To ensure that Bee Better Certified™ is meaningful for bees, the Production Standards address bees’ primary needs: food, shelter, and a safe environment. The habitat section of the standards support the first two needs, while the pesticide risk mitigation and managed bumble bee sections help create a safer environment.
Just like you and I, bees require sustenance, and many of them prefer a varied diet. Pollen and nectar supplied by flowering plants form the basis of a bee’s diet. Adult bees mostly consume nectar, while larvae exclusively feed on pollen. The pollen larvae eat is collected by adult bees and formed into balls that are stored in bees’ nests, either above- or below-ground.
Some bees, like bumble bees and honey bees, are generalists: they forage on a wide array of flowers. Others are specialists, preferring to just visit one species. Specialist crop pollinators include sunflower bees (Melissodes spp.) and Squash bees (Peponapis spp.). Bee Better Certified requires growers to provide at least 3 species that offer up an abundance of bloom during each season. This ensures there is pollen and nectar available for bees with all kinds of food preferences, and that there isn’t a time of year when bees go hungry.
Bees need a place to call home. Their home is their nest, which they return to multiple times a day as they store provisions for their young. It is also where they spend their nights. Most bees don’t build the waxy honey comb structures found in honey bee hives; instead, the vast majority of bees excavate their nests underground. They usually dig branched nests, with each branch ending in a chamber; in each chamber they lay a single egg on a pollen ball. The other group of bees— above-ground nesting bees—either occupy the hollow centers of pithy-stemmed plants or utilize holes created by other insects, such as wood beetles. A subset of above-ground nesting bees, known as carpenter bees, use their large mandibles to chew directly into wood pulp.
Bee Better Certified protects bees nesting in the ground by ensuring that existing nest sites are disturbed. Within crop fields, we aim to minimize disturbance by asking farmers to evaluate their tillage practices and alter them to account for bees nesting in fields. To support populations of above-ground nesting bees, all permanent pollinator habitats must include plants known to be used for nesting.
A safe environment
A safe environment means that bees are protected from exposure to harmful pesticides and diseases. Bee Better works to limit these exposures in agricultural landscapes.
Reducing pesticide risk
Bees can be exposed to pesticides in a number of ways. They can come into direct contact while foraging on crops that are being treated. They can also encounter residues while foraging following a pesticide application. Bees nest sites may be accidentally treated as well. Pesticides can also drift into pollinator habitat. Some pesticides are systemic, meaning that they are expressed throughout all parts of a plant, from leaves to roots and in both pollen and nectar. Bees foraging on planted treated with systemics are dosed with small amounts of these pesticides as they forage, and the doses can build up causing impairment and even death.
Not all pesticides are lethal to bees; in fact, some have not been shown to have detrimental effects. Other pesticides can have sublethal effects, impacting a bee’s ability to navigate or reproduce. The University of California IPM Program classifies pesticides as highly (level I), moderately (level II) or practically non-toxic (level III) to bees. In order to minimize the exposure of bees to highly toxic pesticides, Bee Better Certified restricts the application of these pesticides during crop bloom, when bees are most likely to come into contact with them within crop fields.
The Bee Better Certified production standards also include a number of other measured aimed at preventing exposure to high risk pesticides, including some fungicides. All permanent habitat needs a special or vegetative buffer around it to help reduce pesticide drift.
Protecting bees from disease
Some crops, like tomatoes, see improved yields when pollinated by bumble bees. This is because bumble bees vibrate at a frequency that causes pollen to explode from the anthers—male reproductive parts of a flower—onto the bee. Thus, commercially managed bumble bees are often brought in to assist in the pollination of these crops.
However, managed bumble bees are moved around, which can cause them to transport diseases from one area to another. In addition, they are kept in close quarters not found in the wild, which can lead to a build-up of parasites. Diseases and parasites have been found to spread into populations of wild bumble bees close to farms where managed bumble bees are kept. These diseases and parasites are one of the major threats to bumble bees. Approximately 28% of all bumble bee species in North America are in decline.
Bee Better Certified limits exposure of wild bumble bees to diseases and parasites by having farmers only use managed bumble bees in closed environments, such as greenhouses, that are properly sealed. To help prevent the spread of novel pathogens, we don’t allow use of managed bumble bees that are not native to an area. These and other precautions are targeted at supporting bees like the rusty-patched bumble bee, which was the first bee species in the continental U.S. listed as endangered.
Bringing it all together…
Creating a better environment for bees is a major goal of the Bee Better certification. By following our production standards, growers ensure that they are providing the safe habitat bees need to thrive.