Bees are vitally important to our environment for their role in the pollination of crops that make our food. Pollination is the process of transferring pollen from the male part of a plant to the female part, resulting in fertilization and reproduction. Most plants that bear fruits and vegetables depend on pollination, so without bees and other pollinating insects, our food supply is in danger, as is the planet.

How can we protect bees and the environment?             

Gretel Clark, a naturalist and beekeeper in Hamilton says, “Above all, stop the use of any kind of chemical on one’s yards and gardens.” The bees will also benefit, she says, “when natural compost and fertilizers are used, and their soil is not contaminated with insecticides and herbicides.”

Bees are harmed if they consume nectar or pollen that contain pesticides, so check labels and note what’s toxic. Keep the risk to bees in mind in deciding about spraying ornamental plants, and if you feel you must spray, do it so bees are less likely to be harmed, for example, by spraying after flower petals have fallen when they are less attractive to the bees.

Planting flowers, fruits and vegetables in your yard is also helpful, says Clark. She calls big expanses of lawn “deserts” to honeybees – unless the lawn has dandelions. Clover and dandelions – commonly picked by children and presented as flowers – are a good source of nectar for honeybees. It’s best not to weed out dandelions but let them thrive and multiply if you can. “If your neighbor keeps bees, you can provide not only chemical-free forage plants for them but a source of water,” says Clark.

She adds that it’s good to learn to recognize honeybees (as opposed to wasps, hornets, bumble bees and yellow jackets). “Honeybees are not aggressive,” says Clark. “You can even let one sit on your arm and drink a drop of, say, sweet water and she won’t hurt you. Honey bees generally only sting if they get caught under your bare foot or in your clothing. They would rather not sting because they die when they have to sting.”

Charles Frederic Andros, owner of Linden Apiaries in Walpole, N.H., who is a former New Hampshire and Vermont apiary inspector, says, “If you would like to help the bees, the planet, and wildlife, may I suggest reducing the size of your weekly mowed lawn and mowing your resulting flowery meadow once a year in the fall, or let a farmer harvest the hay. In this way you can reduce pollution and greenhouse gases, not to mention work or money saved!  Never spray insecticides on plants when in bloom or allow drifting insecticide to reach flowers.”

He recommends planting clover and other “honey-producing flowers, shrubs and trees.” And stresses, echoing Clark: “Let the dandelions bloom!”

Mary Alice Cookson is the associate editor of Boston Parents Paper.

To learn about the health benefits of honey, click here.