Bees need good, clean food.

A handful of years ago, I attended a lecture about what can be done to help reverse the decline in bee populations, which has been going on for quite some time in the northern hemisphere. The lecture, “Bees: The New Buzz,” was given by MacArthur award-winning entomologist and University of Minnesota professor, Marla Spivak.

While there were many takeaways, the underlying theme was bees need good, clean food.

Many healthy, diverse habitats that would provide bees years of food sources have been destroyed. Monoculture agriculture often involves crops that self-pollinate or pollinate with the wind and are not good food sources to bees. Lawns, once wild places or later mixed with Dutch Clover, have now become monoculture turf that provides no food and is often poisoned by pesticides. And ditches and shorelines are now often the dumping places of agricultural and municipal waste, sludge, and chemicals.

But thankfully, there is something nearly anyone can do to help. We can give bees access to that good, clean food by planting good, clean flowers. Dr. Spivak reminded us many times: “plant flowers everywhere.”  And in the accompanying slide show, several slides asked the crowd to “imagine flowers here.” The phrase was imposed on pictures of shorelines, next to cropland, solar panel fields, yards, etc.

Why such a simple answer to a severe problem? Well, it turns out that just as humans can do better doing battle with illnesses and crises when we are better nourished, so can bees. And bees like the nectar and pollen from flowers of plants that aren’t laden with insecticides, herbicides, fungicides.  Lawns could become feeding grounds for humans (vegetable gardens) and bees (flower gardens) alike. The lawns would be transformed from manicured — yet barren and unused — space to actual plots of high value.

Of course, it would be good to go after the insecticides, herbicides, fungicides — which Dr. Spivak talked about. And it would be good to bring back wild and diverse habitats where bees could flourish — something briefly touched on. But for the regular person, you really can make an impact by planting good, clean flowers.

Here are some basics about the “cool mutualism” between flowers and bees. Flowers give off nectar which provides many flowers with scents bees love. The nectar is also a simple carbohydrate and vital source of energy for bees. When a bee lands on a pollen-rich flower some real magnetism takes place. The bee actually has one charge, the pollen the opposite. “Whomp!” Pollen hits and sticks to their hairy bodies.

An important thing to note: pollen is a flower’s sperm. So when the bee moves from one flower to the next flower and the next flower and the next flower, it rather efficiently drops sperm on the female parts of a flower when it goes in for more nectar.

Oh yeah, some of the pollen does not get dispersed. Bees gobble some of the pollen up as it is the rich source of protein and lipids that complete the bee’s diet.

One last thing about that bees need good, clean food thing: recent research shows, bees can detoxify pesticides when they also have access to pure food.

Good news, indeed.