Honey bees seem to be making the news everywhere, and even more so here in Ohio, where last year’s harsh winter took a drastic toll on the honey bee population. It is estimated that there was a 50-80% decline in the number of honey bees in Ohio due to the extreme winter weather, according to the Columbus Dispatch. Honey bees and native pollinators are an irreplaceable part of our ecosystem, and news of their decline is an ever-growing concern among scientists, environmentalists, and farmers across the nation and the world.
Honey Bees and the Ohio Ecosystem
It turns out that these little creatures are quite important when it comes to a stable ecosystem. Many plants and animals could not survive without pollination from bees. Many pretty wildflowers only exist because of a long and involved interdependence with bees of all types. At the heart of their interdependence is the process of pollination, which happens when honey bees and other insects carry pollen from one flower to another.
There is a staggering number of species of bees. Over 4,000 species of bees have distinct and unique relationships with specific plants and flowers, and the success of their colonies can have a big impact on certain crops and flowers. Studies on the decline of bees are showing that certain species are dying off rapidly, and sadly, it is anticipated that some plant species may die out as well. It is becoming more and more important to focus efforts on saving honey bees when so much of the Ohio ecosystem depends on it.
The Role of Honey Bees in Agriculture
Honey bees provide a lot more than delicious honey. Their pollination activity is vital to many of Ohio’s crops. Apples, cucumbers, pumpkins, strawberries, and melons all need honey bees to survive. With honey bee populations declining faster in Ohio than other places, farmers and concerned citizens are looking for ways to boost the honey bee population. Honey bee hobbyists are taking matters into their own hands, and luckily the number of beekeepers in the state is up a whopping 27% over the last six years.
What Can Be Done to Help Honey Bees
While not everyone may be willing to care for a beehive, anyone with a garden can help improve the health of the bee population by creating bee-friendly habitats.
Near Columbus, Ohio, the transportation department has begun creating honey bee habitats on some highway medians by planting wildflowers to encourage honey bee activity. We have done the same here at the Inn at Honey Run, planting a native shortgrass meadow in front of the Honeycombs that is home to plenty of beneficial insects and pollinators and even attracts hummingbirds.
Perhaps most appropriately, the Honeycombs are also surrounded with bee-friendly plants like Russian sage, purple coneflower and sunflower.
To plant the perfect combination of wildflowers to help honeybees, consider using some of the plants and wildflowers on this list from our horticulturalist, Ashley:
Virginia Mountain Mint
Collectively, with involvement from government, bee-friendly habitats and a few more honeybee lovers, there is hope for positive change in the Ohio honeybee population.