Honey bee nutrition is getting a lot of press these days, and rightfully so. Many bee experts—including Marla Spivak, Zachary Huang, and Randy Oliver—believe that a lack of good nutrition may be a major factor in declining bee health.
It is possible that many of the viruses and other pathogens that are plaguing bees are more apt to harm individuals that lack essential elements in their diet. Living organisms use the nutrients in food to build healthy bodies and to maintain a robust immune system. When some of the nutrients are missing, the biological systems cannot perform properly, and other organisms can get a leg up. It could be that some of these pathogens are no worse than they used to be, but in a malnourished bee, the pathogens have the advantage.
The pollinator environment has changed
Poor bee nutrition is due to changes in the environment. In a pristine natural environment bees will find all the nutritious food they need. But in an environment where mankind has selected the plants that grow, and has removed weeds from hedgerows, lawns, parks, roadsides, drainage ditches and row crops, the food selection is reduced. In many areas, evergreens have replaced “messy” deciduous trees, lawns have trumped meadows, and hybridized “show” flowers have displaced wildflowers. All these changes serve mankind while starving the bees that pollinate our food.
The situation is even worse for the small native bees that don’t fly very far. Whereas honey bees can fly four or more miles if needed, some of our wild bees can fly only a few hundred meters. If there is insufficient food in their range, they will die and not produce offspring.
Yes, I know that helpless feeling. You can’t change the way a farmer crops his field or the way the county sprays the median. You can’t keep your neighbor from the weed-and-feed. But you can do this: you can plant a flower. Any kind, from flowering trees to tiny violets, will help some pollinator somewhere.
So plant a flower
Neighborhoods with flower boxes, potted plants, flowering shrubs, and creeping vines are rich with pollinators. Fruit trees, hanging planters, vegetable gardens, dented buckets, and rusted watering cans make us happy too.
Bees, birds, humans . . . who doesn’t love a flower? And who doesn’t love a petal-rustling breeze, a dew-studded orb, or the glint of a waxy leaf in the sunshine? Best, it doesn’t require lots of time or heaps of money. Everyone can do it.
If every front step or porch or balcony in America hosted a flowering plant, the pollinators would have pathways—avenues of sustenance that would assure the next generation and the one after that. Summer days would once again shimmer and susurrate with life as they were meant to.
So don’t let the homeowner’s association, the highway department, or the town council dictate your life. In a simple act of defiance, plant a flower. Plant one or plant a hundred. Your act can make a difference.
Honey bee on boxwood. © Rusty Burlew.