The Buzz On Bees • How Pollinators Help Our Gardens
How Are Bees Important to the Environment?
We receive a lot of inquiries about how bees are vital to the environment. While they are beneficial for our gardens and agriculture, there are some misconceptions regarding the importance of bees in our ecosystem and what roles they play. Here’s a breakdown of how bees can help our gardens, what we can do to help the bees, and some common myths about bees that we’ve debunked.
Bees are pollinators, so they play an essential role in our gardens and agriculture. Their pollination encourages fruit production, so we rely on them to help us grow our edible crops. Forty-five percent of the world’s food crops rely on bees for pollination; without bees, we can’t cultivate the crops we rely on for nourishment.
There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding declining bee populations, which has raised concerns over the future of food production. However, it’s important to recognize the distinction between honey bees and native bees before we can understand the complete picture.
Honey Bees and Native Bees: What’s the Difference?
Honey bees don’t play an important role in wildlands, and sometimes their presence can cause problems because they’re not native to North America! Honey bees came from Europe, which means they’re a non-native species. When large honey bee populations start eating up all the available pollen, native bee populations decline because they don’t have enough food. This means that honey bees are sometimes a threat to native bee populations!
Both honey bee and native bee populations are declining due to monoculture crops, lack of food availability, and pesticides like neonicotinoids. However, honey bee populations are also declining from issues related to industrial-scale agriculture. Lack of species diversity and large populations bred in close proximity leads to more viral outbreaks and parasites.
Protecting Native Bees
Native bees are more efficient pollinators than honey bees of our local flora, and taking steps to protect them can positively impact the environment. Luckily, there are many ways to help preserve native bee populations! It might seem like a small contribution, but we have strength in numbers. Last year, Californians made a massive difference in helping Monarch butterfly populations bounce back! Let’s keep that momentum going and continue to help our local wildlife thrive.
Choose Native Plants
Native bees like to snack on plants they recognize, and in-turn many of these native plants actually depend on native bees. So, if you choose flowers that grow in the wild in California, you’ll be doing our native bees a big favor! Some of our favorite California native plants include:
• Ceanothus “Ray Hartman” (California Lilac)
• Romneya coulteri (Fried Egg Plant)
• Heuchera maxima (Coral Bells)
• Epilobium canum (California Fuchsia)
• Gambelia speciosa (Island Bush Snapdragons)
• Encelia californica (Bush Sunflowers)
• Oenothera elata (Hooker’s Evening Primrose)
Avoid Using Chemical Pesticides
Chemical pesticides don’t distinguish between good bugs and bad bugs. If you have a pest problem in your garden, opt for natural alternatives like insecticidal soap, neem oil, BT, or beneficial bug boxes. These will target pests like aphids, cabbage loopers, and mites while sparing the good guys like native bees, ladybugs, and dragonflies.
Don’t Introduce Honey Bees Into Wild Areas
Think twice before introducing honey bees if you live in a lush, rural area with lots of natural wildlife! Honey Bees are drowning out the native populations by hogging all the available food resources. If you want to keep your own honey bee hives, be mindful of the location in which you place them.
Choose Different Plant Varieties for Year-Round Blooms
To ensure there’s enough food to help keep our native bees nourished throughout the year, it’s helpful to plant a wide variety of native flowers that will bloom at different times during the year. A mix of native plants that bloom in the spring, summer, fall, and winter will not only provide excellent crop diversity and food sources, but it will also ensure your garden is extra beautiful and colorful all year!
If you’d like more information about bee conservation and how you can help the environment, browse through our blog to explore other important topics on California-friendly gardening!
For more information, watch our video: How to Attract Pollinators to Your Garden with Suzanne Hetrick