Editor’s note: This is the August installment of a monthly column written by the city of DeKalb’s Citizens Environmental Commission that focuses on increased awareness of issues such as promoting projects and ordinance changes involved in recycling, reducing energy consumption, and planting native habitat.
Bzzzzz. The joyous sound of bees hard at work. These industrious friends pollinate more than 130 fruits and vegetables and are responsible for pollinating three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants.
Consider how many of these edible plant products are on your plate from meal to meal: apples, avocadoes, blueberries, cabbage, cantaloupe, celery, peppers, coconut, peaches, tomatoes, and watermelon. Imagine how limited our diets would be if these foods were erased from our options. You could no longer enjoy chips and salsa, guacamole, apple pie, coleslaw, and the list goes on and on.
But did you know that bees are also responsible for additional food groups?
For omnivores, they play a major role in dairy and meat production. Livestock like cows and goats supplement their diets with vital crops such as alfalfa and clover, which are pollinated by bees. That burger you’d like a slice of tomato on? That’s right – both burger and tomato are endangered foods without bees.
Along with other pollinators, bees are also the reason for the beautiful flowers that grace our yards and parks. They keep our woods and prairies productive, permitting a wide range of species that bloom from spring to fall. These are the places that feed more than the body, providing the recreational benefits of hiking and picnicking in a landscape painted with color.
Some readers, especially those with allergies in their families, will be prompted to ask, what about bee stings and allergic reactions? Scientific studies have shown up to 3.3% of the population have severe reactions to bee stings. Individuals with a history of this type of allergy should carry an antidote at all times.
But bees are in trouble. Populations of bees have plummeted, and one in six species of wild bees are regionally extinct. Unfortunately, human activities, such as extensive pesticide applications and habitat loss, are the primary reason for these sharp declines. Yet we can help our bee populations here in DeKalb.
Homeowners can reevaluate their landscaping practices with the goal of selecting trees, shrubs, and flowering plants, including natives, which thrive under the natural conditions of northern Illinois climate. We can thus limit or eliminate chemical pesticide applications. Without adjusting our practice of chemically managed lawns and gardens, more bee colonies will collapse, adding to the 45% of the beehive population that died last year, as reported by beekeepers.
Additionally, we can provide water and nesting places in our yards to encourage bees to take up residence. A shallow dish of clean water can be placed anywhere a thirsty bee may pass by. Bees rely on sheltered nooks and crannies for nesting habitat, and several retailers in the DeKalb area sell mason bee houses. These structures provide shelter and nesting opportunities for mason bees, a tiny native, non-stinging species of bee.
Everyone from our farmer’s market vendors to the child happily biting into a juicy peach will be thankful for DeKalb backyards that are friendly to bees.
For information, visit foe.org/blog/food-bees-pollinate/