Why Does Bee Decline Matter: What All Gardeners And Consumers Need To Know

By Caroline Bloomfield | August 15, 2020
by Caroline Bloomfield
August 15, 2020

Like most of us, I’ve known our bees are in trouble, and that there must be more to their decline than pesticide use. What I didn’t know is the bigger picture that’s involved in the depletion of our precious, vital bee population. I recently viewed an award-winning documentary film called The Pollinators. Learning the truth about the decline of bees has served as a high-level alert to me, and it should to you, too.

The cinematographer, producer/director of the film, Peter Nelson, describes it as “an important story people don’t know they need to know.” It’s also a story that “matters only if you like to eat.”

Why Does Bee Decline Matter?

If we take a moment to think about it, most of us assume our fruit and nut orchards continue to produce each year as a normal seasonal process. It’s not so.

Beekeepers constantly truck thousands of hives across the country, supplying bees on a temporary basis to almond orchards in California, apple orchards in Washington and blueberry fields in Maine, just to mention a few. In many instances, if these farmers were to stop “renting” the service of these traveling bees, there would be no crops.

The naturally occurring pollination process for many of the foods we eat daily has become nonexistent since there are no longer enough bees to naturally pollinate the plants’ flowers. Semi-trucks criss-crossing the country hauling rentable beehives is now commonplace in our country.

Pollinator Problems in Our Nation

There’s a complex problem with our nation’s farming methods, not to mention the added carbon footprint involved in trucking the bees.

Much of our vast farmland acreage, the “breadbasket” of our country’s Midwest, is cultivated as a “monoculture.” What that means is that, primarily, corn and soybeans dominate the farmscape for miles and miles. A few decades ago, it became important to our large scale farmers to simplify their cultivation methods, which involves heavy tilling, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Weeds, cover crops, and areas of untilled soil inevitably interfere with and add work to farming of neatly kept, row upon row of corn and soybeans. Simplification of large farm operations, both in terms of expense and practicality, has exacted a high price.

Vast expanses of our country’s soil have become dead, in a sense. Monoculture farming and over-tilling of the soil has left thousands of acres with insufficient nutrients. Worms, insects and pollinators that once actively thrived in these vast areas are no longer attracted to the nutrient-poor environment. Bees are dying by the thousands due to chemical exposure and opportunistic mites. While simpler for the farmers, these methods have ravaged the formerly rich environment enjoyed by bees.

Fortunately, many farmers are starting to incorporate more sustainable practices, and the changes are beginning to show. But is it enough, and will it be soon enough?

What We Can Do for the Decline of Bees

Bee decline impacts us all. And while Peter Nelson is an astute documentarian, he is also an optimist. As a long-time beekeeper with a keenly heightened insight into the pollination process, he feels the problems are scalable. Peter Nelson is certain that, as individual gardeners and consumers, we can have an enormous effect on encouraging and generating a return of the pollinator population.

Like me, you may be wondering what one individual can do to help bring about change.

As a gardener you can:

  • Rotate and vary your garden crops each season. Learn about sustainable gardening.
  • Set aside no-till areas in your yard where the soil won’t be disturbed. Seeding cover plants like rye or vetch and adding manure and compost will allow these areas to grow, die and regrow, feeding the soil and attracting hungry pollinators.
  • Plant lots of blooming shrubs, trees, herbs and flowers in your yards, planters and window boxes.
  • Don’t make your lawn a monoculture. Allow dandelions, clover and other seeds to grow. Adopt a new respect for a diversified lawn.
  • Plant flowers in your yards, window boxes, planters and neighborhood sidewalks.
  • If you have the space and means, maintain a beehive.
  • Show your children and grandchildren the miracle of growing vegetables from a small seed, and teach them about where their food comes from. Some kids assume food is magically produced at the grocery store, wrapped in plastic.

Peter Nelson comments, “The reality is that most of us are 3-4 generations away from the farm; so many of us have lost the idea of where our food comes from and who grows it.

As a consumer you can:

  • Eat seasonally – buy and eat what’s naturally available during each season of the year. For example, avoid buying fresh raspberries in the dead of winter if you live in a cold-climate state.
  • Buy regionally grown food – shop at farmer’s markets and try to eat what’s grown within 50 to 100 miles of your home. Talk to your grocers about obtaining locally grown produce.
  • Encourage your supermarkets to offer more organically grown food, and pay a few extra cents for it. It’s worth it in so many ways.

