5 things you can do to help all pollinators - not just honey bees
Honey bees, wild bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, and other pollinators help produce more than a third of all the food we eat. They’re also a keystone species – without them, the vast majority of wildflowers, shrubs, and trees wouldn’t be able to reproduce, which would in turn affect the other creatures who rely on this vegetation for survival.
The bad news is pollinators are in trouble. But the good news is you can help – in many, many ways! From your morning smoothie to beginner-friendly gardening advice, here are 5 ways to play a part in protecting bees and all pollinators.
1. Create pollinator habitats
Planting certain flowers, shrubs, plants, fruit, vegetables, and trees can help bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. And you don’t need a ton of space. You can grow pollinator-friendly plants basically anywhere that could use a little brightening up, including:
- community gardens
- vacant lots
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has some handy docs online listing pollinator-friendly plants specific to regions throughout North America, plus tips on habitat planning, planting, and protection. The list for the Northeast Region – where Alvéole’s Montreal headquarters is located – includes wild bergamot, wild golden glow, calico aster, and highbush blueberries. We do love us some Earl Grey tea and blueberry smoothies!
While you’re at it, how about a giant sunflower to brighten up a rainy summer day? Or some bee-friendly anise hyssop? (It tastes like sweet fennel and licorice.) Even planting one tree can make a big difference. A single oak can house more than 500 species of moths and butterflies.
Let’s hear it for lazy gardens (and gardeners)!
If all that planting sounds like a lot of work, it doesn’t have to be. Lazy gardens can outstrip labor-intensive ones. Canadian environmental activist David Suzuki has some great advice on how to create a low-effort pollinator-friendly garden, from leaving twigs on the ground in spring and not raking all the leaves in fall, to letting some vegetables in your current garden go to seed in summer.
Then, take advantage of edible perennials by letting your lawn go a little wild with rhubarb, sorrel, and asparagus. According to the Canadian Wildlife Federation, if everyone in Canada with a lawn converted just a quarter of it into wildflower meadows, we could add almost 15,000 hectares for pollinators. That could go a long way to helping the monarch butterfly population recover from its 80 percent decline in just 20 years.
If you’re still not sure about getting started, the main thing is basically to think diverse when it comes to planting – and think local. Buy seeds and seedlings for native plants from local, organic nurseries and farms. Here’s a list of seed companies in Canada and here’s one for the US.
Native plants attract insects that, like bees, can help ward off pests, and are also an eco-friendly way of increasing your garden’s productivity and encouraging biodiversity. It’s usually easy to find a list of plants that attract helpful bugs in your area. This one from Montreal’s Botanical Garden has us dreaming of violets, moonseed, winterberries, and milkweed.
2. Donate to pollinator protection initiatives or nonprofits
If you don’t want to get your hands into the soil yourself, you can still support pollinators by contributing to organizations like Xerces and Pollinator Partnership, nonprofits helping pollinators and their habitats.
And both the Canadian and American government have their own pollinator protection plans, too. The White House even has its own honey bees. And since August 2020, so does the Canadian Senate building in downtown Ottawa – 13 hives worth! No word yet on whether the Prime Minister will be enjoying the fruits of those bees’ labor this year.
3. Lobby for your city to become a Bee City
Bee City Canada and Bee City USA bring communities together to fight pollinator population decline. In 2012 in North Carolina, founder Phylis Stiles started signing up cities to preserve pollinator habitats. In 2015, the organization spread to university and college campuses (Bee Campuses) and in 2018, international non-profit Xerces (yes, Xerces again) started handling the growing initiatives.
A signed resolution or partnership with a city involves the city creating educational events, Bee City street signs, pollinator-friendly government policy, and pollinator-friendly habitats. There are currently more than 230 participating Bee Cities and groups in North America!
4. Buy bee-friendly-certified food, makeup, and beeswax-based products
Have you ever seen a little bee symbol on your ice cream? How about your organic cherries? If it has a little square that says “Bee Better Certified,” that means the certified ingredients were grown without pesticides on a farm that responsibly manages its bumble bees and provides a pollinator-friendly and beneficial insect-friendly habitat.
The farms themselves are verified by a non-profit out of Oregon. And the Bee Better Certified program is also partnered with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, which we’ve already sung the praises of above.
While bee-friendly certification is still pretty rare, buying organic is another good way to know that at least chemical pesticides weren’t used in the plant’s growth that could be harmful to bees. Check out our blog post on how your food choices can help pollinators.
Finally, as customers demand it, more beauty and home decor brands are marketing the fact that the honey and beeswax in their creams and candles are pollinator-friendly.
5. Get an educational bee project going at your business or school
There’s no better way to spread the word about the importance of pollinators than by taking care of a hive yourself. Urban beekeeping brings people together around an awe-inspiring experience, with interactive and thought-provoking workshops and activities that allow for deeper conversations about sustainability.
This sustainable solution is affordable and easy to implement and it inspires people and organizations to do better and do more for the environment, with the added benefit of producing ultra local urban honey! That’s a sweet bonus to getting your network and community to join you in appreciating how hard bees – and all other pollinators – work to sustain the world we live in.