By Christy Erickson and Jana Jones
Think about your last meal. What did you eat? If you ate a balanced meal with vegetables, fruits, and even some meat, you should take a moment and thank a bee. Bees are among nature’s best pollinators and much of our food production system depends on their hardworking nature. Without them, the world would look very different (and probably a lot worse). Here’s why bees are so important and what you can do to help them.
Pollination occurs when the pollen from the anther (male part) is transferred to the stigma (female part) in plants of the same species. The wind, bats, insects, birds, and other animals aid this process. Bees, however, are the most perfect pollinator and account for the majority of food crop pollination around the globe.
Bees are thought to pollinate around 70 of the top 100 crops. Not only that, but bees help to pollinate foods that grazing livestock eat like clover, so at least some part of your dairy and meat consumption can be directly linked to bees. About one out of every three bites of food you eat has been pollinated by a bee.
And we haven’t even mentioned all the delicious honey produced by honeybees…Now that you understand the massive importance of bees, what can you do to help? Bees are facing tough times over the past couple of decades, as food shortages, climate change, habitat destruction, and industrial pesticide use has shrunk populations around the world. There are things you can do right now to help both local bee populations and those working to pollinate your food around the world.
First, try to buy organic when at all possible. According to a study published in USNewswire entitled “The Role of Organic in Supporting Pollinator Health,” organic farming not only helps to reduce risk to bee populations but actually helps to increase them as well. The main reason is that organic farming exposes bees to fewer if often no toxic pesticides, which is one of the leading causes of bee decline. Organic farming practices also impact bees’ habitats less. By buying organic, you are supporting farming techniques that help protect bees. Buy local honey. For many of the same reasons that organic farming is good for bees, local, smaller apiaries practice techniques that are better for bee populations. Consuming local honey has been known to help with pollen-induced allergies. When you eat honey that is produced in the region that you live, you ingest small amounts of pollen, which then acts as a homeopathic remedy by desensitizing your system to that allergy.
Finally, you should consider creating a bee-friendly garden in your own backyard. You don’t even have to have a lot of space. Clustering flowers together is better for bees than spreading them out, so growing in an urban environment with planters, window boxes, and stacked gardens is just fine. When planting a bee garden, do your research to see what kinds of plants bees prefer. Bees love fragrant, colorful flowers (purple, blue, white, and yellow the most) and while honeybees aren’t that picky, native bees love native flowers. Here is a list of flowers that bees love to get you started – Crocus, hyacinth, borage, calendula, lilac, clover, mint, sunflowers, bee balm, cosmos, echinacea, snapdragons foxglove, hostas, zinnias, sedum, asters, and the daisy family. When building that garden, make sure to involve your kids. Not only is it a great way to get them out in nature, but by teaching them about bee gardening at an early age you can instill a sense of responsibility for the health of bees in them. We as a society need our future generations to carry the torch to help save these vital animals. Bees may not simply be one of the most important animals on the planet, they might just be one of the most important things in general. It’s not alarmist to say that the bees are in trouble, and anything you can do at home to help protect their populations will be a boost to the environment at a local and a global level.
September is when beekeepers start collecting honey from their hives. We should start seeing more honey offered at the Johnson County Farmers Market soon. But they have limited quantities, so make sure to stock up on your local honey for the year!
The JCFM is located at the county courthouse parking lot across from the post office in downtown Mountain City. Open every Saturday from 9 til noon from May through October. We accept SNAP/EBT and currently have a program that doubles the dollars for fresh fruits and vegetables for our EBT customers. Follow us on Facebook to keep abreast of new items offered each week. Or visit us online at JohnsonCountyFM.org. We welcome all to come enjoy live music, kids’ activities, sample recipes and all of the great items offered by our terrific farmers and vendors at every market!
Our guest author, Christy Erickson, is an amateur beekeeper, backyard gardener, and educator. More information can be found at her website savingourbees.org.