Bee Squares

141009_2In the time that I’ve spent working in fields and flowers, I have come to consider bees and other pollinators as my co-workers. I enjoy their visits as they forage from flower to flower. They seem to pay me little mind while I weed and harvest and, in regards to bees in specific, we’re all good as long as I watch what I’m grabbing. From the honey bee’s point of view, I can only imagine that I am a lumbering behemoth who thwarts their efforts of efficiency. And I wonder if their directional dance includes a phrase something like, ‘oh and watch out for that poor dumb mammal with the funky hat and green shirt who can’t seem to find her way out of the asters and beebalm’.

When the initial shock of honey bee colony collapse hit the farming community the reaction ranged from a calm surety that the decline would reverse itself, to fear for what would happen should we loose pollinators all together. Time and attention have brought many people into the forefront of pollinator advocacy and that is a good thing. Scientists and academics. Beekeepers. Farmers and growers. And people who just like bugs, and food. Still, there are a lot of folks who want to do something, anything, but aren’t sure what they can do against an issue so seemingly daunting as loosing a section of the earth’s population that’s responsible for over a third of our food production.

At first I wasn’t sure what I could do. Evidence and facts came gradually, suggested action even slower. Blame and opinion seemed to travel the fastest. Frustration without the light of possibility led easily to anger. If you’re frustrated and aren’t sure what to do, I have a two suggestions for immediate action.
One, watch this TED talk by Dr. Marla Spivak http://www.ted.com/talks/marla_spivak_why_bees_are_disappearing and,
two, grow or make a plan to grow flowering plants.

I heard Dr. Spivak speak to a local garden club a few nights ago. For those who don’t know of her, she is an award-winning professor in entomology at the University of Minnesota. She is a gentle yet strong advocate for bees and other pollinators. Her talk is illuminating, thoughtfully presented and well grounded. Her message is filled with common sense, hope, and quiet encouragement to stop pointing fingers and start planting flowers. The Bee Lab at the university has a ton of resources online: http://www.beelab.umn.edu. Including a list of plants for Minnesota bees. If you are from another state, it is my hope that your county, state, or university extension service would have a listing like this. If you can’t find one, send me a note and I’ll do my best to help look for it.

Growing flowers has been a great way to mitigate my frustration. As I travel, I’ve been committing acts of guerrilla planting when and where I can. I buy packets of native seeds at farm stores and spread them in ditches and alongside wild paths. When I’m on walks I grab seeds of native flowers and carry them along from one part of the path to another. It’s a small act, but it was a start.

141009_1The next phase of my plan is to spread the good word about something I’m calling Bee Squares. It’s just a few square feet of flowering plants that bees like. A little oasis in the sea of hard concrete and green lawns. The point is that a couple of square feet is easy to clear and plant, and just as easy to care for. They don’t have to be big to be effective and they don’t even have to be square. I just like the name, it’s catchy. I’m building a list of folks who’ll let me plant a square or two in their yard the next time I pass through their town.

Say, if you’ve got few spare, square feet in the corner of your yard would you mind doing a bee a favor? If I’m in the neighborhood I’d be happy to bring a shovel and some seed.