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.
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.