Homeowners Can Help Our Backyard Bees

It’s hard to miss the news that bees are in trouble. 

This isn’t information we can afford to ignore, if for no other reason than honeybee pollinators affect the amount and type of food available in grocery stores. But homeowners can actually do a lot every day to help safeguard these iconic insects.

Bees need a source of pollen and nectar during the growing season, and native plants do a much better job of providing it than hybridized varieties and are also better adapted to surviving in a given climate than non-native plants. It’s also good to have different types of plants in the garden that will bloom spring, summer and fall. While dandelions might not be our favorite yard accessory, bees love them. Dandelions bloom early and often, and produce lots of the good stuff to keep the bees going strong. We may want to look for sections of lawn that isn’t as noticeable from the house or street to grow them. Talk to a nursery or visit ConserveLakeCounty.org and use their native plant finder to help figure out which plants are best for yards and gardens.

Fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and insecticides all do a lot of damage to bee populations, even in small amounts. If they don’t kill adult bees outright, they often affect the bees’ navigation systems, leaving them lost, disoriented and unable to make it back to the hive. If they do arrive carrying toxic pollen and nectar, those substances are used to feed the queen and larvae, which can impact reproduction and development. Instead, consider using a natural approach to lawn care. The same website has great tips and suggestions on ways to reduce or eliminate the need for chemicals while improving the quality of our yards.

Buying fruits, vegetables and flowers from local farmers also goes a long way toward helping bee populations. The farms that grow most conventional grocery store produce and flowers are vast monocultures that cannot support them. As a result, bees have to be trucked in from all over the country to pollinate their crops. California almonds are a good example. This isn’t a sustainable lifestyle for the bees, which partially accounts for why so many beekeepers are losing them.

Small, local farms, on the other hand, tend to grow many types of crops, and these farms can usually sustain local bee populations that perform all the necessary pollination. Many team up with beekeepers that leave their hives on the farms year-round, resulting in great pollination services without over-stressing the bees. Of course, buying local honey is one of the tastiest ways to support our local honeybee populations.

Every little bit helps, whether it’s buying produce from a farmers’ market, trading out ornamental flowers for natives in the garden or cutting back on the use of chemicals in the yard. Everyone has to make their own decision about what they can reasonably do to support local pollinator populations.

One easy and inexpensive thing we all can do is perhaps the most important: spread the word. People are more likely to get involved if they learn about something from a friend than from a magazine article, because we know we’ve got a sure source of support and encouragement in whatever actions we undertake. If we’re passionate about what we’re doing, our friends may want to become involved too, and who knows—something magical can happen when good ideas spread throughout the community.


Visit cmap.illinois.gov/livability/local-food for information about the growing local food movement in Lake County.


Leah Holloway is a Heller Nature Center naturalist with the Park District of Highland Park. Contact her at 847-579-4184 or HellerNatureCenter.org

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