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Climate and Environment

Want To Help Southern California's Bees? Plant More Things That Flower And Skip Pesticides

A bee perches on the end of a purple petal.
A bee collects pollen from flowers in Los Angeles last June.
(Chris Delmas
AFP via Getty Images)
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Bee populations have been struggling for years due, in part, to climate change and the use of pesticides.

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Boris Baer, a professor of pollinator health, keeps bees at UC Riverside and gets updates from beekeepers across Southern California. He says the region is a global hotspot for pollinators.

"Because we have like, I think over 1,500 different species of different bees so it's really unique," he said.

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But the health of the region's bee populations can vary wildly from one location to the next. He suspects that's due to the fact that bees are very sensitive to environmental changes, such as extreme heat.

"For example if you go closer to the coast, it's cooler and you have more precipitation, more rainfall," he said. "I think the bees like that better because rain turns into flowers, turns into nectar and pollen and the bees basically live off that."

He says UC Riverside keeps about 100 hives and last year lost 90% of its bees last year due to pesticide-use in the area.

"I think like what we have seen over last years is that there was some kind of increased sensitivity about this," he said of growing awareness that bee populations were becoming endangered. "So people started to really kind of become aware of the problems of bees and also how dependent they are on it."

Just one example: Baer points out that we need bees to pollinate more than 80 crops.

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Take almonds. In the Central Valley, where 80% of global almond production takes place, Baer said "we need about 1.2 million hives each year just to pollinate these these these trees."

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If you want to help bees thrive, Baer says plant more things that flower. And try to avoid using pesticides on your own property.

"That's the multi-million dollar question, right," he said of what everyone can do to help bees thrive.

What to plant

A purple flower plant
California lilac is one of the native plants that attracts bees/
(Tim Mossholder on Unsplash)

Baer urges home gardeners to go beyond grasses and focus on plants that feed bees or "plant pollinator friendly plants." He notes that we are in a drought and stressed that those plants can be native to California.

"So if bees have access to food, that is basically one of the main drivers that that the bees are happy as well," he said.

Bee hotels

A wooden box has multiple bamboos shoots and other spots for insects
An example of a homemade bee hotel.
(Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash)

He also said UC Riverside has been studying the effectiveness of bee hotels.

"They seem to be one way how to provide peace with like, opportunities to to survive," he said.

Baer said bee hotels "come in various different forms and functions, but it's all common to them is that they normally have some holes... so these bees can go in there — they're not social like the honeybees. So these are solitary insects, and they then provide an egg which they lay with a little bit of pollen and nectar and they form these different cells."

Avoiding insecticides

Baer urges people to avoid the use of chemicals when they garden, noting that there are many other products available on the market now.

What questions do you have about Southern California?