Years ago, I was trimming English lavender at a client’s house in Seattle. It was a sunny summer day, the kind of day for which I was thankful to work as a gardener. As the sun warmed my arms, I cut the fragrant stems with my pruners, shifting my kneepad a few inches at a time. The bees hovered and landed on the still-blooming wands, doing their little jobs of finding nectar. But as I piled my cut wands on my tarp, I noticed one bee struggled in the dirt, trying to buzz and lift off.
To Save a Single Bee
I slipped my hori hori, which is a flat Japanese trowel, underneath the little insect and gently tossed him on a nearby coneflower, thinking he just needed a little help. But after a few seconds, he seemed to fall asleep and lay there, clinging to the blossom’s center.
This was the beginning of a trend. In the years that followed, I noticed more struggling or dead bees in clients’ gardens. Then I’d come home and find the same scene in my own garden: a bee clinging to the blooming head of a veronica or bee balm, frozen and lifeless. Just last year, I walked onto my patio in summer and found a lonesome lifeless bee. It lay on the outdoor coffee table beside a vase of cut avens (or geum) stems.
These are signs of what scientists are now calling “colony collapse disorder.” A USDA report found that 33 percent of honeybee colonies died in one year alone. That’s a lot. Too much. Scientists believe the cause is the use of pesticides called neonicotinoids that agriculturalists use to spray crops. The problem is neonicotinoids get into the leaves, pollen and nectar of plants.
Our Food Supply Depends on Bees
As bees experience chronic exposure to neonics, it disrupts their immune and nervous systems. It’s almost if they’re smoking cigarettes constantly. Like humans, they die from this. When the European Union was presented with this evidence, they banned the use of neonics. However, the US did not.
Bees pollinate fruits and vegetables. They spread pollen from a plant’s stamens (male organs) onto the ovaries of pistils (female organs), creating a fruit. Without bees, there are no strawberries or avocados or peaches or over 140 other fruits and vegetables. Our food supply depends on bees. Not only that, farmers’ livelihoods depend on bees.
But You Can Help
Today, I’m asking you to do one of two things.
One. Get active. If you’re short on time, you can join an environmental advocacy organization like the Sierra Club. They’re working on this issue. Also, you can write the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) or your state senator. Here’s a list to find yours. Tell them how important this is to you, how concerned you are. And that you don’t support the use of neonicotinoids in agriculture.
Two. Plant the wildflowers that bees love. You can buy seeds from reputable retailers who raise organic, non-GMO seeds and plants. Renee’s Garden is one, Urban Farmer is another. Home Depot and Lowe’s may not be, I don’t know. You have to inquire. The thing to remember when buying wildflowers is, ask your retailer if the plants are organic. If their inventory has been sprayed with pesticides, you’re merely spreading the problem. And believe me, the horticulture industry isn’t perfect.
If you don’t have the time to find an organic retailer, you can pre-order my novel, The Forgetting Flower, and receive a packet of organic wildflower seeds. I’ll be giving away these seed packets to the first 25 people who preorder my book. Preorders will open soon!
The best thing about planting wildflowers for bees is you don’t even need a patch of earth! It can be done in a container on a balcony. And next week, I’ll publish a post recommending the best, hardiest, easiest flowers to plant to attract bees. In the meantime, enjoy your spring day!