I haven’t yet encountered bees in 2021. Once the snow melts this month, however, I will visit thousands of them. Shortly after the row cover shrouding mustard greens like arugula and kale at Black Cat Farm is removed, the plants begin producing blossoms. Honeybees will swarm. For many, it will be their first taste of nectar after a long hibernation. I like taking short videos of them helicoptering between flowers, sometimes with snow covering the ground.
A small farm like Black Cat depends upon bees to pollinate a wide range of crops including melons, winter squash and cucumbers.
“If you want pumpkin gnocchi with sage brown butter sauce in November you have to take care of the bees in March to make that dish happen,” says Eric Skokan, the owner of Black Cat (and a longtime friend and client of mine). “Bees and that dish, among many others, are linked to each other.”
Farms around the world, in fact, need bees; without them entire categories of crops, like almonds, would vanish.
But as I’m sure you have heard, bee populations are in severe decline. Agriculture is wiping out habitats. Researchers believe pesticides are killing bees. Diseases ravage them, and by upending ecosystems due to increased atmospheric heat, climate change threatens them, too.
Humans can help. Among the strategies:
- Don’t spray yards with pesticides.
- Populate your yard with bee-happy plants.
Another one? Take part in The Bee Conservancy’s Sponsor-a-Hive program. The non-profit, which has protected an estimated 10 million bees since its inception in 2009, is accepting applications until the end of this month. Schools and community groups selected by the program receive hives, ongoing support and educational materials to help them nurture bees and play a role in promoting bee health and vitality.
The Conservancy’s program, expanded dramatically to 500 hives this year, comes at a critical time. A report issued this year found that 25 percent of wild bees have disappeared across the globe during the past 25 years. Right now, 1 in 4 of North America’s 4,000 bee species is at risk of extinction, according to the Conservancy. Colorado alone supports 946 species of native bees.
Each Sponsor-a-Hive bee house is made from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified pine. Brooklyn Woods, an organization that trains unemployed and low-income New Yorkers in woodworking skills, manufacturers the hives. For some of the woodworkers, it’s one of the first paying jobs of their careers.
Rebecca Louie, an old journalist pal of mine who is The Bee Conservancy’s managing director, says that in addition to protecting bees, the program is “about bringing people together to engage with nature, grow food and community bonds, and build economic opportunities in the green sector.”
So just as the program offers bees new hives, it simultaneously compels humans to build stronger communities — or thriving hives of our own.
Hive fives all around.
Applications remain open until 11:59 p.m. on March 31. More information and applications can be found at https://thebeeconservancy.smapply.io/prog/sponsor-a-hive_2021
For ideas about ways to protect bees, check out the Conservancy’s excellent guide.