Q: What do you give a sick bee?

A: Flowers!

Seriously, flowers are the answer. Here's the full story.

You've probably heard about mysteriously disappearing bees and colony collapse disorder. It's true: Bee numbers have dropped at horrifying rates.


This matters. We depend on bees for a third of our food. We can thank honeybees for pollinating cherries, blueberries, pears, strawberries, watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers, and apples just for starters. And they also pollinate alfalfa — OK, that's not tasty, but it does feed a lot of animals that are pretty tasty. Tomatoes are pollinated by bumblebees, and their numbers are down too.

Professor Marla Spivak calls this the "big bee bummer."

But she also sees a solution.

For one thing, it really helps to know that bees have great health care.

Honeybee societies work in mysterious ways, with no leader, but 40,000 to 50,000 individuals collectively making decisions and communicating about important bee things, like where the flowers are. Care-taking bees collect resins from plants that they bring back to the hive that are a natural antibiotic (propolis). Propolis fights bacteria and fungus and boosts the health of the hive. So with a little help, bees are very capable of taking care of themselves. In fact, they've been doing just that for some 100 million years.

Another key piece of the picture is that it's not just one thing that's killing 'em. It's a combination:

  • Endless, flowerless landscapes — they're food deserts for bees
  • Natural bee diseases and pests like the varroa mite — they're like giant ticks
  • Pesticides


Where's lunch?

Spivak describes how all these things might come together if you were a bee. It's not only the giant blood-sucking mite on your leg or just that you have to go miles to find any joint with nutritious food. It's that also in your weakened state, if that food has even a small dose of a chemical that makes your head kinda fuzzy, you might forget where you are.

"Oh, just where did I leave that hive?"

A lot of bees just never come home. No one knows exactly what happens to them.

But here's Spivak's delightful solution.

1. Plant flowers.

Even just a window box is a wonderful thing. There are lots of bees in the city. If you rip up a whole lawn and replant it with flowers, so much the better! Go native. You'll get butterflies and maybe hummingbirds too. Be sure to purchase your plants from a source that's pesticide-free.

2. Don't spray pesticides. Just don't do it.

It's that easy.

Here's Spivak's fascinating talk. Send a friend this video (and some flower seeds) and spread the word.

UPDATE: Since Spivak gave this talk, the U.S. EPA has put a moratorium on the use of neonics, the class of pesticides she describes. Some places have banned them. There's even published scientific evidence that pollen from plants treated with neonics are actually preferred by bees. The scientists suggest that the bees get hooked on the nicotine, just like humans can. Some people are skeptical. But while the scientists, farmers, and pesticide companies are duking it out, we have plenty of reasons already to push for diversity in agriculture and to do all we can to support a healthy, flower-filled landscape full of bees.