pollinators

If You Like Apple Pie… Save The Bees!

By Sion Lee

I love honey. I put it on my pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, yogurt, salad dressings and marinades. Honey is nature’s sweet liquid gold. As a guilty lover of sweet, processed foods, I am routinely amazed at how delicious and natural honey is. All bees scare me, but I sincerely respect the honeybee for producing such delicious bee vomit. (Surprise! Honey is, in a sense, bee vomit.)

Interestingly enough, honey bees are not just for honey. In fact, the most important role of the honeybee is its role as a pollinator. Animals or insects that transfer pollen from plant to plant are pollinators. Some plants are self-pollinating, which means they can fertilize themselves. Others, however, are cross-pollinating plants, which need a pollinator (or the wind) to transfer the pollen to another flower in order to fertilize. Once a plant is fertilized, it can grow seeds or fruit. This is how many of the world’s crops are grown. Almonds, apples, cherries, citrus, avocados, broccoli and pumpkins are common examples of foods that need pollinators.

Source: Whole Foods Market

Source: Whole Foods Market

Without honeybees, one third of the world’s food supply would disappear. In 2013, Whole Foods released a hypothetical before-and-after picture of a world with and without bees. As stated on their site, their produce team “pulled from shelves 237 of 453 products- 52 percent of the normal product mix in the department.” It’s really a disheartening thought. My favorite substance in the world, guacamole, would not exist. Apple pies wouldn’t be an apple pie. Almond butter would be unheard of. There would be nothing good left in the world.

Unfortunately, the population count of honeybees is rapidly declining. One problem that has been drastically influencing the decline of honeybees is Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Colony Collapse Disorder is the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen. In 2006, beekeepers began to report unusually high losses of 30-90 percent of their hives. While the cause of CCD has not yet been determined, many experts are pointing their fingers to habitat loss, pesticide use, and invasive species that are pests for honeybees. Of course, CCD is not the only reason why the honeybee population is dwindling; habitat loss and pesticide use are both very straightforward and valid reasons as to why these pollinators are perishing.

So how can we save the honeybees? First, learn. You can find more information about protecting pollinators here. Second, support your local beekeeper. Not all heroes wear capes- instead, some wear netted veil hats and thick rubber gloves. Your local beekeeper is nurturing and protecting these precious pollinators that are so vital to agriculture. Many local beekeepers will probably be selling bee products- honey, royal jelly, propolis, beeswax, and/or beauty products made from these components. (Personally, my local beekeeper does it all. She sells honey, honey sticks, lotions, lip balms, shampoos, soaps, and beauty creams.) Support your local beekeeper by supporting their business or support them just by lending them a hand. Beekeeping is hard work and is a job that gets nowhere near the amount of recognition it deserves.

You can also take small, individual actions to make a difference.  Bee careful with where and when you are applying pesticides (that is if pesticides are needed). Do not apply pesticides where bees are likely to be flying and try to apply them during the early evening when the bees are inactive so the pesticides can dry overnight. In addition, you can plant flowers that are pollinator-friendly. Milkweed, geraniums, lilies, roses, sunflowers and violets are all beautiful flowers that attract pollinators. If you do not have a large space in your home, even just having a potted pollinator-friendly plant outside can make a difference.

Now, let’s save the bees!

About the Author: Sion (pronounced see-on) is an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan. She is an intern in the EPA Region 2 Public Affairs Division. She is a native of Queens. Sion’s favorite hobbies include eating, listening to Stevie Wonder, and breaking stereotypes.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Celebrating National Pollinator Week: Is Beekeeping for Me?

By Catherine Wooster-Brown

Catherine Wooster-BrownThere’s nothing better than sweet golden honey drizzled onto your yogurt, ice cream, or fluffy biscuit. What if you could have a constant supply of honey right in your own backyard, produced by your very own honey bees?

As of 2014, there were about 125,000 backyard beekeepers in the U.S. Each city has its own zoning ordinance for honey bee hives. And there is always a local beekeeping group nearby.

Of course, there are plenty of backyard beekeepers in the Heartland, so the Big Blue Thread (BBT) decided to highlight five of our beekeeping cohorts here at EPA Region 7 during National Pollinator Week, June 20-26.

Jamie Green, Toxics and Pesticides Chief

BBT: Why did you decide to keep bees?

