The world’s bee population is in trouble as numbers are dwindling. Chemical insecticides and fertilizers, pollution, urbanization, disease and climate change are all contributing factors in the decline of numbers. Bees are our great pollinators and are vital to the growth and health of crops as well as providing delicious raw honey. I travel the world working with beekeepers who produce amazing raw honey and their top priority is to protect the environment and the future well being of their bees.
It is estimated that 30% of the world crops and 90% of wild plants need an insect like a bee to live and grow. Rudolf Steiner said (though many attributed it to Albert Einstein), “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then Man would have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more Man.”
A good test of the health of the environment is by the quantity and quality of raw honey being produced by honey bees. Ben Woodcock, at the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) lead a landmark field trial in 2017 that showed neonicotinoids damage the survival of honeybee colonies and harm wild bees.
Fellow Yorkshire man, TV presenter and naturalist Chris Packham speaking to the UK newspaper, The Yorkshire Post, calls on the help of experts and the public for a nationwide “bioblitz” to audit the country’s wildlife. Packham says, ‘I want to highlight that the UK’s landscape is in big trouble’.
So what can we do to help bees thrive, rather than just survive?
10 things we can do to help bees and plants
1. Create a pollinator haven
Keep your plants local with native flowers and shrubs and create a bee paradise. Bees love single flower tops like marigolds, tulips and daisies. They can reach the flowers easily to gather pollen (and butterflies like them too). Plan a garden that flowers all year round that is rich in colour and diverse because, like us, they function best in a varied diet. Once the bees are foraging and full of food you could add twigs, sticks and even bamboo and they will get nesting and create their own homes. Good news, you can leave the weeds. Bees love dandelion and clover, they provide lots of juicy nutrients and are medicinal. For inspiration read about Gabrielle Morley and her pollinator haven based in New South Wales, Australia.
2. Leave out water
What’s good for the birds is also good for bees and like all animals they need water. Use a bird bath or similar filled with water for the bees to quench their thirst and remember to place a rock at the side or float a cork so they can balance and take a drink. Your local pollinators will keep returning once they know where their water supply is. It’s a gift you can give to help bees stay healthy.
3. Use natural pesticides and fertilisers
Say no to chemicals and protect the bees in your garden by using chemical free organic fertilizers and natural pesticides like neem oil. This bitter tree leaf has been used for centuries and it won’t harm bees. It’s best to spray early in the morning or later in the day when less bees are around just so they don’t get smacked with the oil, otherwise neem oil only keeps away the bugs that harm your plants and leaves the good well enough alone. Another tip, when purchasing new plants from your garden centre or plant shop check they haven’t been pre-treated with neonics.
4. Avoid planting lawns
Flat areas of grass are like empty plates to bees. There isn’t any benefit without anything to feed on. Instead of planting lawns, plant meadows! An expanse of mixed wild flowers is a bee’s delight and something beautiful for you to feast your eyes on every single day.
5. Any space
Whether you have a balcony, patio, roof garden or window box you can help bees by leaving out water and planting flowers in pots attracting the pollinators to your urban dwelling. As long as its pollution free the bees will come and you get to enjoy nature even in the heart of the city.
6. Take up beekeeping
Beekeeping as a hobby can be incredibly rewarding and by introducing a hive to your garden or rooftop the bees get a home and you get to harvest your own raw honey. Beekeeping might not be for everybody but if you are a gardener and you like growing fruits and vegetables then you will probably make a good beekeeper too. You need patience and commitment but the connection you build with the bees has its own special rewards. There are books, starter kits and classes in beekeeping and many of the beekeepers I speak to call for younger people to join the profession. Whilst starting out as a hobbyist or professional beekeeper it’s a good idea to find an experienced beekeeper that can mentor you. This can bypass early mistakes and help develop an instinct and hone the craft in becoming a successful beekeeper.
7. Buy raw honey
Avoid commercial honey sold in bulk unless you are sure of its provenance and quality. Buy raw honey so you know you are getting the most natural, unadulterated healthiest product. At Balqees we know our beekeepers and we know exactly where our raw honey is coming from. This way I can be confident I’m bringing from hive to table pure uncontaminated raw honey without any use of antibiotics, added sugar or supplements. Balqees raw honey is traceable, sustainable and we deal with beekeepers who are following the best practices. Happy healthy bees working hard to bring us the very best natural raw honey.
8. Bee-friendly gifts
There are lots of products on the market that will help you to help bees. Seed bombs are a good idea. The little clusters of seeds are scattered in green areas and they turn grow into a colourful patch of wildflowers. Seed money or ‘pencils’ are good also for growing flowering and edible plants. These make great gifts for children and adults whilst spreading the word on helping bees. Jars of raw honey with hints and tones of different flowers make a great gift and a topic for discussion. Candles are a popular choice, always opt for natural beeswax candles and if its bee or honey beauty products you are after, go organic. Books are another good option. The Beekeeper’s Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America by Hannah Nordas is a good recommendation.
Knowledge is a powerful tool, educate yourself on the environment and the health of bees, the food supply chain and the choices that are made. They all have an impact on us and the world we live in. Talk to your children about bees so they learn to appreciate them too. Take away the fear that bees are dangerous and explain their value to our eco-system and they are man’s friend. Bees forage on flowers and they don’t attack humans unless disturbed.
How about bringing a sense of well being into the work place? One way is to create pollinator havens in any spaces around the office and give your colleagues and fellow employees something to share and discuss at the water cooler.
10. Get active
Some people offer their support through environmental groups like Friends of the Earth. This organisation is part of a coalition with over 80 NGOs across the EU including beekeeping groups and they are calling for a complete ban on bee-harming neonicotinoids. They are running a bee count across the UK, working closely with local and national government organisations. State side there is the New York Bee Sanctuary who also educate and campaign for the conservation and protection of bees. There are many organisations you could pledge your support to if that’s the route you wish to take.
As long as there is clean air, flowers to forage on and water to drink bees will carry on giving, working tirelessly producing their special gift that is raw honey. It’s up to us to decide how we want to protect them and give back to the environment.