, so they like lunchmeats and soda. Honeybees are vegetarians.
9. Share solutions with others in your community.
There are so many fun ways to help and be a voice for the bees. Discuss the importance of bees at local community meetings, at conferences, in schools and universities, and on on-line message boards and forums. Let them know about Queen of the Sun and other great media out there that is in support of the honeybee. Invite your friends and family to attend a screening of Queen of the Sun; you can even host a house party or larger screening in your area.
10. Let congress know what you think.
Change has to happen from the top down as well as from the bottom up. Queenofthe sun.com has a “Push for Policy Change” page where you can sign petitions and find the latest ways you can lend your voice and vote. You can also join the Queen of the Sun newsletter and become a fan on Facebook and Twitter to receive updates and petitions that will effect change on a national and global level.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #39.
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