All across the country, honeybees are disappearing. Campaigns to plant native wildflowers and refrain from the use of harmful pesticides are all well and good, but some are taking a more technological approach: using solar energy to help these little buzzing creatures thrive.
The popularity of solar panels continues to rise throughout the U.S. for a number of reasons. Not only do they help families reduce their carbon footprint, but they can help save money, too. It’s possible to save an average of $84 per month on electricity bills just by implementing solar panels at home, which means many Americans would be able to save some green as a perk of going green.
But although solar energy is starting to catch on in commercial and even agricultural applications like solar farms, the idea of combining beekeeping with solar arrays still seems like a head-scratcher for many. Travis and Chiara Bolton are trying to change that — and there’s a lot of buzz about their endeavor, Bolton Bees.
After making beekeeping their hobby for several seasons, the couple took on their sweet endeavor full-time two years ago. But their rural Minnesota location made it tough to sustain their hives. Bees are an essential part of our ecosystem and play a crucial part in crop pollination and agricultural growth. Around 75% of the world’s food crops rely on bee pollination in some way, and people love to use honey for everything from wedding favors to allergy cures. But American beekeepers lost more than 40% of their bee colonies in 2016 due to factors like global warming, use of pesticides, and loss of habitat.
The Boltons found that solar meadows provided a sustainable solution. The idea is catching on throughout the state, too. Minnesota has established a solar standard that encourages developers to plant native flora and wildflowers near their panels as a means of attracting pollinators. It’s good for developers too, as this method requires far less maintenance than grass or gravel.
So when Fresh Energy, a local clean energy advocate, invited the couple to install 15 of their hives at the SolarWise garden in Ramsay, MN, they jumped at the chance. The bees don’t interact with the solar panels at all; all they’re interested in is the pollen. So not only does the partnership produce two valuable products — clean energy and local honey — but it also allows the bee colonies to flourish.
Barton Bees plans to extract 4,000 pounds of honey this year alone. Their “Solar Honey” is sold in stores and given to solar subscribers. The couple hopes to inspire others to adopt the idea.
Travis Bolton noted to National Geographic, “We definitely have big ambitions for this. We think this is a model that can be replicated by local beekeepers throughout the country.”
Whether they’re consciously aware of it or not, Americans rely on bees for all kinds of foods and products. If they continue to die out, the world will have a huge problem. And since honey can offer countless health benefits for kids and parents alike, consumers will do well to support beekeepers in their area by purchasing local honey, as well as plant wildflowers in their yards to encourage pollination. After all, every little bit helps make the world sweeter.
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