You’ve likely heard that honey bee populations across the country are struggling, and Southeast Michigan. Large-scale farming, widespread pesticide use, diminished foraging spaces for bees (which means they’re hungry), enhanced honey production, mites, and a host of other diseases all contribute to the decline of the bee population.
Michigan is important to bees as the state supports several types of rare bees along with many native species. Honey producers come to Michigan for the climate.
In the summer of 2009, Ypsilanti native Lisa Bashert was cited for keeping bees in her yard. Earlier that summer, Bashert’s friend, Jamie Berlin, had seen a documentary on the struggle and decimation of bee hives.
Bashert decided to fight back, mounting a campaign to allow backyard beekeeping in Ypsilanti. In November, 2009 an initiative passed, allowing inspired parties to maintain beehives in the city.
Passing the new ordinance inspired parties like Berlin. “I didn’t think I would become a beekeeper, but now it will be a hobby for life.
I just thought I would help out, but then I became fascinated and fell in love with the bees,” Berlin said.
Building a community hive/Sphere of influence
Bashert started a movement in Ypsilanti, but strengthening bees on a bigger scale has been the mission of Dr. Meghan Milbrath, the proprietor of Sandhill Apiaries, a provider of bees for many in Ypsilanti.
Milbrath, a Ph.d. in Epidemiology, is a bee expert on diseases and their transmission through populations. She employs her background as a scientist to breed bees to survive the threats they face.
“Honey bees are social beings,”she said. “You can actually use a lot of the same techniques studying honey bees as those used studying human diseases.”
Berlin takes a different approach, focusing hyper-locally. “We all have a limited sphere of influence, but when we inspire another person then they exert their sphere of influence and the chain repeats. It is hard to do it all,” Berlin said. Those connecting spheres are much like a hive.
“Being a bee champion is contagious. People really respond to the message. It’s a great cause,” Milbarth added.
Healthy Bee Neighborhoods
The contagious nature of bee-kewping found Germaine Smith, who writing about sustainability, became acquainted with local beekeepers, which led to her befriending Jamie Berlin.
Smith launched the Bee Safe Neighborhood Campaign, door-to-door canvassing to encourage homeowners in Normal Park to maintain a more bee friendly yard by reducing/eliminating pesticide use and planting bee friendly plants.
“When you eat a diverse diet, you’re healthier, Dr. Milbarth said. “If the bees have a diverse diet, they are healthier. With these restored lands, you have greater diversity and greater abundance of flowers and that has been directly linked to honeybee health.”
Want to keep your own bees?
Support habitat for native bees and become accustomed to having them around and caring for them. Assist other keepers with their hives. Start with a hive host program. A good rule of thumb is when you add bees, you add forage; bees forage mostly a good distance from the hive, but you will be feeding bees in the area.
What can I do?
- Don’t use pesticides. If you must spray your plants, do it at night and get a chemical that won’t harm pollinators.
- Plant ‘bee friendly’ plants.
- Advocate for bee habitat restoration.
- Know your local beekeeper and use local honey.
- Reach out to one of these groups or initiatives
Reach out to one of these groups or initiatives, they are very friendly, to bees and people.
- Washtenaw County Food Policy Council
- Ypsi Melissa
- Local Honey Project
- Bee City USA-Ypsilanti
- Bee Safe Neighborhood Campaign
- Ypsilanti Food Co-op
- Taking Wing
Smith emphasizes the efficacy of small movements, “Baby step by baby step, you just have to keep moving forward. Sure I get exhausted and sometimes I think, ‘Ugh why can’t someone else do this?’, but that’s okay. Eventually people will get involved. I’m starting to see that.”
Anyone can make their land (or neighborhood) more bee-friendly. “Even a small planting, is incredibly effective.” Milbarth said. “Having lots of people doing it on a small scale is what will fix the situation. The big message is ‘Do what you can where you can’.”