Will More Flowers Help Bees?

Colony collapse disorder (CCD) has been noted in beehives worldwide since 2006. In this disorder, the bees don’t simply die and fall out of the hives onto the ground. The entire colony disappears.

Thirty percent of all bees are lost each year nowadays; losses used to stay around 15 percent.

People are beginning to talk of a pollination crisis. In China, according to Heifer International’s magazine World Ark, farm workers pollinate apple and pear flowers by hand because most of the bees in those orchards have been wiped out.

Why are bees disappearing? Nobody really knows yet. But scientists think that CCD results from a number of factors growing stronger at once, such as the increase in factory farming, which means that smaller farms (typically more diverse) are folded into larger acreage that typically grows one crop. There are still flowers for bees to pollinate on those farms, but not as great a variety. Thus factory farms do not support as great a variety of bee species.

Another factor is pesticides. They kill insects that destroy crops, but they also kill beneficial insects as well.

Here’s where you come in. There are 2 things you can do: (1) Reduce your use of chemical pesticides and herbicides and fertilizers. All three can kill beneficial insects. Instead, try companion planting, natural insect and weed killers, and good old-fashioned weed pulling and bug plucking. (2) Plant a variety of grasses and flowers and even vegetables. (Broccoli, for example, has large clusters of yellow flowers that bees love. You can plant some in the back of your bed and let it flower.) That encourages a greater variety of insects and provides them with a better diet.

A third factor is that there are about half as many bee colonies as before World War II, but the acreage planted in the United States has doubled.

How Is This Restoration?

Planting natives, even one or two plants, is always good. Just as our mom-and-pop stores have been pushed out by chains, so diverse native landscapes have been bulldozed and replaced by lilac and zinnia and petunia and so on. I would love to see Americans turn all their yards into native plant havens, but I’m willing to settle for a little bed  in each yard. (Everybody got that?)

Also, trying to recreate a native landscape, as I did in a small corner of my yard, is a lot of work. I’m not sure it will ever be a viable restoration strategy for our patchwork of lawns. It would work only if we took out all our privacy fences and turned the larger areas between our houses into common areas and then planted them with native grasses and flowers. Do you see that happening anytime soon on a large scale? No, I don’t either.

On a larger scale, the last U.S. Farm Bill supposedly had incentives for farmers to turn small areas of their farms into pollinator-friendly areas. And the Xerces Society has developed a program “to teach farmers how to incorporate patches of bee and butterfly habitat into cropland and the surrounding areas.”

Source: “Beauty and the Bees,” by Sarah Schmidt, World Ark, Summer 2010