Green: I was preparing to attend a forum several years ago on pollinators, and as beekeepers would be participating, I decided to do some general reading on beekeeping in order to better understand some of the issues or concerns I might hear. The more I read, the more I found them to be pretty interesting insects and decided that, to learn more, I probably would need to do it myself. I thought I would do it for a couple of years and move on to something else, but I’m still learning and found I enjoy working the bees.

Honey bee pollinating flower

Honey bee pollinating flower

BBT: What do you enjoy the most about beekeeping?

Green: There are a lot of different things I find enjoyable about beekeeping, so it’s a little difficult to narrow the list to a few. I enjoy working and observing the bees. I keep my hives at an acreage not far from home, but far enough that it gets me out of town for a little while. It’s a little bit like gardening, in that you work to help keep the hive healthy and thriving, and then once a year you get the opportunity to enjoy the harvest of a little of the extra honey the bees produce. I also enjoy sharing the honey with others. I try to give some to the family that is gracious enough to let me keep my hive on their acreage, and also to others in my family.

BBT: What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about beekeeping?

Green: Take a class. There are plenty offered by beekeeping associations and community colleges. Read a lot and connect with at least someone that is experienced and can coach you along the way. In the few years I’ve been doing it, I’ve learned it’s not as easy as just putting some bees in a box and forgetting about them until harvest, so having someone you can bounce questions off is helpful.

BBT: Do you have a favorite food to drizzle honey on?

Green: Honey is good on everything!

Kathleen Fenton, Public Affairs

BBT: Why did you decide to keep bees?

Fenton: We wanted to keep bees to bolster the honey bee population and to help better pollinate our fruit tree orchard.

BBT: What do you enjoy the most about beekeeping?

Fenton: What I enjoy about beekeeping is that it’s a never-ending educational program – learning their processes, their behavior (swarming, health, honey production, pests), and truly teaching others who are interested in the topic. We have loved sharing what we’ve learned over the years.

BBT: What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about beekeeping?

Fenton: Don’t be afraid to ask for help from other beekeepers and just do it! It is fun and relatively easy, and it’s a terrific hobby. I mean, really, one of the end results is HONEY!

BBT: Do you have a favorite food to drizzle honey on?

Fenton: Honey drizzled on grilled Brussel sprouts – and one of the special things we do with our honey is give most of it away as our Christmas gifts to family. It’s a big hit!

John Dunn, Wastewater and Infrastructure Management

BBT: Why did you decide to keep bees?

Dunn: I was curious about keeping bees, so I attended a local beekeeping meeting and I said to myself, “I could do this!” Bees are so smart.

Beekeepers at work

Beekeepers at work

BBT: What do you enjoy the most about beekeeping?

Dunn: It is a real learning curve and I am constantly amazed. Don’t like the stinging so much.

BBT: What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about beekeeping?

Dunn: Lots to learn, hang out with bee people. By its very nature, beekeeping requires some learning and patience. Bee people have these qualities and it makes for a good crowd.

BBT: Do you have a favorite food to drizzle honey on?

Dunn: I eat most of my honey off my left index finger. A little dab will do ya!

Aaron F. Casady, Environmental Science and Technology

BBT: Why did you decide to keep bees?

Casady: Growing up, I helped my beekeeper uncle harvest honey and the experience stuck with me. After I moved to Kansas City and started full-time office work, I looked for hobbies that would help me to stay connected to the outdoors and to explore my interests in agriculture. Beekeeping was a perfect fit.

BBT: What do you enjoy the most about beekeeping?

Casady: Just watching the bees come and go from the hive and observing them work. It amazes me that every time I open a hive, they don’t even stop to look up (that is, if I do it right). They just keep on working! They accomplish so much for being so tiny.

BBT: What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about beekeeping?

Casady: Beekeeping can be a difficult (and expensive) hobby. Find someone to shadow for a year before you decide to get your own hives. Then when you do have your own hives, don’t be afraid to treat them for pests and disease when necessary.

BBT: Do you have a favorite food to drizzle honey on?

Casady: Vanilla ice cream is my favorite food to pour honey on!

Catherine Wooster-Brown, Environmental Data and Assessment

BBT: Why did you decide to keep bees?

Wooster-Brown: My husband, Rick, and I love to garden. We love to work on our own gardens and travel to places to see other gardens. Gardening and bees is a natural fusion. A few years ago, Rick said to me that he would like to put a beehive in our garden and I thought, “What a cool idea!” So for his February birthday, I bought him an unfinished Langstroth beehive that we had to put together, frames and all, and  then painted the outside. It was a fun project to work on together during the winter, and then we picked up our first package of bees in April and installed them into our finished hive. It was just like getting a new pet!

