How can you, a person living in a city, help the bees survive winter?
Winter is the hardest time for bees. Bees deal with climate change, herbicides & pesticides, loss of habitat, invasive parasites and more all year long and they survive! They survive just to die over winter. Did winter kill them? No! Bees can normally deal with winter just fine. Some bees store food all summer long to eat during winter, some bees hibernate underground for winter, some bees lay eggs that stay dormant over winter but, they can only survive winter if they are healthy and not disturbed.
We all know bees need more Natives Flowers, we all know that poisons like pesticides and herbicides harm bees, but did you know you are throwing bees away in the trash?
New York City is home to over 2 thousands different species of bees and many of them are what we call borrowing bees. Borrowing bees lay eggs, and store food inside tubes. These cocoons filled with developing bees and winter food stores will sit dormant during winter and emerge in spring to a new season of flowers. These “tubes” can be a huge variety of thing, some bees prefer to drill holes in rotting wood, some make them out of clay, but most borrowing bees are opportunistic, they look for something pre-built.
Bees and plants have evolved over millions of years and they rely on each other. Plants provide food and shelter for bees and bees pollinate in return. That’s right many bees live inside plants. During the fall, as the nights become colder, bees will start looking for tubes for winter survival. As plants die and leaves fall, these dead stems become the perfect place!
In Nature, these dead stems and leaves would lay on the ground, maybe under some snow undisturbed until spring. As the spring flowers start blooming the bees would emerge. Perfect!
Here comes the biggest problem facing bees today, human stupidity. For some unknown reason, humans in urban and suburban areas have recently decided that nature is ugly and that we need to clean it up. We spend way too much money and time causing noise and air pollution with our landscapers, leaf blows and mowers. We are actively destroying habitat and food for the bees. During fall we have a irrational need to remove all the leaves… gone are the days of kids playing in leaf piles. Now days our weekends are disturbed by the sound of leaf blowers kicking dirt into the air as they kill our borrowing bees.
But what about the Joneses?
There are many different ways to live a more sustainable life style and still have your home look nice.
-Using a rack instead of leaf blows will help keep many of our pollinators alive as you clean up.
-Leave the leaves in areas where people don’t need to walk, they look nice for Halloween and Thanksgiving. Leaving leaves on the ground over winter not only helps 'Save The Bees' but also insulates your grass and add nutrients as they decompose, you can still rake them up after spring.
-Replace parts of your lawn with native flowers or even vegetables. In these areasl leave the leave and till them under in spring.
-Stop using pesticides and herbicides, they are designed to kill and they work, there is no way for your neighbors to know if you used chemicals or not.
We only mentioned bees so far, but many of our important pollinators hibernate in leaves, including some butterflies species. Below is a liner moth winter cocoon.
So this Fall, if you want an easy way to help “Save The Bees” than “Leave the Leaves”.