Monday 9 May 2016

8 ways to save the bees (and why they need saving)

One of the things I love about writing for a living is that it gives me an excuse to find out about stuff and a way to share what I've learned with others and hopefully spark conversations and changes. That's how I came to write about bees for the latest issue of WellBeing magazine (issue #162). 

Drone honeybee, pic by Flow
Like most people, I knew that bees are in trouble worldwide. But I wanted to find out why, how bad is it in Australia and why do we need bees? 

All super interesting, but the highlight was meeting three passionate beekeepers (is there any other kind?) in northern NSW, where I live, who have been thinking outside the hive to come up with three innovative ways to save the bees. You can read all about it in Where are all the bees? (a link to the full story). 

Something else I learned from the beekeepers I talked to: what we can all do to help. These tips are in the story too, but I've expanded on them and wanted to share them here too to spread the word further, and for easy reference. 

Most are simple things, some take a bit of planning, but all of them put us back in touch with nature and remind us that we're all connected, even when we forget that. Go the bees!

1. Buy organic. By supporting pesticide-free farming, you’re supporting healthy bees free of the effects of neonics, aka neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides toxic to bees in a multitude of ways. You'll be helping the earth and improving your own health and wellbeing too. You can also support pesticide-free food by shopping at farmers' markets and talking to the people who grow your food (e.g. some can't afford organic certification but don't use pesticides or artificial fertilisers).

Bees love cut flowers too
2. Make your garden bee-friendly (even if you live in an apartment). By planting wildflowers, in fact any flowers, herbs and vegetables - just make sure you use organic seeds (almost all other seeds are neonic-coated). You can find bee-friendly seed packs at Eden Seeds and Melbourne City Rooftop HoneyHappy Flame, which makes beautiful organic beeswax candles, also gives its online customers free organic seed packs. 

Other ways to have a bee-friendly garden: let parts of your garden go wild, mow less often and use only natural pesticides such as neem oil.

3. Get bee-wise. Watch docos such as More than Honey (2012), Queen of the Sun (2010) and The Vanishing of the Bees (2009) and TED talks such as No Bees, No Food by John Miller (2014) and Why Bees are Disappearing by Marla Spivak (2013). Some of these movies you can watch online, or through Netflix. Or think bigger and host a community screening in your local cinema or town hall. 

4. Avoid household insecticides. This is a big one. Even flea treatments for your pets contain bee-toxic neonics. Use natural insecticides around your home, such as citronella or neem oil, or make your own (the simplest is 30ml of biodegradable soap in a litre of water, with optional extras such as garlic and onion and oils such as tea tree or eucalyptus for fragrance). And "live and let live" a little. A screen door is a better way to cope with mosquitoes than nuking them with harmful chemicals.

Happy Flame's beeswax candles
5. Support your local beekeepers. Beekeepers do it tough in Australia, which makes them dependent on pollination work to make a living, which puts their bees at risk (learn how here). 

You can help by buying local honey (which can also reduce the effects of hay fever, apparently), organic beeswax candles (my two favourites are Northern Light and Happy Flame) and beeswax-based products such as Burt’s Bees lip balm. 

6. Support a government ban on neonics in Australia. Don’t just sign a petition, write to your local MP and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority and spread the word on social media to get others to do the same. 

7. Learn how to be a backyard beekeeper. The world needs more bees, but it's a good idea to get some training before you buy a hive. Crowdfunding sensation Flow Hive has a new kind of hive that makes collecting honey safer for bees and easier for humans, and training videos to help you get started. Milkwood runs natural beekeeping courses in Sydney and beyond. The Australian Native Bee Company can teach you how to keep native bees anywhere on the east coast north of Bega.

8. Support bee-friendly businesses. Such as: Humble B, a new eco-cleaning company that uses only ethical, earth-friendly products and gives 50 per cent of its profits to local environmental and community projects. You can also learn to make your own eco-friendly cleaning products; I went to a fantastic green-cleaning workshop run by Self Seed a few weeks ago, and they have lots of recipes and tips on their website.

That's a (beeswax) wrap
Let me know if you think of other ways. I've just started using reusable, washable beeswax food wraps made by Byron-based Honeybee Wrap - for wrapping sandwiches and leftovers instead of plastic cling wrap - with the happy side-effect of reducing plastic use and waste. The learning journey never ends.

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