Healthy honey bee frame covered with bees and capped honey cells

Close-up of healthy honey bee frame covered with bees and capped honey cells

BBT: What do you enjoy the most about beekeeping?

Wooster-Brown: As my beekeeping cohorts mentioned above, watching bees come and go from the hive, their little pollen sacs all filled up, makes you feel like everything is right with the world. Honey bees are a superorganism, which is an organized society of individuals that functions as an organic whole. They are fascinating to observe. Did you know that honey bees are able to keep the hive temperature consistent (around 95°F) in both summer and winter by moving their wings in unison? OK, so I’m easily fascinated!

BBT: What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about beekeeping?

Wooster-Brown: You can hire an experienced beekeeper, as a mentor, to help you get started. That is worth its weight in gold, because when there’s a problem – and there will be – a beginner or intermediate beekeeper may not recognize the problem as quickly as an experienced beekeeper. You do have to catch some problems right away or your bees could swarm (leave the hive) or they could decline to the point of no return.

BBT: Do you have a favorite food to drizzle honey on?

Wooster-Brown: My favorite honey drizzle is on a fluffy biscuit. But Kathleen’s idea of honey on grilled Brussel sprouts sounds yummy!

About the Author: Catherine Wooster-Brown serves as an ecological risk assessor at EPA Region 7 and a member of the Region 7 Pollinator Workgroup. Catherine has a degree in environmental science and policy from the University of Maine, and studied aquatic biology and macroinvertebrate taxonomy in graduate school at Missouri State University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Celebrating National Pollinator Week: Choose Native Plants

By Gayle Hubert

I discovered a few years ago that I’m a sixth generation resident of Platte County, Mo. I was living in a house unknowingly within five miles of where my third and second great-grandfathers are buried. It’s funny how we end up going back to our roots. My family’s roots grow best on our native land. So it is with my native plants.

As I was digging one day in my yard in Parkville, I marveled at the plant I was putting into the ground, back into the native Missouri soil it loves so well. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than putting these plants back home where they belong. My plants get their strength from the tan clays of the Midwest.

National Pollinator Week is June 15-21, and I felt compelled to write about one of my greatest passions: native plants. This week was designated to build awareness of the declining pollinator populations in the hope that we’ll begin to choose native plants for our landscapes, as one of many things we can do to help pollinators.

Why pollinators are important

Clockwise from lower right: Indian Pink, Wild Hairy Petunia, Caterpillar, American Beautyberry, Tiger Swallowtail on Purple Coneflower (center)

Clockwise from lower right: Indian Pink, Wild Hairy Petunia, Caterpillar, American Beautyberry, Tiger Swallowtail on Purple Coneflower (center)

Our choice of plants is even more important considering the connection they have to pollinators and to our food supply. Pollinators are responsible for one third of the food we eat, and for pollinating the plants that supply us with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients like antioxidants found in tea, fruit, and vegetables. Pollinators are also responsible for the meat and dairy we eat, because those animals eat the alfalfa, clover, and other plants pollinated by bees and other pollinators.

Many pollinator populations are declining, and one reason is that the number and variety of native plants they evolved with are declining too. Pollinators grow up with native plants, use them for food and shelter, and they often prefer only natives. Some non-native varieties are less hardy and have been genetically altered so much that bees and other pollinators can’t find the pollen because they no longer recognize the structure.

Not only do native plants provide nutrients and homes to pollinators, they also help the environment by thriving without adding expensive fertilizers, chemicals, or sprinkler systems. I believe they are some of the hardiest living things on earth.

The advantages of going native

Gayle’s first native garden in its third year, with her son Nate

Gayle’s first native garden in its third year, with her son Nate

I’ve witnessed their amazing powers to return to full bloom after being mowed down by mistake, eaten by deer and rabbits, and dug up by dogs. They’ve withstood drought, killing frosts, subzero cold, and scorching heat. They wait patiently until floodwaters disappear and stand tall downstream of a raging current. They can be trampled, transplanted, pummeled by hail and still thrive in some of the driest, hardest, and most compact soils on this planet – the clay soil of the Heartland. Their strength is in their roots.

I started gardening with natives at our first home in a corner of the backyard that I had no idea what to do with. The plot sat for a couple of years until I attended an event at a local nursery, where I bought my first native flower seed that began my garden. I was hooked on natives from that day on.

