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Finding Inspiration in a Bee Highway

By Liz Clift

What if a pot of honey cost $182,000?

We’d probably consume a lot less of it. This is, perhaps, because a single bee produces only a single spoonful of honey. It is that statistic that allowed an accountant at a Norwegian accounting firm to calculate the rough cost of producing a single pot honey if “we did [bees’] job, paid at minimum wage.”

The same accounting firm recently added two hives and several flowering plants on its terrace. The hives will support around 45,000 worker bees, and are part of a “bee highway” that is being developed in Oslo, Norway. The goal is to create urban corridors of “feeding stations” filled with nectar-producing flowers. An additional layer to this project is the creation of, and care for, hives.

There’s a website devoted to the project, which allows participants (including companies, governmental agencies, and individuals) to write about, and photograph, where they are planting flowers or locating hives or other bee nesting spots.

One-third, approximately 66 different species, of Norway’s wild bees are endangered. In the US, we have 4,000 species of native bees—and they are at risk. According to a report published in Science, in 2013, some 50 percent of Midwestern native bee species have disappeared from their historic ranges since 1900. Four species of bumblebee have declined by 96% since 1990, and the ranges of those bees contracted by 23 to 87 percent in the same time period.

In other words, our bees are in trouble—and it is not just the (European) honeybee.

European_honey_bee_extracts_nectar

A European honey bee collects nectar

I’ve written before about the potential connection between bee populations and mycelium. But perhaps we can take something from Norway’s bee highway as well. What would it look like if we made concerted efforts—especially in our urban areas—to plant bee-friendly plants and practice bee-friendly gardening?

In my own garden, this year I planted wild bergamot (bee balm), and as a result, I seem to have more bees than ever visiting my garden. In my neighborhood, I walk past Datura plants as they are opening up for the evening, and see four, five, six bees burrowing themselves into each blossom. In my neighborhood, there are plenty of nectar-bearing plants for bees to source from—and even more if people practice careful management of their flowering plants that can produce blossoms all season (roses, zinnias, and marigolds come to mind as common garden plants that can be managed to produce flowers through the majority of the growing season).

But we can expand this into our cities in the same way Oslo is beginning to—by creating green roofs and terraces with flowering plants; by introducing hives and nesting spots into our urban centers; by tracking our bee-friendly initiatives.

The makings for this are already there.

The Wildlife Habitat Council offers project guidance for pollinator habitats—as well guidances specific to grasslands and landscapes, both of which can include a diversity of plants that provide nectar over the course of a season—and at Great Ecology we have helped companies earn their Pollinator Certification through this program. Pollinator Partnership works with farmers and garden-creators through an online certification program charmingly called BFF (no, not like your BFF. It stands for Bee-Friendly Farming). Other certifications—and ways of tracking these certifications—also exist, and you may already have some in your area.

On a purely selfish level, we should want to take efforts to protect and support native bees because their existence is critical for our food production. Consciously creating bee-friendly areas—including not only plantings, but providing sources of water and nesting, as well as connectivity to other bee friendly areas—could help curb their decline.

But beyond that, restoration efforts are reliant upon a diverse and vibrant source of pollinators—and pollinators are dependent on a healthy and diverse plant community. In other words, as art created street artists Louis Masai and Jim Vision states [from the perspective of bees]: When we go we’re taking you all with us.

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