Beekeepers are buzzing — even more than usual. That’s because the third Saturday in August marks National Honey Bee Day in the U.S. — a day to advance beekeeping, celebrate bees, and draw attention to not only the critical role these creatures play in our world but the escalating peril they face.
National Honey Bee Day, which dates back to 2010, came about after a band of beekeepers petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to recognize these marvelous insects formally. It was long overdue. Bees are some of the most important creatures on Earth — and not just because they make honey. Without bees, our planet would be a very different place.
Why are they in danger, and what can we do to protect them? Learning about their importance and the every day, eco-friendly changes we can make to help is the first step.
Without bees, no food
Bees not only make honey, but they help to pollinate plants. Without bees, many of the fruits and vegetables that we enjoy every day would not be able to grow. These hard-working insects play a vital role in pollinating plants, which in turn provide us with food, clean air, and a healthy environment.
Pollination is the process of transferring pollen from the male parts of a plant to the female parts, so that the plant can produce seeds. Many plants need help with pollination and of course, you can also pollinate plants with your own hands. But honestly, bees are so much more efficient. In fact, it is estimated that honeybees pollinate around eighty percent of all flowering plants! This includes crops like apples, almonds, avocados, and strawberries.
It’s all because of these hard-working insects.
Without bees, no fresh air
Bees also play a role in keeping our air clean. How? Plants produce oxygen as they photosynthesize, and we humans need oxygen to breathe. Since bees help to pollinate plants, they also indirectly help us to get the oxygen we need to survive.
Why bees are struggling
In recent years, bees have been in the news a lot — and sadly none of it good news. More and more hives are dying, and scientists are still trying to figure out exactly why. One of the main culprits is the use of pesticides, which are absorbed by plants and then end up in the pollen and nectar that bees collect. These pesticides can be highly toxic. After all, chemicals designed to kill pests can also kill beneficial insects. It’s a terrible trade-off. Of course, getting rid of pests is useful in the short term, but what we trade for in the long term can be dire for the planet.
Another reason bees are dying? Farming operations that use monoculture crops. These crops don't provide the variety of pollen and nectar that bees need to survive. As a result, they are struggling to find enough food to eat. But by becoming aware of the problems they face, it can help all of us make better, more informed choices which in turn can help these remarkable insects.
How we can save the bees
Buy honey from vendors who use sustainable practices: Beekeepers (as we all should) have a natural interest in the well-being of their bees. This means you should ideally buy from small producers. They have the time that’s needed to give the little bees a very good bee life. So in addition to honey, buy locally-sourced beeswax products. You may also consider donating your time or money to beekeeping organizations.
Avoid using pesticides in your own garden: Pesticides — as well as other chemicals such as fertilizers and herbicides — are all incredibly toxic to these tiny, sensitive creatures. Instead of using synthetic products to your garden, seek out organic solutions such as compost. And if you want to eliminate pests, consider drafting beneficial insects, such as the ladybug, to protect your green space.
Build a bee garden: If you’re feeling ambitious, consider creating a safe habitat for the bees. Plant flowers that bees like to visit and are native to your area. Bees are mostly attracted to flowers that are blue, purple, and yellow, so choose plants like lavender, sunflowers, and marigolds. Make sure to plant in clusters rather than single rows. This will make it easier for bees to find the flowers they’re looking for.
Provide water: Make sure there is a water source for the bees by placing a shallow dish of water near your flower bed. Bees need water to cool themselves down on hot days (like every busy worker). Add stones inside for the bees to land on as they stop by for a cool drink.
Plant some trees: Bees feast on nectar, which trees provide in abundance. In addition to nourishment, trees also provide needed shelter as their own natural habitats are destroyed. Simply by planting a tree or caring for ones in your neighborhood, you can give your local bee population a much-needed boost.
Ditch the traditional laundry detergents: Another simple thing that you can do to help bees is to avoid generating soapy water as much as possible. While it may seem like a harmless act, soapy water is actually very harmful to bees. Their natural defenses are no match for the strong chemicals in soap, and as a result, they can lose their sense of orientation or even die.
SaltyLama’s eco-friendly detergent strips are actually the perfect way to clean your laundry and give it a fresh scent without causing harm to bees. The strips are made with natural ingredients and are both gentle on fabric and effective at removing dirt and bacteria.
In addition, they are hypoallergenic and free of harsh chemicals, making them safe for bees as well. And because they are biodegradable, you can feel good about using them without harming the environment.