As a citizen you can:

  • Talk to your local garden clubs, community centers bio-parks and municipal organizations about booking The Pollinators for a public screening at local theaters, universities, libraries and other public venues. Use the film as an organizing element for events like tastings and panel discussions.
  • Encourage your city and county planners to plant for pollinators in public parks, median strips and municipal properties.
  • Work toward a no-spray policy on public grounds, with local government agencies and highway departments. Counties can and do place bans on chemical spraying.
  • Maybe you live in a state that already has or plans to pass legislation for pollinator protection. Encourage your state and county representatives to become educated about the issues.
  • If your local schools are lucky enough to have a school gardening program, be sure your teachers are aware of sustainable methods, and that our children are learning how to treat the earth with respect.
  • Knowledge and good habits all start when we’re young. If your local schools don’t have gardening programs, look into assisting them with grants and volunteer labor.

These practices can have a positive impact, not only for bees and honeybees, but for the many thousands of pollinator species. Let’s hope we have enough time and enough passion to turn things around for our priceless pollinator populations. Their importance to life on our planet is immeasurable. We each need to do what we can individually, if only simply to educate our friends and families about the issues, and we need to make it happen soon.

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  • Wendy cook
    Comment added August 14, 2021Reply

    How can I get a backyard bees house how to start? Please

  • Chris FitzGerald
    Comment added August 14, 2021Reply
  • Old Guy
    Comment added August 14, 2021Reply

    You totally skipped over a MAJOR problem for honey bees. It is called "neonicotineoids" which is a chemical put in insecticides. It has been banned in Europe for years. However, in the US of A the chemical corporations like Bayer have lobbyists in the EPA who control the decisions made about what is banned and most importantly what ISN'T banned. Studies to determine how dangerous neonicotineoids are to honeybees were performed in labs that received grants from Bayer Chemical Corporation. It wasn't a surprise when they found it not to be a threat to honeybees. The EPA sold out to the highest bidder. It's ALL about money and nobody goes to prison for corruption at that level.

    • 50+year farmer
      Comment added August 17, 2021Reply

      right on the spot, but dont forget the colleges, they recieve grants from the agro giants, and phds spew this misinformation too. i attended bee college a few years back, when i asked about nico she went ballistic, had a melt down. bayer is not allowed to sell that crap in their own country...

  • Merchan's Landscaping
    Comment added August 4, 2021Reply

    Excellent concept One of the best things about having a tiny yard is how much easier it is to avoid having to mow the lawn. However, having a few superb groundcovers is still required.

  • Merchan's Landscaping
    Comment added August 4, 2021Reply

    Great Idea Work with local government agencies and highway departments to develop a no-spray policy on public grounds. Chemical spraying restrictions can and do exist in counties.

  • Dan Rowley
    Comment added April 20, 2021Reply

    We encourage foster carers https://simplyfostering to lobby their supermarkets to offer more organically grown food which in turn educates and encourages their foster children to be more aware.

  • Cat Smith
    Comment added February 5, 2021Reply

    Love your emails and Love. I know this will be considered a stupid question by a lot of people but I am learning and trying. I live in edgefield sc we are still having cold nights it I have a small greenhouse. Is it ok to start my seeds. I have put a heater in it and blocked off the top so I can keep the heat down lower. Also we have six riverfront reAlly want the honey as much as the bees didn't know that there are pollinated. Ees versus honeybees will try to track these down . Have rebooking azaleas. Also several large,flowers gardens. Thank you and blessings

  • Laryssa
    Comment added October 30, 2020Reply

    This is a great article! I'm glad you mentioned to leave areas alone. This is important so you don't disturb the ground nesting bees. When planting flowers for bees, it's most important to plant the early Spring and late Fall bloomers. This is when bees are desperately searching for food, but there's not much available. And of course there's bee hotels. We have a really easy one you can make with kids at our blog > https://www.beekeepingmadesimple.com/blog/making-a-bee-hotel-for-solitary-bees

  • Trudy
    Comment added August 29, 2020Reply

    Th a for sharing this information.

  • Stan V Griep
    Comment added August 29, 2020Reply

    Excellent article! Saving our Bee Friends is so important!!

  • Peggy Aaron
    Comment added August 22, 2020Reply

    Unknown to me, I am doing things right with the pollinators. I grow lots of flowers as I pick the seeds for next years flowers so it cost me nothing after the first year. My yard gets lots of compliments as I also let flowering weeds and other native plants thrive in my landscape. We are in a drought so I have to water a lot to keep my property healthy, but I have lots of butterflies, praying mantis, bees, bumblebees, wasps, and some unknown species as well. I live on a hill south of our town and I encourage my neighbors to follow my examples. They plant plastic flowers, but do let the weeds grow.

  • Dianne Adams
    Comment added August 16, 2020Reply

    Wonderfully written and informative article. Thank you for striving to educate us all on the importance of our bee population.

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