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What Happened to All the Bees?

Did you snack on an apple today...nibble a salad...sip some coffee? If yes, then thank a bee. And if you can’t find one, that’s probably because they’ve been dying off in droves in recent years, due in large part to the rampant use of deadly pesticides. If their decline continues at existing rates, the foods you take for granted could become little more than distant memories. 

Bees pollinate 70 of the top 100 crop species that provide 90% of the world’s food. Think about that--without colonies of bees buzzing around, doing their thing...bopping around blossoms to pollinate them...we’re facing a food crisis the likes of which we’ve never seen. According to scientists, 40% of insects--bees included--are threatened with extinction. And while there are a number of competing ideas as to why this is happening, the prevailing theory is widespread pesticide use. 

According to the United States Geological Survey, 1 billion pounds of chemicals specifically designed to kill insects are sprayed across the U.S. every year. While some pesticides contribute to increased and higher quality crop yields, they eventually make their way to surface and groundwater where they degrade the quality and damage everything that comes into contact.  

Even more harmful (and who thought this story could get worse?) is the amplifying effect of combining pesticides, which is unfortunately a very common practice in industrial farming. The synergy of these combined pesticides not only harms bees, but other beneficial insects, fish and wildlife. Researchers have found that regulatory bodies that oversees pesticide use in the U.S.--including the Environmental Protection Agency--repeatedly ignored recommendations to uncover which chemicals farmers most commonly mixed together to spray on their crops and what threat that combination posed to bee populations.  

And those little bees pollinating our food supply (for free) is big business, estimated to be worth $180 billion a year. Beekeepers became alarmed about 15 years ago when they noticed that bees were mysteriously disappearing from their hives in huge numbers, causing the colonies to collapse. In the winter of 2006, some beekeepers lost as much as 90% of their hives due to colony collapse disorder. While that was one of the most dramatic loss of bees in recorded history, beekeepers continue to lose about 30% of their hives each year, and the native bee pollution also being decimated by pesticides and pollution.  

Just as doing your best to reduce, reuse, and recycle helps keep trash out of our landfills and oceans, The Bee Conservatory recommends a few simple steps you can take to help save the bees we have left. Here are five: 

1 Plant a Bee Garden — You don’t need a lot of space to grow bee-friendly plants. Using a simple window box or pot, you can create a small habitat of plants that are rich in bee favorites pollen and nectar. You can also get involved with local organizations to help plant in public and shared spaces.  

2 Go Chemical-Free — Instead of using synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides in your garden that can harm bee populations, switch to organic products and natural solutions like composting to boost soil health and attract beneficial bugs to keep unwanted pests away. 

3 Trees for Bees — Planting trees is not only a great to help reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, but trees can provide thousands of blooms for bees to feed on. Plus, they provide leaves and resin needed for bee nests. 

4 Water Break — Bees get plenty thirsty from collecting all that nectar, and need fresh, clean water to drink. Just fill up a shallow bird bath or bowl with water, then add some stones so the bees have a place to land and drink up. 

5 Support Organizations — If the above don’t work for you, you can always provide financial support to bee organizations and bolster the bee economy (beeconomy?) by buying locally-made honey and beeswax products. You’ll not only be helping the bees survive, but thrive once again as their population returns to normal! 

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