What you can do

Seventeen steps you can take right now to help pollinators.


1. Stop freaking out over bugs.

Bugs are the base of the food chain. Without bugs, no fruit. Without bugs, no trees. Without bugs, no animals. Do whatever you can to move your attitude from “Ack, bugs! Must kill!” to “Look, bugs! The foundation of natural life!” Only when we stop trying to kill all insects all the time will pollinators thrive.

2. Teach children not to freak out over bugs.

Children are the future. Every child who looks with fondness on a caterpillar today is less likely to coat the world with poison tomorrow.

3. Buy local honey.

Check out our list of faves here.

4. Brush up on basic environmental literacy.

Part of the reason we’re killing pollinators willy-nilly is because we’re often not aware we’re doing it. Let’s brush up on our environmental literacy so we know what we’re doing when we’re doing it:

  • Nectar: the sugary lure that plants present to bugs to get them to come around and deliver their pollen.
  • Pollen: that which contains plant sperm, a protein used as food by pollinators, who, in the process, move the pollen from plant to plant.
  • Mutual evolution: the process by which plants and bugs of a region evolved together, such that a particular moth might require a particular plant for food.
  • Exotics: plants from somewhere else, which local bugs often can’t use.

5. Start seeing food deserts.

Bees, butterflies, moths—none of our favorite bugs can live without food! Once you start thinking about bugs and plants, try seeing the world through a bug’s eyes. Is there any food? Is there nothing but poison?

6. Read a book.

One of the most delightful, moving parts of reporting this story was getting to read some wonderful bee books. I wish I had done this 30 years ago—they have changed my life. Try:

  • The Queen Must Die and Other Affairs of Bees and Men, by William Longgood, a poetic and philosophical work about honeybees.
  • A Sting in the Tale, by Dave Goulson, a charming memoir on the magic of bumblebees by the founder of England’s Bumblebee Conservation Trust.
  • The End of Nature, by Bill McKibben, which most of the scientists I talked to recommended as the most important book for understanding the world we live in today (as opposed to the one previous generations inhabited).

7. Reject cleanliness.

Well-manicured lawns with window boxes filled with never-flowering exotic succulents, perfectly mowed roadsides, leaf-blown shrub bottoms, plastic-cloth weed blockers between dirt and mulch: These are the enemies of the world’s butterflies and bumblebees. Embrace tangles of leaves under shrubs and sticks! Set aside some part of your land for undisturbed nature.

8. Plant bug food.

The University of Minnesota recently published a great list called “Plants for Minnesota Bees” at beelab.umn.edu.

9. Shun poison garden plants.

Every time you buy garden plants, ask if they are treated with neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoid-treated plants produce poison nectar and pollen forever.

10. Change your aesthetics.

Start seeing the beauty in nature—dragonflies in flight, caterpillars creeping, bumblebees buzzing.

11. Reject pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, biocides.

Don’t reach for chemicals as the first solution to every problem. If you have mildew in your garden or a lawn filled with dandelions, ask yourself: Is the problem that you don’t have enough poison?

12. Join the Minnesota Bumble Bee Survey.

One of the most eye-opening, fun things you can do with an afternoon is help Elaine Evans catch and release bumblebees. You snap them into a little Tupperware container, she counts them, and then you let them go. Maybe you’ll even find a rare rusty patched bumblebee! Find out more on the Minnesota Bumble Bee Survey Facebook page.

13. Build a bee house.

This is a great thing to do with a kid (see #2 above). You can find plans online at sites such as betterfarm.blogspot.com, gardeners.com, and gardenista.com.

14. Support diversified agriculture.

Why can’t an almond grove, a cranberry bog, or an apple orchard be organized such that it is inter-planted with flowers and habitat for wild bees? Why can’t a dairy farm have native willows and oaks?

15. Take on ethanol and crop insurance.

Is it in the public interest to pay farmers to plant on marginal lands where crops can’t grow well and in the process kill 75 to 80 percent of everything else? Let’s start talking about what we really want from our Farm Bill.

16. Unlawn.

Start by planting native flowers instead of grass in part of your own yard. And then ask: Why is there pesticide- and fertilizer-soaked ground ringing every church, library, university, and hospital? Do we really need lawns there? Let's use lawn deliberately, and not by default.

17. Unfarm.

Do you have the resources and the drive to go big and change the world? You could buy a hobby farm and restore it to native habitat. Sure, it's a grand undertaking, but remember, we almost lost bald eagles, and they came back. You could do the same for a bee, a bird, a flower. ■


Honey, Honey

Doing the right thing has never tasted so sweet.