5 Things You’re Doing Every Day That Are Hurting Honeybees

You can support precious pollinators with these easy actions.

November 3, 2016
Geoffrey Budesa/shutterstock

It’s no secret honeybees are hurting. Colony collapse disorder (CCD), which occurs when the majority of worker bees in a hive don’t survive the winter, has been plaguing beekeepers for the past 10 years. While CCD is on a slight decline, nearly a quarter of hives still won’t survive the winter this year. According to the EPA, researchers still don’t know conclusively what is causing CCD, but it’s generally thought to be a combination of deadly factors including pesticide usage, invasive mites, stress, and loss of habitat. This should worry all of us because our food supply would diminish dramatically without honeybees pollinating our crops.

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Perhaps the biggest thing you can do to protect honeybees is to become an organic beekeeper yourself (here's what you need to know to get started!). But if you’re not ready to take the plunge, there are still ways you can help. These five everyday habits are contributing to honeybee decline, but if we all changed our behavior we could make a significant positive change.

local honey
You’re Not Using Local Honey In Your Tea

Choosing the best honey can seem complicated. There are dozens of brands, colors, and types (clover, orange blossom, or wildflower?)—but the only rule you really need to follow when purchasing honey is to get it from a trusted local apiary. Thanks to CCD, it’s a rough time to be a beekeeper, and apiaries need your support in order to replace lost colonies and keep surviving colonies healthy. Plus, buying local honey means you’re supporting local farmers who rely on those local bees to pollinate their crops. Yes, honey at the farmers’ market may be more expensive than the generic brands in the supermarket, but you’re paying for a quality product and investing in a vital industry in your community. (And be sure to read about these 6 other things you should know before buying honey again.) 

spraying crops
Buying Non-Organic Food

By now, it’s no secret that pesticides are a bee’s worst enemy. Bees are especially vulnerable to a particular class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. The EPA recently declared that neonicotinoids are a long-term threat to bees in some (but not all) circumstances. More recently, researchers in Germany also found that neonicotinoids are likely a key factor in widespread bee mortality. This is a big problem because we still rely on bees to pollinate 30 percent of our food crops, according to the Natural Resource Defense Council—including almonds, peaches, and pumpkins, to name a few, as well as some feed crops for livestock, like alfalfa. When we use insecticides that are deadly to bees on the crops that we need them to pollinate, we threaten our food supply. Buying organic food is good for bees and people, and it sends a signal to producers about what we value as consumers. 

empty beehives in almond orchard
Richard Thornton/shutterstock
Not Thinking Of Declining Bee Populations As An Economic Problem

CCD puts a strain on your wallet in very tangible ways. All of us rely on bees to pollinate our dinner—without them our food supply would be in jeopardy and we’d be paying a lot more for every bite. In 2014, The White House estimated that honeybees contribute about $15 billion to the U.S. economy annually. Growers hire hives from beekeepers to pollinate their crops. Before CCD, they paid about $50 to hire one hive; now it costs $175 or more. That increased price hike gets passed on to us at the grocery store—and things could get even worse. BBC News reports that without bees, the only way to pollinate these key crops would be to hire people to spread the pollen between plants with feather dusters, something that is already happening in parts of China. Estimates by Reading University in the UK suggest this could more than double the price of food if these workers were paid the UK’s minimum wage. When you look at it that way, investing in pollinator research really is a bargain. 

Related: 14 Beneficial Insects You Should Be Welcoming Into Your Garden

honeybee on flower
Planting Only Grass In Your Yard

Honey bees can travel up to six miles searching for food. Even if you don’t have a beehive in your backyard, you can help hungry bees by creating a bee-friendly habitat on your property (native pollinators will benefit, too!). The Honeybee Conservancy recommends growing a lot of native flowering plants (you can find a list of native plants in your region at PlantNative.org or check with your local nursery). Bees prefer varieties with single flower tops, like marigolds, because they have an easier time accessing the pollen. They also love clover, so consider spreading clover seeds over all or a portion of your yard—it can even help rejuvenate your lawn, too. 

Related: 5 Cool Ways To Make A Beehive

bees flying into a hive
Not Taking Climate Change Seriously

Of all the compelling reasons to start making efforts to reverse climate change, it’s effect on honeybees and other pollinators is a big one. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a warming planet means that there could be a timing issue between bees and bloom: Bees can’t survive if they come out of their winter hibernation before flowers begin blooming (check out these things you can do to help bees survive the winter.) A changing climate could also cause a disconnect between flowers’ and bees’ ranges, meaning critical food sources may no longer grow in areas where bees live. You can help by pressing your legislators to take action on climate change and pollinator conservation, voting for lawmakers who have these values, and taking steps to reduce your personal impact on climate change.