ST. PAUL, Minn. (6/13/2011) —Bee populations are in decline in Minnesota and throughout the nation. As bees are vital pollinators of our fruits, vegetables, flowers and seed crops, it is critical that we support their health and diversity. Fortunately, there are two easy steps to take: Plant bee-friendly flowers, and reduce pesticide use.
All bees—honey bees and native bees—need flowers for their nutrition. To stay healthy, bees need a wide diversity of flowering plants that produce pollen (their sole source of protein) and nectar (carbohydrates) over the entire growing season. Sadly, many bee-friendly flowers are contaminated by insecticides, which can compromise bees' nervous and immune systems, making them vulnerable to viruses, parasites and other bee diseases. Honey bee colonies are dying from a combination of nutritional stress, pesticides, diseases and parasites. Native bees are threatened by a lack of uncontaminated flowers and a lack of undisturbed nesting sites in the ground.
In Minnesota, honey bees gain the most nutrition and make delicious honey from clovers, alfalfa, and basswood trees. Bees also collect pollen and nectar from a wide variety of native and introduced flowering species. Honey bees forage two miles on average from their colony (an 8,000 acre area), so the more flowering plants available to them, the more honey they produce, the more pollen they obtain, and the healthier they are.
Native bees prefer native plants, although they do forage on clovers, alfalfa and flowers also used by honey bees. Native bees and honey bees live well together, particularly when they have access to an abundance of flowers.
If you use pesticides, please read the label. It is against the law to apply some pesticides when bees are foraging in the area, and some compounds are more toxic to bees than others.
The Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provide farm management advice with cash incentives to establish permanent, non-crop vegetation on highly erodible lands. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides funding for the enhancement of bee habitat on private farms and ranches.
Contact your local USDA-NRCS office for technical and financial assistance to establish pollinator habitat on your land. Also, visit the Xerces Society website for regional plant lists and a wealth of information on how to support bees in agricultural and urban landscapes: www.xerces.org/pollinator-conservation.
The University of Minnesota has maintained an internationally recognized research and Extension program on honey bees since 1918. If you would like more information about bee research, visit the Bee Lab website at www.extension.umn.edu/honeybees.
We stay healthy eating bee pollinated fruits and vegetables. It's our turn to help bees stay healthy.
Any use of this article must include the byline or following credit line:
Marla Spivak is an apiculture entomologist with University of Minnesota Extension, a MacArthur Fellow, and Distinguished McKnight Professor in the Department of Entomology.
Media Contact: Catherine Dehdashti, U of M Extension, (612) 625-0237, firstname.lastname@example.org