CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The return of warmer weather to Northeast Ohio will soon have local beehives humming. But the insect residents, who are critical to food production, now need a bit of human help.
A 2020 Rutgers University study documented the threat that declines in the pollinator population pose to crop yields in the United States -- the nation that feeds much of the globe. Nonetheless, there are a variety of steps residents of our corner of the world can take to ensure that honeybees and other pollinators thrive.
Keeping a hive is one possibility, though residents who find the notion of directly interacting with stinging insects anathema can still help bees and other pollinators.
“The very best thing you can do is provide them habitat,” says Christine Barnett, wildlife program specialist with the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center.
According to Barnett, keeping an area of loose, sandy soil in a distant corner of the yard will benefit many overlooked ground-dwelling bees who struggle with soil compaction and impermeable surfaces throughout Greater Cleveland.
Native plants, which are adapted to the fickle climate and challenging landscapes of Northeast Ohio, provide color to yards while also offering a food source to pollinators. Barnett emphasizes the need for variety.
“You want various flowers that will bloom throughout the warmer months,” she notes.
Providing a sustainable variety of flowers throughout the growing season not only ensures that pollinator food sources remain generally available, it also guarantees a healthy dose of mutualism. Many flowers have evolved to appeal to certain insects, an arrangement that benefits both species involved.
“The plants’ colors and shapes have developed to attract specific pollinators,” reveals Barnett.
Native seed packets are available through various garden centers and seed catalogs. In general, the closer the seed source is to home, the more successful the plants will be. The Cuyahoga Soil & Water Conservation District sells native seeds year-round. The packets range from $13 to $16 and each will cover about 250 square feet.
Fresh water is also vital to sustaining bee populations.
“Bees use a ton of water, though people tend to think they just drink nectar,” says Barnett.
The Lake Erie Nature & Science Center expert explains that bees cool the hive during the heat of summer by importing water they have ingested and fanning their wings in a way that is similar to a sweaty human standing in front of a fan to cool off.
Barnett suggests using a dish filled with marbles or stones that rise a bit above the water. Bees can then drink from the water-filled spaces between without the risk of falling in and drowning.
Along with the “dos,” there are a number of “don’ts.” Residents should avoid applications of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, all of which impact bees and other pollinators where they live -- in the open spaces around our homes and places of business.
Those truly devoted to supporting honeybee populations can typically keep hives, though the City of Cleveland and other jurisdictions regulate such endeavors. Barnett suggests connecting with area experts before attempting to establish a colony.
“The first thing I would recommend to do is to find a local bee club,” she said.
Organizations like the Greater Cleveland Beekeepers Association, Medina Beekeepers and the Lorain County Beekeepers Association will be familiar with laws regarding beehives. They can also discuss costs, where to purchase bees, equipment, bee care, potential issues and more.
Many of the groups host spring beekeeping classes, and members are always willing to share knowledge with prospective beekeepers.
Beekeepers in Ohio are required to register their hives with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which entails a $5 fee. Those residing in the City of Cleveland must apply for a free two-year license through the Department of Public Health.
According to Barnett, around 90 percent of plants in Ohio require pollinators. Although many grains are wind pollinated, a substantial decline in pollinators could result in a domino effect that would impact both flora and fauna in a way that would greatly reduce our ability to obtain the nutrients necessary to survive.
The Lake Erie Nature & Science Center will feature “Bees and Pollinators at Home” at 7 p.m. Thursday (March 18). The virtual session will be hosted by Barnett. Registration is available online and costs $8.
The program will address introducing bees to a new hive, maintaining pollinator houses and the wide variety of things we can all do to support our winged friends.
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