When I was a child, there was so much clover and so many bees in the yard, this yard, my grandparents’ yard, that we couldn’t play outside barefoot, or even in sandals because the bees would get stuck between our toes.
Now this yard–and it’s a big yard–has a few patches of clover. Most are on the shady side of the house, near the dogwoods and crepe myrtles. We let that side of the yard grow as wild as the Historical Society will allow. We can get away with not mowing the clover because it’s only a few inches tall.
Last year, I saw a couple of honeybees. As in, two. I saw a few tiny bumblebees. I saw a few again this spring. I thought they were nesting in a hole in the base of a dead dogwood tree.
I haven’t seen one honeybee all year, and I haven’t seen the bumblebees since spring.
I planted my container garden this year. It’s been an awful year for tomato plants: leaf fungus, plants just not flowering. I planted pole beans and only got a handful. The basil did great. It always does. The peppermint plant came back from near-death. The marigolds bloomed. The forget-me-nots haven’t yet. Several wildflowers have over the spring and summer, and they’re still going. Right now, I have something purple that might be in the aster family blooming. And, I have three sad, fading squash plants.
My friend sent me seeds from one of her productive plants. They all germinated, and I was so excited when I saw this:
Then some of the flowers started curling up and falling off.
I googled this and found that squash plants have female and male flowers. Male flowers are supposed to dry up and fall off after the female flowers are pollinated. By bees.
All my squash plants are bare of flowers now. I found out too late that I could have hand-pollinated them. That would have been easy, with only three plants. I couldn’t have done it with the beans. But how do we hand-pollinate a big garden like my grandparents had, a garden that actually supplemented the entire family’s diet? Well, we can’t. We have to rely on the artificial pollination techniques of huge farms, and produce shipped in from other countries. Eating in season is supposed to be part of a healthy, natural diet. We can do that by buying produce at the supermarket, but this honeybee die-off isn’t confined to North America. It’s a world-wide problem. And what about those of us who just enjoy having a garden and growing tomatoes, squash, zucchini, green beans, things that used to be simple, reliable?
It’s not cell phones. It’s climate change, herbicides, and pesticides. I grow almost everything from seed, because most ready-to-plant vegetables, herbs, and flowers have been pre-treated with pesticides. Pesticides don’t differentiate “harmful” insects and bees, or harmful insects and monarch butterfly caterpillars. I used to think that wasps were harmful and useless. Then I found out that they’re pollinators. So are many moths.
Too many people look at clover and dandelions as unsightly weeds. Dandelions are the first wildflowers to appear in spring and the first food for bees. Clover is a favorite of honeybees. An even, green lawn and some hanging baskets from a big box store aren’t natural. Not if you want to have vegetables on your table.
There are things that you can do to try to attract bees to your property. You can plant clover and other flowers that honeybees. You can use organic methods of pest control. You can weed by hand. You can become a beekeeper.
Educating your children about bees and their importance to the environment is crucial for right now and for the future. The best gift you can give a child is a book.
SonnyBee is probably the most active voice for the bees on Twitter. SonnyBee is collaborating with a yoga teacher to publish a book for kids to “…teach nonviolence, respect the environment and save the bees!” They’re 70% of the way to reaching their goal of raising enough money to pay their illustrator. What they need from you is a) a donation (even $5 helps if that’s all you can give) and a share. They’d really love it if you’d share this link https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/yoga-book-for-children-sonnybee-learns-ahimsa?secret_perk_token=8639f673#/ on your Facebook page.
Bringing back the honeybees is not impossible. It’s going to require a lot of work, but everyone can do a little.