Pinpointing the cause of honeybee losses is difficult. It may be a combination of factors including pesticides, disease and precocious foraging, the term used for bees that leave the nest too earlier to start foraging.

Another factor is habitat loss. As suburban areas have traded in native plants for perfectly manicured grass lawns and farm regions have traded in biodiversity for monocultures, the amount of land that bees have to forage has decreased. Since the natural habitat is disappearing, it’s necessary to create bee buffers for honeybees to forage.

What is a bee buffer?

A bee buffer is a piece of land 0.25 to 3 acres in size planted with the U.S. Bee Buffer seed mix, according to the Bee Buffer Project. Beekeepers can take their bees to a bee buffer in between contracts; In essence, it’s like a playground for bees when they’re off the clock.

And many different groups are realizing the benefits of buffers, from the federal government to businesses to nonprofits. Here are a couple of examples.

Millions of federal acres to become bee-friendly

This week, the Obama administration unveiled a federal plan that will help the declining honeybee population as well as the troubled Monarch butterfly population, according to the Star Tribune.

The federal plan “calls for restoring 7 million acres of bee habitat in the next five years.” Federal lands will be planted with a variety of plants that are better for bees to eat. Various federal agencies will be involved including Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation. They will have to submit plans for bee-friendly landscaping in their properties.

The administration is also proposing an impressive budget for scientific research, too. It’s asking for $82.5 million for honeybee research, $34 million more than it budgets now.

If that sounds like a lot of money for honeybee research, consider this: Honeybees are essential for one out of every three bites of food we take in the U.S. When a Whole Foods temporarily removed all the produce that comes from plants dependent on pollinators from its store, more than half of the produce disappeared. Workers took away 237 out of 453 fruits and vegetables including apples, avocados, bok choy, broccoli, broccoli rabe, cantaloupe, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, green onions, honeydew, kale, leeks, lemons, limes, mangoes, mustard greens, onions, summer squash and zucchini.

The Bee Buffer Project

Burt’s Bees, through its Greater Good Foundation, sponsored a Pollinator Partnership initiative called the Bee Buffer Project with a goal to plant 6,000 acres of bee buffers. The initiative invited farms, ranches and forests in California and North Carolina to enroll in the project, which provides free seeds and planting instructions.

Participation was an overwhelming success. They reached the goal of 6,000 acres and had inquiries from every other state, asking to participate in the program.

The U.S. Bee Buffer Project distributed seeds to create 200 bee buffers in California and North Carolina planted on ranches, vegetable farms, orchards, tree farms, apiaries and other lands. Next month, field researches will visit the bee buffers to collect data and interview participants.

“Bees are the unsung heroes behind America’s agriculture. Planting a bee nectar bar on our property is our way of thanking the bees and creating sustainable beekeeping practices for Bee and Bounty Honey Co. Thanks to the support from the U.S. Bee Buffer Program we were able to sow a large habitat of native wildflowers, a much needed buffer among the hundreds of acres of vineyards surrounding our property,” said Kris Koolman, Bee & Bounty Honey Co., U.S. Bee Buffer Project participant.

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Burgeoning bee buffers feed hungry honeybees
Honey bees between pollination gigs still need to eat. Efforts are underway to keep them from starving when they’re off the clock.