Chuck Bauer, president of the Grand Rapids Bee Club, has been a beekeeper for 12 years. He currently cares for 24 hives. “I can track my interest in honeybees back to when I was 8 to 10 years old and our family visited a nature center that had an ‘observation beehive,’” he said. “Of course, I always liked bugs anyway. I used to catch honeybees in a glass mayonnaise jar in the school yard by our house.”
As honeybees face increasingly challenging circumstances — bee populations are declining at a rapid rate — there has been an increased focus on how to help bees survive.
Bauer said it’s not just honeybees either. “All bees are in trouble, all pollinators are in trouble, loss of habitat, pesticides, parasites, some say climate change, and some say the cell phone signals might be causing problems,” he said. “I think it’s mostly habitat loss, pesticides and in the honeybees’ case, the varroa mite, a parasite that lives on the honeybee, introduced to the United States in 1986. The varroa mite can kill a colony of honeybees in several months.”
So why have the honeybees gotten the majority of the attention? “The biggest difference between the honeybee and ‘other bees’ is the honeybee lives in huge colonies, 60,000 to 80,000 members in the summer months. Because of their large colony size, they are much better pollinators. Our orchards, blueberries and other cultivated crops need 1-2 beehives per acre to achieve ‘good’ pollination. The other bee types such as the mason bees or solitary bees have very low colony sizes, but they are still beneficial pollinators.”
This summer, as you begin to plant your flowerbeds, window boxes and even produce gardens, Bauer said there are several things to keep in mind that can help bees.
“When purchasing plants, check the label for pesticides that are used. Some nurseries have plants labeled ‘pollinator-friendly,’” Bauer said. “Some nursery plants are treated with a systemic pesticide (that) turns the entire plant into poison. The bee takes up the pollen and nectar and if the bee gets back to its colony, more bees consume the poison and it will probably kill them. Most of those poisons are known as neonicotinoids — most corn and soybeans seeds contain it.”
Other suggestions include, “avoiding mowing in ditches, don’t plant the crops all the way to the fence, leave a ‘fence row’ of wild plants for the pollinators. Plant white Dutch clover in your lawns, and don’t use weed killers.”
Additionally, Bauer said bees need “wild blooming flowers and trees to achieve a varied diet just like we need a varied diet. They can’t survive on one plant type.”