Friday, June 7, 2013

Helping Bees {Without Becoming a Beekeeper}

So maybe you appreciate honey bees but not quite enough to commit to becoming a beekeeper.  Or, maybe you'd love to have bees but conditions aren't aligned for you to make the leap right now.

Either way, you can still do SO much to help honey bees right now.  Here are three ways you can help the honey bees where you live:

1) Don't use sprays (anything with -cides at the end of the word) that can harm bees.  If you do use sprays on your property, search online to see if they are deemed safe for honey bees by the bee experts (pesticide manufacturers may not always be the best advocates).  While some sprays won't kill bees outright (and are therefore deemed "safe"), trace amounts of those chemicals are fed to baby bees through the pollen and nectar the bees take from those plants. The effects of low-level long term exposure are not listed on the products' labels and may be quite harmful to bees.

2) Buy local honey.  Did you know that many store brands of honey aren't all honey?  Honey packagers are buying "honey" from other countries instead of from U.S. beekeepers because they're able to buy it at a much lower cost.  How do these other countries sell their honey for so much less?  Because it's not 100% honey- up to 40% can be corn or rice syrup, both of which are super cheap fillers (and ingredient labels do not have to reflect this!).  And! Some of this imported honey contains traces of heavy metals and illegal antibiotics. Read more about this scary occurrence here.  Meeting the actual beekeeper at your local farmer's market and purchasing their honey ensures you are getting what you want- honey.

When local bee keepers feel the demand for their honey, it will encourage them to start more hives, leading to more honey bees raised on a smaller-scale, lower-stress (on the bees) basis.  With the recent losses in honey bees, we need more beekeepers willing to keep more bees.

3) Plant for your neighborhood honey bees.  Here is an excellent list of familiar plants you can add to your garden and flower beds to give bees a wonderful variety of plants to take nectar and pollen from.  Or, do a search for your specific growing zone to see what the bees in your part of the country (or world) would benefit from.

4) Don't sweat the dandelions and clover in your lawn.  I have to admit, when we bought our very first house years ago in a development, I hated dandelions with a passion.  Our lawn looked weedy and messy between our neighbors' heavily treated (and dandelion-free) lawns, so we jumped on the weed and feed bandwagon and did our best to rid our lawn of those pesky flowers weeds.

Then we moved to the country and treating our much bigger lawn with weed and feed was going to be time consuming, expensive and we really didn't want that stuff near our gardens and fruit bushes (this should have been a clue that we shouldn't have been using them in first place).  Over time (and it didn't take long) I started to really appreciate and enjoy our yellow-speckled lawn each spring.  They're so pretty when I'm hungry for color after a long winter and don't even last that long into summer.  Clover gets a bad rap, too, but it adds a beautiful deep green to our lawn and it, too, is a feast for honey bees.

5) Maybe most importantly, learn about honey bees (and all pollinators) and the amazing creatures they are.  This has been my most favorite part of starting this beekeeping journey- appreciating the bees themselves and all they do.  This has increased my respect for them tremendously and their ability to do just fine on their own.  I'd rather they be the "keeper" in our relationship and try my hardest to let them show me instead me inflicting my bee "book smarts" (is there such a thing?) on them.  There are many books, websites and even DVDs (like NOVA: Bees - Tales From the Hive) available to get you started.

The honey bees will thank you by pollinating your flowers, fruit trees and vegetables and will make lovely honey you can then buy from local beekeepers and enjoy.

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  1. Jane - Have any of your children brought you a white clover blossom bouquet? Can't believe how sweet they smell! And I only found that out this year after wondering so many times as I looked around our yard - "what is that wonderful fragrance?" We finally picked a small bunch and were amazed. No wonder the bees love them so much. It's as though God put that fragrance there just for the enjoyment of His little creatures who fly or live close to the ground. God bless you and your family. Praying for you. - Esther in NJ

    1. Esther, I was just reminded of this the other day when Sadie discovered how good clover smells. She shoved her little bouquet under my nose and I swooned:-).

    2. So *that* is what smells so wonderful when I look around and can't see any blooms on the trees or bushes?? Wow. Good to know. Thanks!

  2. We've made it a point not to spray. I've not seen half the bee's we did even 2 years ago. I've added more flowers to the gardens each year to encourage their visits

  3. Thank you for such a helpful post! Keeping bees is a distant dream at this point, but I DO buy local honey and we don't spray any "cides" on anything. So I'm glad to know how I can help.

  4. I've been a locavore fo a few years now and have been buying local honey already for that reason, but recently I had an insane bee-swarming adventure in my back yard.

    I called the nearest beekeeper - turned out to be the same man I've been buying honey from already - and his guess was that it was a wild swarm that had become overcrowded, split, and was looking for a new home.

    Unfortunately, they did this while he was *at* the farmer's market, and by the time he called, they had already found a new place and left. But the whole exercise gave me a tremendous learning experience about the amazingness of bees.

    Afterwards I was contemplating colony collapse and thought about #2 on your list up there. I thought that at the least, if humans are directly involved in the care of bees, we will notice very quickly should colony collapse come to the area.

    I did *not* think, though, about how more honey purchases = more swarms kept. I've started trying to use just a little bit of honey every day, and I'll be sure to keep that up now.

    1. How exciting! I just saw my very first flying swarm two days ago and we're hoping it didn't come from one of our hives. I'm off to go check in a few minutes since the sun is finally out again. Enjoy that local honey:-).


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