Gayle’s current native garden

Gayle’s current native garden

I was in awe of every bloom because I’d never seen these plants before. Each one had its own unique character and beauty. And then, to my astonishment, came dozens of butterflies, along with hummingbirds, Goldfinches, Cedar Waxwings, Indigo Buntings, and many more winged visitors. Native plants will lure critters you never knew existed.

Ten years later, we moved to a new home that was a challenge because of the strict covenants and neighbors’ preferences to manicured green lawns. However, I wanted to share my knowledge and designed my native flower beds in areas where the grass doesn’t grow. I even incorporated non-natives into the scheme.

It’s been 12 years since I installed that garden. To my amazement, I still get plenty of compliments about my native garden from passers-by. I‘m constantly adding and moving things around, but isn’t that what gardening is all about?

Create your own natural, native garden

I encourage you to incorporate a few native plant species into your own landscape. You can delight in the same wonderful blooms, joy, and diversity these plants have given me, and at the same time, give the pollinators the plants they grew up with. And if you don’t own land, you can still grow them in pots and give them to friends and family to place in their landscapes.

There are many native plant varieties that substitute nicely for the familiar non-natives we see every day, and will offer more value to you and the ecosystem. For example, Serviceberry or Dogwoods will swap for the Bradford Pears, and besides spring blooms, they display additional fall color and are less susceptible to ice damage. Golden Currant can replace your Forsythia, with thousands of yellow blooms and a wonderful clove fragrance! Not only that, it blooms in March when little else does.

Tuck a few new native plants here and there among existing non-natives, like I’ve done. You can use prepared garden designs or design your own hummingbird garden, Monarch waystation, or pollinator garden. Have fun with it!

Choose a native plant as a substitute for a non-native. They’re good for pollinators, the environment, and your wallet!

Helpful links:

About the Author: Gayle Hubert serves as an Environmental Scientist with EPA Region 7’s Air and Waste Management Division. She is currently assigned to the Waste Enforcement and Materials Management Program. Gayle received her bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Missouri.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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EPA Researchers in Duluth Profiled by White House for Protecting Honey Bee Habitat

By Lek Kadeli

About 10 years ago, EPA’s Research Laboratory in Duluth, Minnesota, turned 1.9 acres of manicured lawn back into native prairie, seeded with native grasses and wildflowers. This lab, recognized across the scientific community, centers its research on the effects of pollution and chemical exposures on the environment – particularly aquatic ecosystems, fish and wildlife.

The results of restoring the prairie have been inspiring. The lab saves $3,500 in maintenance costs every year, and EPA staff get to see butterflies, birds and spring and summer blooms that brighten their workdays. Instead of the periodic roar of lawnmowers, they can stroll the grounds during their breaks in quiet solitude, maybe even catching an occasional glimpse of deer, fox and other wildlife.

These 1.9 acres of prairie have also provided an important place for bees and other pollinators to thrive – and this relationship between the pollinators flying about and the habitat of native plants recently caught the attention of the White House. EPA’s Duluth Lab was highlighted in the recently-released White House document, Supporting the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. The document supports President Obama’s memorandum recognizing the critical role pollinators play in food production and our economy.

Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to the nation’s agricultural crops each year, but populations of honey bees and other pollinators have declined over the past 50 years. EPA has taken a number of actions to protect pollinators – and there’s more to come.

There will be two listening sessions in the Washington, DC metro area, on November 12th and November 17th, where people can provide input into a federal strategy to be developed by the National Pollinator Health Task Force. The task force is co-chaired by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

Key parts of the strategy will include a research action plan, public-private partnerships, public education about the importance of a healthy environment that includes pollinators, and ways to increase and improve pollinator habitat. Learn more about the listening sessions here.

The EPA has a vital part to play in protecting bees and other pollinators. Some lucky employees looking for inspiration for their work can get it just by stepping away from their desks for a stroll.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Pollinator Week Had My Mind Abuzz

By Isabella Bennett

Last month’s pollinator protection week (June 16-22) got my mind buzzing, thinking about popular attitudes toward bees and other pollinators. Sadly, too many people fear, rather than appreciate, our busy little friends. Let me give you an example.

One spring afternoon, my friends and I were sitting outside our campus coffee shop talking about the latest bio exam when a big ol’ bee came buzzing around. When the bee flew just a bit too close to my friend’s nose, she leapt from her chair, grabbed her purse, and began frantically swatting and shrieking.  Needless to say, everyone nearby enjoyed the show. I couldn’t stop giggling as I led her back to her seat, allowing the bee to continue on her way. That day, I witnessed one pollinator in particular need of some protection!

