Throughout the past year, when most activities and traveling were uncertain or unsafe, you, like many families, probably turned to your own backyard as a great escape. And while there may not have been too many human visitors stopping by, you might have noticed all the bugs that crawl, fly or scoot through and also call your backyard home. They all play an important role in your yard’s (and the Earth’s) ecosystem. One category of visitors that are particularly important: pollinators.
By definition, according to the National Park Service, a pollinator is anything that helps carry pollen from the male part of the flower (stamen) to the female part of the same or another flower (stigma). This is crucial because a plant must be pollinated to produce fruit or seeds or to make new plants. While some plants can self-pollinate, others are pollinated by insects.
Arguably the most popular and well-known pollinator is, you guessed it, bees! The yellow and black insects have garnered extra buzz in recent years for some unfortunate reasons. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the number of managed honeybee colonies has dropped from 6 million colonies in 1947 to about 2.5 million today. But it’s not just honeybees that are on the decline; unfortunately, bumblebees are, too. A study published by the Journal of Science in February 2020 found that areas populated by bumblebees have dropped by 47 percent in North America.
So, why does this matter to your family? Let us count the ways …
Why we need bees
Simply put: We couldn’t survive without them. The USDA reports that in the United States more than one third of all crop production – 90 crops ranging from nuts to berries to flowering vegetables — require insect pollination. In fact, some crops, like almonds, can only be pollinated by honeybees. So if the number of bees keeps declining that, in turn, means fewer crops, resulting in a rise in price on some of your favorite fruits and veggies (or in this case, almond milk) at the grocery store.
The decline also hurts the economy as the added revenue to crop production from pollinators is valued at $18 billion, according to the USDA. Pollinators also help support healthy ecosystems needed for clean air, stable soils and diverse wildlife.
And if you’re a backyard gardener, inviting more pollinators to your yard will help you produce bigger, healthier and more delicious fruits and veggies.
What you can do to help
Now for the good news: You can make a difference! Even if you don’t want to host a beehive in your backyard, there are lots of ways your family can help. Check out this step-by-step guide from Justin Scott, a local dad, beekeeper and founder of Sweet Stingers Honey and Apiary, to make your yard a little more buzz-worthy:
- Choose an area to focus on. Bees are very efficient, and they’re more likely to visit a place that’s dense with pollen and nectar rather than a single flower. Look for a sunny spot to create a pollinator-friendly garden as most pollinators prefer sunshine over shade.
- Select a variety of native plants. Choosing plants local to your area not only ensures the plants will thrive, it also helps feed and grow the population of local pollinators. Look for plants that have varying bloom times so bees and other pollinators will have a reason to visit throughout the seasons. Justin’s favorite plants for year-round blooms include milkweed, asters, bee balm, Maximilian sunflower, Indian blanket, goldenrod, Butterflyweed, Indigo (cream or yellow) Narrow Leaf Mountain mint and Celestial lily.
- Bigger is better. A large bush or multiples of the same plant bunched together are better than a few stems of flowers. When bees go out to forage, they’re trying to work smarter, not harder, so they’re more likely to choose a spot where they can find a bunch of flowers at once.
- Add a watering hole. Just like us, pollinators need water to survive so it’s important to help them out by providing a water source—particularly in the hot summer months when it’s hard for them to find water elsewhere. Place rocks or pebbles on a shallow dish then add water and place it near your garden. The rocks act as a landing spot for pollinators so they can get a drink without drowning. Already have a birdbath? Just place some rocks on the edges to make it pollinator-friendly.
- Cut back on pesticides. Pesticides can be deadly to bees and other pollinators so try to refrain from using them in your yard. Plus, pollinators will love any flowering weeds you may get as a result.
- 4 ways to go green beyond your backyard
- Make the swap to clean beauty. You’ve probably thought twice about what you put IN your body, but what about what you slather and apply onto your body? Use the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database to see where your products land on the toxicity scale, then make the swap to a cleaner alternative.
- Try meatless Mondays. Your greenhouse gas (the gases in the Earth’s atmosphere that trap heat) footprint drops by 50 percent when you opt for a plant-based meal. A simple swap: PB&J!
- Walk it out. Not only is it good for your body and mind, walking also cuts back on the carbon emissions released by your car.
- Buy local. Supporting your Oklahoma farmers and businesses helps the local economy but it also helps reduce the carbon footprint since the products didn’t have to travel far.
The buzz about bees
- A honeybee will travel more than 55,000 miles in her lifetime
- Female honeybees account for approximately 95 percent of their hive’s population
- During the winter, this percentage increases to 100 percent as all the males are kicked out of the hive
- The male honeybee’s main objective is to spread his hive’s DNA by mating with a queen from another hive
- Only female honeybees can sting
- A healthy queen honeybee can lay more than 2,000 eggs per day
- One way bees communicate with each other is by doing what’s called a waggle dance
- There are more than 4,000 native bees in the United States, but surprisingly honeybees aren’t one of them
- The average honeybee produces 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime
- The average American consumes about 1.5 pounds of honey each year
- Bumblebees are the only effective pollinator for peppers, tomatoes and cranberries
Sweet Stingers Honey & Apiary is a locally-owned, family-run business offering raw Oklahoma honey, pollen, beeswax, gifts and gift packages featuring other locally-owned businesses, pollination services and hive hosting. Founders Justin and Melissa Scott have a passion for beekeeping with their two kids and sharing that passion with others. Learn all about bees and beekeeping, more tips for creating a pollinator-friendly yard and get weekly recipes at facebook.com/sweetstingers or on Instagram @sweetstingersok.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a collaboration with our partners at 405 Magazine and Edible OKC Magazine to collectively share editorial content on the positive power of green living and sustainability practices in Oklahoma City. Special thanks to Plenty Mercantile and Oklahoma Environmental Services who sponsored this series of articles.