To Bee or Not to Bee

“In recent years, the mysterious disappearance of bees has puzzled experts from across the world. In the United States alone, the honeybee population has dropped by 50 percent from midcentury levels, and 700 species of bees are now at risk of extinction. Scientists can’t really pin down the cause of the ‘bee apocalypse,’ but point to the interplay of toxic pesticides, biodiversity loss, and climate change.”

                                    ~ Vittoria Traversojune

The silver maples that lined our street were likely planted as part of a concerted effort, probably at the beginning of the last century. The neighborhood began in the 1850’s and grew up with the town and adjacent college. The street trees did then, and do now, frame the homes and create a tunnel-like effect, complementing the front yard landscaping. As the maples have aged out, both the city and individual homeowners have replaced them with other hardy trees – honey locust, green ash, linden and oak. 

Our last surviving silver maple abutted our neighbor’s yard and, like several in the neighborhood, harbored a beehive in a hollow upper branch. When our neighbor’s son was old enough to play outside, I began to worry about the weakness of the aging tree and falling branches, so arranged to have the tree removed. I specified that the arborist must protect, remove and relocate the hive — which they did by taking a large chunk of the hollow branch, sealing the ends and passing it on to a beekeeper.

I was surprised to see bees that high, but apparently it’s the best place for them. “Many hives are kept at ground level,” apiculturist Michael Thiele says as reported by Vittoria Traversojune, “But bees’ instinctual preference is to live 20 feet off the ground.” Thiele creates new hives using hollow logs. “When setting up log hives high up in trees, he only uses organic materials such as ropes and wax. He models their entrances on natural nests, placing a small piece of comb by the opening and coating it with a tincture made of propolis, an antibacterial resin produced by bees to seal openings in the hive. ‘For them, it smells like home,’ he says.”

“We always only looked at bees for what they do for humans,” Thiele says. “It’s time to see them for what they do for our wider ecosystem … Bees fly in an estimated range of one to two miles from their hive in search of nectar, so everything that they encounter on the way is potentially damaging. ‘All it takes is one farmer using pesticides one mile down the road and they are at risk,’ Thiele says.”

There are many ways we can act to protect pollenating insects, individually and in unison. One approach is to use roadside vegetation. Jennifer Hopwood and Angela Laws report, “Roads have the potential to fragment habitat, separating plants and animals from one another, as well as to destroy habitat and increase invasive plant species, pollution, and erosion. New roads, especially those through natural areas, can have adverse effects on the wildlife around them. However, roadside vegetation can help to mitigate some of the negative impacts of roads. The management of vegetation along existing roads can increase habitat diversity and provide connectivity to habitat fragments in agricultural and urban landscapes.”

“Roadsides provide pollinators with food, breeding, nesting opportunities, as well as connectivity to other habitat. Pollinator diversity can be high in roadsides, with bee and butterfly communities that include a significant portion of the species found in the region, both common species as well as rare ones … these acres hold the potential to create a network of habitats to support pollinators across urban and rural landscapes.”

“Conservation actions such as adjustments to mowing schedules, targeted herbicide use, and including key native plants in revegetation plans, implemented in association with appropriate ESA compliance strategies, can provide benefits to at-risk pollinator species and contribute to species recovery, while reducing future regulatory uncertainty and reducing the potential for a future (endangered species) listing.”

Residential areas in urban and suburban areas provide a great potential for diverse landscapes, vegetation and habitats well suited to a variety of insect, bird and animal life. With a little thought and care, we can create and sustain wonderfully vibrant natural aspects in our neighborhoods.

As Mister Rogers used to say, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Additional information:

Aimee Code, Pollinator Protection Starts at Home and can Spread Faster than Weeds!, 23 June 2021, Xerces Society

Jennifer Hopwood and Angela Laws, Pollinators Find a Home on Roadsides, 24 June 2021, Xerxes Society

Steve Tarlton, Bee Good, 3/2/17, Writes of Nature

Vittoria Traversojune, The Zen Beekeeper Returning Hives to the Wild, June 12, 2019, Gastro Obscura

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