ENVIRONMENT
11/25/2016 10:31 am ET Updated Nov 25, 2016

How You Can Help Save The Bees -- Even In Winter

Bees are vital to food security. Let's give the critters a helping hand.
Erik Von Weber via Getty Images

America’s bees haven’t had the best year.

Last month, seven species of Hawaiian bees were declared endangered in the United States — a first for the insect. There are fears that the rusty-patched bumble bee, endemic to North America, is also nearing extinction.

Researchers discovered earlier this year that U.S. beekeepers had lost more than 42 percent of their honeybee colonies since 2015. “What we’re seeing with this bee problem is just a loud signal that there’s some bad things happening with our agro-ecosystems,” said study co-author Keith Delaplane in May.

Bees are vital to our food supply. About 65 percent of plant species rely on the creatures for pollination. “A world without bees would be almost impossible to contemplate,” wrote entomologist Mark Winston in his 2014 book Bee Time. Worryingly, however, in the past decade, there’s been a “precipitous drop” in bee populations around the world, Winston said. The insects are under threat from a range of perils, including pesticides and other chemicals, viruses and even climate change.

Apiarists are working hard stateside to ensure that commercial honeybees continue to thrive here, but there’s some evidence to suggest that America’s wild bees may need some help. According to bee experts, there are many ways you can lend a hand to the bees that fly wild in your area (there are 4,000 natives bee species in North America, some in every state) ― and yes, though some bees hibernate during the colder months, there are still things you can do even in wintertime. 

  • 1 Put out nesting materials in winter
    “For people who live in a cold climate, late winter is a good time to put out nesting materials for bees that will emer
    Arterra/Getty Images
    “For people who live in a cold climate, late winter is a good time to put out nesting materials for bees that will emerge in early spring,” said entomologist Quinn McFrederick.

    These could include nesting blocks or bare ground for solitary-nesting bees or nesting boxes for bumble bees. The Xerces Society has ample information about nests for native bees. Click here to learn more.
  • 2 Start planning spring gardens
    “Winter can be a good time to plan out spring gardens to provide bees food,” added McFrederick, an assi
    Ariel Skelley/Getty Images
    “Winter can be a good time to plan out spring gardens to provide bees food,” added McFrederick, an assistant professor at the University of California, Riverside.

    A diversity of nectar and pollen sources is critical for pollinator health, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

    The agency recommends choosing plants that flower at different times of the year, planting a variety of flower colors and shapes and, whenever possible, opting for native plants.

    Bees tend to gravitate towards bright white, yellow or blue flowers that are shallow or tubular. Some good plant varieties for bees include lilacs, lavender, sage and wisteria in the spring; mint, squash, sunflowers, poppies and honeysuckle in the summer; and mint, toadflax and verbena in the fall.

    Remember that even you don't have space for a full garden, even a planter or two on your windowsill can be a boon for bees. For more tips on planting bee-friendly plants, visit the FWS' website.
  • 3 Cater to warmer winter bees
    “In warmer areas, some bees will be active nearly year-round, and having bee-friendly flowers that bloom during the col
    Associated Press
    “In warmer areas, some bees will be active nearly year-round, and having bee-friendly flowers that bloom during the colder months can provide those bees forage,” said McFrederick, who specializes in melittology, or the study of bees. “Here in Riverside I see some native bees in my yard pretty much year round, and the fall is a great time to plant a variety of native plants that flower at different times of the year.”
  • 4 Keep your garden chemical-free
    Pesticides and other chemicals can be <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/04/22/401536105/buzz-over-bee-health-
    Andrew Winning/Reuters
    Pesticides and other chemicals can be toxic to bees and other pollinators.

    The FWS recommends not using pesticides and other chemicals unless absolutely necessary, and even then, only using them in a way that will mitigate risks to bees (such as using the lowest effective application rate, not applying when wildflowers are in bloom and applying chemicals at night when most pollinators are inactive).
  • 5 Water your bees
    Bees are thirsty too! If you notice bees visiting your garden, put out a small water basin for them to drink out of. <br> <br
    YouTube/Mud Songs Beekeeping
    Bees are thirsty too! If you notice bees visiting your garden, put out a small water basin for them to drink out of.

    To ensure the bees don’t drown and the water doesn’t evaporate too quickly, make a simple, DIY bee waterer out of marbles (for the bees to land on) and a small container. This YouTube video shows you how.
  • 6 Buy local
    Commercial beekeepers have been known to employ questionable practices, such as feeding their bees with high fructose corn sy
    Getty Images
    Commercial beekeepers have been known to employ questionable practices, such as feeding their bees with high fructose corn syrup or using chemicals on hives. Support local beekeepers who use sustainable and bee-friendly practices, as well as local organic farms. Pesticide-free, organic farms are important habitats for native bees.
  • 7 Donate and S.H.A.R.E.
    Dan Cariveau, an associate professor at the&nbsp;University of Minnesota&rsquo;s Bee Lab, encouraged bee lovers to support co
    Getty Images
    Dan Cariveau, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota’s Bee Lab, encouraged bee lovers to support conservation groups that are working to protect native bee species, such as the Xerces Society and the National American Pollinator Protection Campaign.

    "Here in the north, there isn't much to be done as far as planting at this time of year, at least for wild bees," he said. "But there are other actions that people can take such as pollinator initiatives and donating to conservation work." 

    If you’ve already started planting for pollinators, add yourself to the NAPPC’s S.H.A.R.E. map, which tracks all the habitats across the country that are supporting America's pollinators.
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