Guest Blogger: Clara Beaufort of GardenGigs.com
Bees are dying and so too are the world’s supplies of cocoa and coffee beans. The solution starts with you.
We all know that bees pollinate flowers, but did you know these common flying insects are also responsible for the widespread availability of coffee? And chocolate? In 2016, The Daily Mail reported that cocoa stores are being depleted as farmers struggle to grow high-yielding cacao trees. Coffee might soon get weaker (and more expensive) as bees contribute greatly to the harvest of Robusta and Arabica beans.
Bees are nature’s pollinators, along with bats, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Bees are the most effective at the job; science news outlet Phys.org states it best: “bees top the chart for pollination success…” Both the cacao tree and coffee plant bloom with bright colored flowers, which bees are attracted to. While bees collect nectar, they pick up tiny particles of pollen. This pollen is then transferred to the next flower and so on. The result is a healthy and abundant crop.
Bees in decline
Colony Collapse Disorder, a disease that has killed off between 30% and 60% of commercial beehives each year since 2006, is to blame for the potential threat to two of the nation’s most beloved treats. Scientists report there is no one single stressor that causes CCD but it is widely accepted that disease along with an increased use of pesticides is largely to blame.
How you can help
Bees are attracted to a diverse variety of flowers, shrubs, herbs, and trees. And you can plant them in your very own backyard, even if you have very little experience or space and no green thumb. Tomatoes, which are very easy to grow, will attract a number of bees in the late spring and early summer. Asters, cardinal flower, and the aptly-named bee balm plant thrive among garden plants.
Urbanites may need to get a little more creative with their outdoor space by implementing micro gardening techniques, such as hanging planters and vertical vegetation. Lavender, mint, sage, and cilantro are attractive to bees and require very little space. A balcony or patio can sustain a small flower garden that is visually appealing to both people and pollinators.
Flowers, fruits, and vegetables need nutrients, sunshine, and water in order to grow. Since each region’s soil and growing season is different, you’ll want to determine which types of plants you want to use before tilling the ground or buying planters. Tomatoes, for instance, need at least a three-gallon pot whereas most herbs grow well in window boxes or gutter gardens. Potted plants may grow faster than those in the ground, but will also require watering more often. If you live in a cooler climate, consider adding a layer of mulch in the garden, which will help retain heat and moisture. A word of caution, however, many native bees nest in the ground and may find a mulched bed an inviting prospect. Cornell University reports that 70% of the world’s 20,000 bee species live underground.
Since bees are sensitive to pesticides, consider implementing integrated pest management practices in your backyard garden. Reduce clutter in the garden and set traps for specific types of pests. Never spray during the day, when bees are most active, and avoid treating plants with active blooms.
Bees need a diverse range of flowers, plants, and habitats in both urban and rural landscapes. And while one backyard garden may not be enough to ensure our caffeine cravings can continue without crisis, every bee and every bloom put us one step closer to preventing what would surely be a global disaster.