Everyone should have the experience of opening up a honey bee hive. That first interaction brings up so many emotions: curiosity, a touch of fear, awe, all mingled with the scents of the hive. I fell into beekeeping almost by accident in 2001 and honey bees have completely changed my life trajectory. I went from English major to beekeeper, then, just enthralled, earned my PhD in bee science.
But what I love most about keeping honey bees is how they open your eyes to the interconnection of plants and insects, how changes in weather ripple into changes in bloom times, which impacts colony health. Working honey bees dropped me deep into this interconnected world. Wanting to improve the forage for my bees, I worked with the local extension office to put seven acres of my farmland into the conservation reserve program, planting it as a pollinator meadow that would also promote quail habitat. My goal was summer forage for my bees. So that first year, when the seeds were planted, I was allowed to pour in 20 lbs of different wildflower seeds I had selected from Ernst Conservation Seeds and other sources plus 80 lbs of sunflower seed—bird food—I had picked up at Southern States into the hopper that held the meadow mix recommended for the mid-Atlantic region.
When it erupted into bloom that first summer, cars would stop on their drive up the hill, pausing to gape at the field of yellow blossoms—a rare sight in Maryland. Every day I would walk the field edge, watching what came to visit. It sure wasn’t my 25 colonies of honey bees sitting right at the edge of the field. They flew straight up and over, ignoring the smorgasbord I had so lovingly selected for them. But all these other insects showed up. I spotted turquoise sweat bees, and hairy-legged solitary bees. I learned to identify some of the bumble bees that came visiting, spotting both common and more rare species. Monarchs flitted over the field. Giant grasshoppers hopped between blooms. Gold finches swarmed the field, darting in among the blossoms.
And then eventually, when the sweeter resources dried up elsewhere, so did my honey bees, sharing the big, nodding blossoms with bumbles and butterflies. Plant it, I learned, and they will come. Somehow this incredible pollinator diversity had found my meadow and turned it into their home.
Currently the media often pits honey bees against native bees, blaming beekeepers for stealing forage. And I find this argument somewhat misleading. Yes, honey bee hives collect a huge amount of nectar and pollen from the environment, providing important ecosystem services. But the only time we have true resource competition between honey bees and native bees is when there isn’t enough in bloom. It’s certainly not the bees’ fault that we’ve fragmented their landscape. The bees that feed us are often starving themselves, because we’ve plowed under their habitat, we’ve grown intolerant of weeds, we farm our fields from edge to edge, and prefer pavement and housing developments with low maintenance sterile shrubs and immaculate lawns.
Beekeepers are much more in-tune with how these changes in landscape impact pollinator health than the average American. And through their words and actions they influence the planting habits of their friends and neighbors. Dandelions become cheerful lawn ornaments in a sea of green dotted with white clover. Echinacea and asters replace boxwood hedges. So many people want to help save the bees, but don’t know where to start, and so they turn to their beekeeping friends for advice.
To help eradicate this divisiveness and give pollinator enthusiasts—beekeepers, native bee tenders, and butterfly fans—a source for inspiration and information, I launched the quarterly magazine 2 Million Blossoms. Each issue of 100+ pages highlights the unique biodiversity of our pollinators and how small changes in our backyards and on our patios can add up. We feature scientists, nature writers, beekeepers and gardeners—including authors like Rusty Burlew, Elaine Evans, Kim Flottum, Dave Goulson, Marla Spivak, and Mark Winston.
The magazine looks and feels like a coffee-table book with stunning photography, custom artwork, and bold writing. It’s printed on paper from wood grown in sustainably certified forests using biodegradable ink in a plant that’s powered by wind. You can read the first issue online. We’re offering a Holiday Shopping Made Easy Special, where you can gift four print subscriptions for $100. And just for Project Apis mellifera subscribers, we’re offering a 50% discount on our digital subscription, so you can try us out for 1 year for only $10 using the code PAM4BEES. Because together, we can create pollinator highways that span the country, feeding all of our bees.