Monday, July 22, 2013

Bees Are Disappearing. You Can Help Them Return

A vital link in our food chain is disappearing, but you can be a part of the solution in your own backyard.

Honeybees work in hive
Bees play a vital role in our food supply by pollinating the plants we eat.

Poisonous pesticide, killer zombie bees, deadly plagues.

Sounds like the premise to a cheesy horror film, right? According to scientists, these are a few of the reasons bees are mysteriously vanishing around the world. This problem came to light around 2006, when the term “colony collapse disorder” was coined to describe the sudden decrease in honeybee colonies in North America. Beekeepers across the Atlantic also reported dramatic losses.

Bees may be known for stinging people and producing honey, but they also play a vital role in our food supply by pollinating the plants we eat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that since 2010 one-third to one-fifth of our honeybee colonies have disappeared. Consider the impact on our food supply if one-third to one-fifth of our fruit and vegetable plants were not pollinated.

How to Help

The solution could quite literally be in your own backyard.

  • Become a Beekeeper: Urban and backyard beekeeping is on the rise, gaining ground in the unlikeliest of places. At the Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Washington state, prisoners learn to maintain colonies as part of the Sustainability in Prisons Project. Here is a guide to starting a backyard colony.
  • Plant a Bee-Friendly Garden: Not ready to host a hive? Help host bees while beautifying your outdoor space by incorporating native plants. In the Pacific Northwest, these include trillium, wood sorrel, thrift and tiger lily.
  • Adopt a Garden: Seattle artist Sarah Bergmann is the mastermind behind The Pollinator Pathway, a project to transform streetside planting strips into mini gardens providing food and habitat to bees and other pollinators. Local citizens can participate by tending a garden or contributing to the project through donations. Consider this concept in your community.
  • Don't live in the Pacific Northwest? The non-profit group Pollinator Partnership provides region-specific planting guides.

To learn more about our buzzing friends, see "Vanishing Bees," the 2009 documentary produced by Scientific American.

By Sylvia Pong, Bastyr dietetic intern, and Debra Boutin, MS, RD, chair and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University.

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