How We Can Help Honeybees Every Day

The honeybee population is dwindling—here are big and small ways you can help protect them.

Scientists are researching the potential consequences of the nearly 40 percent decline of the honeybee population in the United States during the 2018-2019 winter, according to the Bee Informed Partnership’s Preliminary Report for 2019. (While it’s expected that the population will decline during the colder months, the losses were 7 percentage points greater than the winter before and 8.9 percentage points higher than the 13-year average.) It’s no surprise people are voicing their concerns, since honeybees play a huge role in food production—pollinating the foods and veggies we eat directly and in pollinating the food for the animals we then consume. Let’s not forget their contributions of flavorful honey. According to the National Honey Board, there are more than 300 unique types of honey available in the United States, each originating from a different floral source. When it comes to beeswax, it’s best known for making candles. With honeybees doing so much good, here’s how we can start giving back and help protect their numbers.

Stop using pesticides

Since 2016, eight native bee species have been declared endangered in the United States, according to Beesponsible. Pesticides have been known to cause confusion to bees and hinder their foraging abilities. In particular, neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides, pose a toxic threat when absorbed into plants fed upon by bees, since they can be present in pollen and nectar, according to The Xerces Society. Similarly, glyphosate is a widely used herbicide, controlling broad-leaf weeds and grasses that has been used in the United States since 1974. While the EPA finds there are no risks to public health when used according to its current label, the EWG considers it a human health and environmental risk, specifically to bees and other beneficial insects.

Pick bee-friendly plants

Choosing regional plants for your garden that will attract nearby pollinators to help increase the number of bees in your area is one of the best things you can do, shares the Natural Resources Defense Council. These plantings give bees the best chance to forage efficiently for pollen and nectar. Ideally, you should choose plants that bloom at different times of the year, planting a minimum of three types in clumps, versus single flowers. Not sure where to start? Pollinator Partnership helps gardeners pick out bee-friendly plants for their specific region within the United States and Canada or take a visit to a local nursery that’s well-versed in plants that are native to your area. Consider these five plants you can plant right now to keep bees buzzing in your own garden.

Let your yard go

Yellow dandelions (taraxacum officinale) in green grass. Close upsnowturtle/Shutterstock

Step away from the lawn mower. It’s okay to mow your lawn less often—in fact, it’s recommended you don’t mow your lawn every week—as that will give the bee-friendly clover and dandelions a chance to grow. It’s okay to stop obsessing over perfectly planted flower beds as well; try leaving a patch of bare dirt alone so bees can tunnel and create their homes.

Help bees stay hydrated

Bees need water too, so let’s make sure they have access to clean water. By filling a simple birdbath or shallow bowl with water, you’re half-way there. Beesponsible suggests adding small rocks, pebbles, or a thin row of small sticks for bees to perch on since they can’t swim. Then, clean and refill the area regularly. You can also fill an area of your yard that gets natural water run-off with small rocks and pebbles from your local plant nursery. These buzzing travelers will be sure to stop by for a quick drink.

Start a bee sanctuary

Starting a bee sanctuary or a bee house is a long-term investment. But according to Honeybee Conservancy, “Habitat loss is one of the greatest threats to bees today.” That’s why they want to see if your group (school, environmental center, or community garden) might be a fit–matching up with their goals to bolster bee populations and inspire communities to act as stewards for bees and the environment. Save the Bees With Natural Backyard Hives by the founders of HoneyLove.org gives tips on starting your own bee farm, including providing information about getting your beehive from a local beekeeper, buying beekeeping equipment, and wearing appropriate beekeeper gear. Check your local ordinance first, since some cities require a permit.

Buy organic

Make your voice heard by the way you shop. By buying USDA-certified organic products, you are benefiting your personal health and supporting the environment (which includes the honeybees who help grow your foods). But be careful to check the labels as the “organic” label is one you shouldn’t ignore. It shows that the food has met the strict UDSA guidelines for organic foods that include limits on pesticide and herbicide use.

Take action

By supporting environmental groups, such as Earth Day Network, you can make a difference for the planet, which includes the health of your local honeybees. Start by making sustainable choices, such as buying from your local farmer’s market, taking public transportation, carpooling or riding your bicycle to work, and following these 25 simple swaps that will help reduce your carbon footprint. Equally important, research environmental issues on a local and national level then vote for leaders who support eco-friendly agendas.

Eat honey

Fresh honeycombs in wooden bowl, closeupAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

Most people love honey and you shouldn’t feel guilty about eating it because it offers myriad benefits for your health. Eating honey is not harmful to bees, especially when you research sellers who support bee nutrition, well-maintained apiaries, and responsible hive placement. The National Honey Board allocates 5 percent of its anticipated annual revenue to fund critical honeybee health research projects. They recently supported research on Colony Collapse Disorder and external factors affecting honeybees. Beesponsible sells a variety of honey options and donates money from the sale of select products to The Xerces Society. Check your farmer’s market for locally sourced honey—it may even help alleviate your seasonal allergies.

Don’t kill bees

This may sound obvious, but some people go out of their way to kill these buzzing beauties. By showing this simple act of kindness (just letting them live), it will ensure more bees stay alive. While bee stings are a concern, most won’t harm you unprovoked. If you notice one floating in a pool, get a net and set it in a clean patch of dirt where it’s safe from foot-traffic. Also, don’t destroy their potential homes. If you notice a fallen tree or a dead limb on your property, consider leaving it as a possible bee nest. If you discover a bee nest, search for a local beekeeper, who can help to relocate it safely. These are the other garden bugs you should protect.

Get connected

Start with the American Beekeeping Federation (ABF), whose main goal since 1943 has been to ensure the future of the honeybee. Another great resource is the American Bee Journal, providing a list of bee associations by state. If your state isn’t listed, just search “local beekeeper association” online for information regarding your specific region’s association(s). These groups will provide information about protecting and caring for bees, along with local meetings and upcoming events. Not seeing a group listed for your area? Consider starting one today. Read on to find out where bees go during the winter months.

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Dianne Bright
Dianne Bright is a southern California-based writer and a regular contributor with RD.com, where she writes about the environment, nutrition, finance, pets, and books. She also contributes to TheHealthy.com. Her work has appeared in Scholastic's Parent & Child magazine and blog, I Love Cats magazine, and Christianity Today, among other publications. Bright's book of parenting reflections: MOMS KICK BUTT, comes out in February, 2021. Her M.A. is in Spanish American Literature. Follow Dianne on Twitter @dibright, Facebook @AuthorDianneBright, and Instagram @authordiannebright.