3 Ways to Support Bees at Home

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July 3, 2018 by glenfoerd

Augochlora pura

This green sweat bee (Augochlora pura) belongs to one of about 4,000 bee species native to North America. | Photo by Will Elder/NPS

The bees are bouncing back. That was the news from the USDA last year, per a nationwide survey of commercial honeybee hives that showed US honeybee populations were on the rise while Colony Collapse Disorder continued a steady decline from the previous year. It’s welcome news for fans of everyone’s favorite European apid, Apis mellifera.

For native bees, though, things aren’t looking quite so rosy.

Recent studies (including one from the Center for Biological Diversity) have shown significant declines across species of native bees, which have often been passed over in discussions concerning the health of non-native honeybees. It’s unfortunate, not only from a biodiversity perspective, but also commercially: native bees contribute significantly to the pollination of commercial crops in the US, particularly native crops such as pumpkins, blueberries, and cranberries.

Fortunately, taking simple steps in your home to provide food & shelter and reduce chemical risks for native bees can not only help support these bees, but also native birds and other pollinators, all while saving you time, water, and money in the long term. But don’t worry; if it’s really just honeybees you’re after, taking these steps will help them too.

Ditch the Chemicals

One of the single greatest factors in bees’ demise (native and non-native) is the rampant use of agricultural pesticides. And just because you’re not producing crops on a commercial scale doesn’t mean home-scale pesticide use won’t make a difference. Any chemicals used to kill insects can affect bees adversely. If pests are causing problems in your garden, consider a safer approach, such as integrated pest management.

Make Space for Bees

Another major threat to bee populations is habitat loss. Many native bee species are solitary and nest in the ground or in logs, trees, or standing dead wood. Urbanization and sprawl have all but eliminated many once-robust bee habitats, so providing nesting areas for these bees can be essential for their survival, particularly in urban & suburban areas. Try leaving a stump or two around, or building a bee hotel.

Plant Native

Our native bees have developed unique relationships with native plant species over millions of years of co-evolution. Native bees and other native pollinators rely on these familiar species in order to thrive. Native plants tend to also be much easier to grow as they are acclimated to local growing conditions, resistant to native pests, and require less care generally than non-native plants. Converting lawn space into a native plants garden will not only support native pollinators, but can also help hold & filter water (a big help if your home is prone to flooding), and take much less time and energy to maintain than turf grass. It’s a good idea to test your soil first to better understand your growing conditions, and use a native plant finder to search for the best plants for your area, light, and soil type.

Native bees are small creatures with big impact; it’s their work that keeps us alive! If we lose bees, we lose bee-dependent plants. And without many of these plants, we don’t stand too good of a chance either. Native bees are very vulnerable to chemicals and food & habitat shortages in the landscape. Taking these simple steps can help ensure their future, and by extension, we can help ensure our own.

Learn more about bees at this year’s Philadelphia Honey Festival on September 7, 8, and 9!

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