How can I help the bees?

There is a lot of media coverage on the plight of bees, and it is not all accurate.

The majority of bees are not honey bees. Honey bees are domesticated livestock, bred from a European native. Colony-collapse disorder, which peaked in 2011, only applies to honeybees, not native bees. Mites are the greatest cause of this disorders. Overall, the number of honeybees has remained fairly consistent. They are not endangered. There has been a surge in beekeeping, however, so you may hear of a keeper losing bees more often. But they can be purchased like other livestock if lost.

You may be surprised to learn, as I was, that there are over 300 species of bees native to Illinois (the Chicago Botanical Garden claims 500). They are all important pollinators, and, therefore, important to protect.

Many of these live a solitary life underground, although there may be several nests in a small area. Each bee lays its own eggs and raises them in a hole about 1/4″ wide. Females can sting but are not aggressive; the males may be more active but they do not have a stinger.

These holes help your lawn and garden by aerating the soil. After they are no longer used, they will naturally fill in and be unnoticeable. So be patient!

If you are allergic to bees, keep the ground well-watered, and the bees will find another place to nest, since they prefer dry soil.

Yellow jackets also live in the ground, but there will be many coming and going from a much larger hole. If you need to get rid of them, spraying the nest directly is the most effective and humane method.

Some well-meaning suggestions to help native bees may actually hurt them:

  • Bee houses/hotels/condos: These are sold all over. However, most are impossible to clean thoroughly, and so can spread disease. Since most native bees live in the ground, they will probably not use the house.
  • Planting the wrong plants: Using a native, prairie, etc. or other generic seed packet that isn’t actually created for your region may spread invasive plants and choke out the true locals.

What does help:

  • Leaving the first dandelions and other flowers until there is a more consistent food source.
  • Keeping the bee holes in your lawn open in early spring. Nature will cover them up soon enough.
  • Planting native plants as in native to our region, not native to somewhere else in the U.S.
  • Limit the amount of herbicides and avoid insecticides. (Note: both herbicides and insecticides are pesticides).┬áNOTE: There is no scientific proof that neonicotinoids or glyphosate, including Round-Up, play a significant role in bee deaths.
  • Not using bee houses unless they are thoroughly cleaned on a regular schedule.
  • Providing some bare, dry patches of earth in your gardens for bee nests.

Further Reading:
The Counter: About “bee-washing”, how the hype and misinformation doesn’t really help bees

Kane County Chronicle: Ground Bees Important as Early-Season Pollinators

The Bee Apocalypse Was Never Real; Here’s Why

Glyphosate Bee Death Story Is Bee-S