When people learn that I keep bees, I am almost always asked the same two questions:
1) Do you wear the suit? (yes)
2) Have you ever been stung? (also yes - maybe 50 times or so)
Sometimes, I will get a follow-up third question about how they can help the bees. It's encouraging to know that people are not only aware of the plight of the bees (honeybees in particular), but that they want to help. There have been a few documentaries in recent years that have made this common knowledge, and there are several non-profits now dedicated to preserving this important resource (I like Pollinator Partnership).
From my personal experience, I can tell you that keeping bees is not easy. It can be disheartening when a hive absconds (leaves the hive to live elsewhere), when bees are killed by pesticides, or when there is a major weather event like flooding or even a wildfire. Colony Collapse Disorder and Varroa Mites (an invasive parasite) can threaten hives, as well as a host of other pests. Some years, we experience drought here in Central Texas and there simply isn't enough honey to harvest. People complain, but I'm not going to take what they need to survive.
So what can people do to help? Here are a few tips I've put together for those interested in helping to preserve the honeybee population in North America.
This blog post is a start, but there are lots of great resources out there on the importance of honeybees and other pollinators (I'm going to shout-out Pollinator Partnership again). There are places where you can take a beekeeping class or see bees in action in an observation hive. I think it's wonderful to teach children about honeybees because it takes the fear out of their limited understanding and replaces it with respect. I've been privileged to have many children out to my farm over the years to teach them about honeybees.
Also, please understand that not every flying insect is a bee. I cannot tell you how often I see people indiscriminately swatting at every random thing that buzzes near them. People. <insert face-palm emoji here> This is how you get stung. Honeybees are out looking for food, not trying to pick a fight with you. If you are being harassed by a flying insect, its probably a wasp. Leave the area, go inside, get away from food/drink, etc. And think about the scents that are on you such as perfume, shampoo, etc.
My vet used to always say, "If I get bitten by a dog, it's my own fault". I would agree with this statement for honeybees, as well. Just like other animals exhibit warning signs when they are aggressive, honeybees will act differently, as well. Their normally-low-pitched hum will become a loud buzzing, their flying will become more erratic, and in the case of a swarm of bees, you can even smell their alarm pheromone being released (I think it smells like bananas).
If a bee lands on the lid of your Dr. Pepper, instead of panicking, observe. If you sit still and quiet, the bee will most likely have a sip, then leave.
If you happen to have a swarm on your property or at your place of business, call a beekeeper - not an exterminator. Either way, the bees will be removed, and you will know that you were able to help, not harm, these creatures.
Food and Drink
In my last post on making a welcoming place for pollinators, I talked about how to make your home a friendly habitat for all pollinating species. Honeybees in particular, are going to be drawn to many native blooming species. There are lots of resources available in a simple internet search if you are looking for native plants that attract honeybees, but there is another way, as well.
Visit a local nursery and walk around and observe. You will notice which plants are attracting bees and which ones aren't. And you do want to look for honeybees, in particular. Just because a plant is being visited by a butterfly or hummingbird, doesn't mean it will be attractive to bees.
Water is also very important. A shallow dish or pot saucer with pebbles and water will attract bees and help to sustain and keep them healthy. Creating a "bee watering hole", so to speak, is a great way to get kids involved and will allow them to observe bees up close.
You can also donate to the many non-profits and educational agencies that help preserve the honeybee. June 17th-23rd is World Pollinator Week and World Honeybee Day is always the third Saturday in August. These special events are a great time to donate, fundraise, share a social media post, or simply talk about the important role honeybees play in our lives.
Take the time to learn and ask questions about your city, employer, or school district's policy for pesticide use and on dealing with honeybee swarms. If it's not bee-friendly, advocate for change.
Supporting your local beekeepers is important, too. Buy local honey and items made from beeswax. These people are doing the work in your neighborhood to keep our food supply healthy. Talk to them and ask how you can support their work - sometimes just sharing their information with others can be a huge help.
Remembering that honeybees are a vital part of our ecosystem and sharing that with others can help to preserve our landscape and food supply. Every link in the chain is important. Sharing this post can be a start!