My friend and many others fail to realize that many pollinators are pivotal to our environment and our national economy, and they need our protection.

Each year, pollinator week marks a time when we all should spread awareness and educate friends, family, and ourselves about the importance of pollinators – bees, butterflies, beetles, birds, bats, and others.  For example, they currently pollinate about one-third of the food we eat. Moreover, they’re accountable for 75% of all flowering plants! Recently, there have been declines in pollinator health because of habitat loss, disease, and pesticides. That’s why now is the time to bring as much awareness to the issue as possible.

There are steps you can take right now to help our pollinators. One of their main challenges is habitat loss; by planting native flowering plants, shrubs, and trees in our backyards, gardens and schools, you can create perfect rest stops and pollen refueling stations.  Another step you can take is reducing pesticide use, especially trying integrated pest management. If you do need to use a pesticide, pay particular attention to label directions; they explain how to safely use it and ultimately protect our pollinators and our environment.

Take a moment sometime this week to appreciate what pollinators do for you and consider what you could be doing for them.  I know I will.

About the author: Isabella Bennett is Environmental Business major at Texas A&M University.  She works as a summer intern in the Communications Services Branch in EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs. 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Control Mosquitos & Protect Bees – We Need to Do Both

Did you know that in 1906 more than 85% of Panama Canal workers were hospitalized with mosquito-borne yellow fever and malaria? That was an extreme public health crisis. But don’t we all know someone who has personally experienced the devastating impacts of Lyme disease or West Nile virus?

Slug on a soybean. Photo credit: Nick Sloff

Sometimes we need insecticides to control pests and prevent disease to protect our health. But sometimes these same insecticides can be hazardous to bees, which are essential for growing crops and ensuring a wholesome, healthy food supply.

How do we protect public health from the threat of mosquito-borne illnesses, and at the same time protect bees? How do we balance the need for pesticides to control pests that wreak havoc on our crops, and prevent unintended consequences to our health and environment?

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Pollinator Protection—Spreading the Word

Just as I finished mowing my lawn last month, a neighbor strolled over and commented on what appeared to be a half-done job. “Looks like you missed a few spots,” he commented wryly.

My neighbor is a retiree who mows his two-acre plot twice per week. Though he’s tolerant of weeds and other “imperfections,” its overall height is closely maintained; dandelion, clover, and other “weedy” blooms never last long. His comment about my lawn, while delivered with a smile, was also a friendly nudge—peer pressure, perhaps—to get me to comply with modern social norms regarding landscaping.

He wasn’t wrong about me missing a few spots. In fact, his comment was wonderfully understated. There are seemingly random patches in my lawn that I hadn’t mowed in weeks. But rather than firing up my mower and bringing my yard into monotonous harmony with everybody else, I shared my personal pollinator protection plan.

close-up image of a bee on a flowerI explained about the plight of pollinators, including the widely publicized issue known as Colony Collapse Disorder. I mentioned that honey bees are having a tough time, and noted that I don’t see as many of them now as I used to. My neighbor’s face lit up. Apparently, a few months ago he was talking to an amateur beekeeper friend, who commented that he’s down to only one hive now where he used to have five. “The fella said he doesn’t have any idea what’s happening to his bees,” my neighbor said, “but it’s interesting you should bring that up.”

I continued by observing that a lawn devoid of blooms is a barren desert to honey bees and other pollinators, which brought us back around to my somewhat unkempt yard. What looks like random patches of unmown lawn are actually thick patches of clover that I allow to bloom. I only mow them when the blooms fade and begin to transform into seeds. Doing so seems to bring on a new blush of fresh, white blossoms. I also pointed out that since I stopped mowing weekly, other wildflowers have sprung up, and the place is abuzz with various six-legged visitors.

Imagine my surprise when I noticed a sort of shagginess to parts of my neighbor’s formerly uniform lawn the following week! Not only was clover blooming in patches, my neighbor had even one-upped me by planting a half-dozen flowering trees!

Now, if only I could figure out how to get him to apply that friendly peer pressure on our other neighbors in favor of this bee-friendly approach, this could be the start of something big!

For additional environmentally-focused lawn care tips, see http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/controlling/garden.htm.

About the Author: Quentin Borges-Silva works in communications for EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs and is a member of the Agency’s Pollinator Protection Team. He’s also the Bicycle Coordinator for the Pesticide Program, helping co-workers “protect human health and the environment” by biking to work.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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