Bee-friendlier this spring

On the first day of spring we chatted with pollinator experts about the wonders of bees and how we can protect them in our gardens and at the Capitol.

Presentation on bees by Harlequin's Gardens on Environment Colorado's Bee-friendlier webinar 3.20.23
Environment Colorado | TPIN
Slide from our Bee-friendlier webinar

Take Action

Bees are wondrous. And they are critical to our ecosystems and food supply.

So on the first day of spring, I was joined by advocates and experts including the First Gentleman of Colorado, Marlon Reis, pollinator expert, Stephen Buchmann, and master organic gardener, beekeeper, and team member at Harlequin’s Gardens, Ann Zelnio, to talk about the wonders of bees.

We also discussed ways we can create bee-autiful habitats for them in our own yards and take action at Capitol this year by stopping the consumer sale of products containing bee-killing neonics pesticides.

Watch our webinar - Bee-friendlier this spring

Learn about how amazing bees are in Colorado and what you can do to take action to help them.

[Bees may only have a] little poppy seed sized brain, about one cubic millimeter, with only about a million neurons, compared to our perhaps 80 to 100 billion neurons. But they do a lot with that. Their brains are quite complex for being so small. Stephen Buchmann
Pollination ecologist specializing in bees, and an adjunct professor with the departments of Entomology and of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona
Stephen Buchmann, pollinator expert, bees

What A Bee Knows

Stephen Buchmann has been interacting with bees in one way or another for half a century.

He’s gotten to know bees more than most ever will, revealing some of their widely unseen talents and wonders of pollinators, including insights from his new book, What a Bee Knows: Exploring the Thoughts, Memories, and Personalities of Bees.

Bees have not just two eyes, they have five eyes. [Humans] see three primary colors…red, green, blue, but for bees it's green, blue, ultraviolet. Stephen Buchmann
Pollination Ecologist
Stephen Buchmann, pollinator expert, bees

This ability to absorb ultraviolet light makes it so that a sunflower would look very different to a bee than a human. Basically, pollen and nectar appear as “bees’ purple,” almost like a bullseye in the center of a flower pointing to their rewards.

We know they see colors though because when you move that “purple” to the petals, bees will go there to look for pollen.

Beyond their physical abilities, Buchmann’s observations allow him to think it’s quite possible that bees could be capable of dreaming – possible evidence is their antenna twitching when they sleep. Of course we’d need to scale down our MRIs before we can totally know for sure!

Dr. Buchmann worries about the future of pollinators. Among the threats he pointed to bee-killing neonic pesticides, herbicides, automobile traffic, and lights at night that lure lots of pollinators to their death each day.

Bees in Colorado

The First Gentleman of Colorado, Marlon Reis, a champion of the natural world, echoed Dr. Buchmann’s concerns and provided a breakdown of Colorado’s special pollinator landscape.

Our state boasts 946 native bee species, making us the fifth-most bee diverse state. Not only do these pollinators account for nearly 75% of all food crops and 90% of wild plants, they also pollinate some of the things that make Colorado, Colorado, like Palisade peaches and Rocky Ford melons.

When we take care of bees and other pollinators we take care of's not difficult to see that if our goal is to protect our food supply we should be doing everything possible to protect the species that make that supply possible, not poison them. Marlon Reis
First Gentleman of Colorado
First Gentleman of Colorado Marlon Reis

Caring for pollinators at home and statewide

Ann Zelnio, master organic gardener, beekeeper, and team member at Harlequin’s Gardens, is on a mission to educate people on bee-friendly gardening and hidden sources of pesticides in gardening that are toxic to pollinators.

Ann explained that too often plants purchased from big box stores and grocery stores and even some smaller nurseries in Colorado are completely saturated with pesticides. Systemic chemicals, like neonicotinoids especially, are taken up by every single tissue of the plant so naturally they’re found in the pollen in the nectar of flowers.

Ann focused on neonicotinoids because they are particularly bad for bees. They either outright kill the bees or they cause nerve damage to the bee so they’re unable to navigate, unable to eat, unable to resist the diseases that they naturally should be able to resist.

So it's like the perfect scenario for bee bait when we buy these plants that bees think are gorgeous, they're attracted to them to get their pollen and to get their nectar but it just poisons them and that’s the problem with these systemic insecticides. Ann Zelnio
Team Member, Harlequin's Gardens

There are ways to have pollinator-friendly gardens without the neonics.

For example, Harlequin’s Gardens which is a small, locally and family-owned business in North Boulder operates organically by and large, with no neonicotinoids and no synthetic chemicals used.

Harlequin’s also shared many other simple pollinator-friendly gardening tips, such as to

  • Ensure plants have different blooming seasons so there is bee food for several month
  • Plant like colored plants in patches to make it easier for bees to spot
  • Add a source of drinking water for pollinators to your garden like bee puddlers and bird baths with stones in it to land on
  • Providing shelter for native bees like fallen leaves, logs, and bare ground for burrowing

You can also purchase Environment America’s Bee Friendly Garden Kit.

It’s hard to know if you are using neonics. There’s no simple labels. There are eight pesticides that make up the class of neonicotinoids (imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, clothianidin, thiacloprid, dinotefuran, acetamiprid, nitenpyram, and sulfoxaflor).

Given how dangerous they are for our pollinators, what we need to do is reduce their use and access to them.

Everyday consumers and gardeners shouldn’t have to worry about unintentionally poisoning pollinators. We need to remove these bee-killing neonic pesticides and plants saturated in them from our store shelves altogether. Natalie Woodland
Save the Bees Advocate, Environment Colorado

Take Action

2023 is the year the legislature should act to Save the Bees.

Sign our Save the Bees petition, to go beyond your yard, to make sure that your community, and the state is safe from bee-killing neonics, by calling on state leaders for a bill that eliminates the consumer sale and use of bee-killing neonic pesticides.


Ellen Montgomery

Director, Public Lands Campaign, Environment America

Ellen runs campaigns to protect America's beautiful places, from local beachfronts to remote mountain peaks. Prior to her current role, Ellen worked as the organizing director for Environment America’s Climate Defenders campaign. Ellen lives in Denver, where she likes to hike in Colorado's mountains.

Find Out More