Counting the Bees

 honey bee apis mellifera on eranthus

Their backs turned to us: no problem. Our backs turned to them: catastrophe!

At this point, most people are at least dimly aware that it ain’t about the honey. Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are essential to the commercial production of most fruits and vegetables and those bees are in deep, deep trouble.

Being a locavore helps, especially if the locality is your own back yard, but staying away from agribusiness produce isn’t going to fix the problem. Even crops grown on small farms and in gardens need pollinators, and in many respects the woes of (non-native) honeybees are also the woes of native bees (there are scores of species) and other native pollen transporters.

What to do?

Planting bee-friendly plants helps. Eschewing strong pesticides, both chemical and organic, is equally or more important. It never hurts to spread the word; there are still many conservation-minded people who have no interest in bugs and (who could believe it?) don’t care about food.

And you can always get out there and count.

The folks at The Great Sunflower Project have teamed up with those at Your Garden Show (see button at right) to make July 16th another banner day for citizen science. People all over the country are invited to count how many bees they see in 15 minutes.

It’s scientific enough so they want everyone observing a prescribed asssortment of plants, including sunflowers -  specifically the cultivar ‘Lemon Queen’  – which you may or may not feel up to finding. Many of them are popular and common, so it isn’t really all that hard to find a few, even if you don’t grown them yourself.

But even if all you do is tune in, there’s plenty to enjoy and share, including a searchable map that shows how many bees got counted in your zip code. This probably shows as much or more about populations of internet-happy conservationists and elementary school teachers as it does about populations of bees, yet that too could be useful information, especially if you’re a gardener with young children and are considering a move.

Lots of nifty, somewhat more sophisticated additional information can be found at Urban Bee Gardens, compiled at U.C. Berkeley. Although it’s aimed at Californians, almost everything on it, including bee descriptions and plant lists, works fine all over the country.

Got bears as well as bees? We do. Here’s how Bill protects our hives.

Want to skip directly to eating? Bake some easy Honey Bars with Walnuts.

Photo by Bill Bakaitis

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1 Comment »

  • Tatiana Said,

    I have yet to plant anything specific to honey bees, but I’ll check out the list as I’d love to help out. I do find lots of them seem to love my self-seeded and welcome Alaskan fireweed though.

    Hi Tatiana,
    My guess is you already have a lot of plants that honeybees love, but the lists are fun to read and I find it fascinating that the bees prefer specific cultivars. Who knew?

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