The Secret Supply Chain Of Bees

Bees are the perfect supply chain managers. But they're disappearing.

••• Bee Supply Chain. Getty Images

Supply chain articles - at least here - come in a variety of hues. Many are rooted in basic supply chain concepts like re-order points, lean manufacturing or on-time delivery. Some twist their way around a pop culture reference (Game of Thrones, The Avengers, or Tom Brady - for example) before they find a supply chain trellis on which to anchor. Still, others plant themselves in the muck of activism and hope they'll take hold in the hearts and minds of the reader (Did Supply Chain Make The World Better?).

This article is a hybrid of the many varieties of supply chain articles. It started out as a cry of social concern ("If we don't save the bees, we will all die!"). When I realized that bees are the ultimate (and busiest) supply chain managers, the article then became a nuts-and-bolts supply chain article. But with so much in the current press related to bees - how could this article not twist its way through popular culture references, as well?  

In the spirit of full transparency, I have a personal history with bees - although I didn't know that much about them until recently. I knew they buzzed. They stung. And that they made honey. When I was a young boy, I would punch holes in the lid of an empty mayonnaise jar and catch bees. Because I was not completely heartless, I also dropped some plucked flowers in the jar. But because I was completely clueless (and 9 years old), I would set the jar down and find it three days later - wilted flowers, bee corpses and all.

In my teens, bees would take their revenge. I lost count of the number of bee stings inflicted upon me while mowing lawns, climbing trees and tumbling into shrubs while playing touch football. So I'd say we're even - the bees and I.

But bees have a power over not just me - but all human life. In fact, all life.

If you're not aware of that fact, you ought to be. Bees are so important that the likes of, Jerry Seinfeld all agree - we need to keep them around. If it weren't for bees, the number of humans that would die is somewhere between the number of casualties in World War Z and, well, all of us. I mean, Monsanto and would probably disagree on "the sky is ____" question - but they find common ground in the importance of bees.  

Why? I tend to oversimplify issues, but basically - bees pollinate our plants. There are other pollinators out there (butterflies and hummingbirds, for instance) but bees do the heavy pollinator lifting. Plant pollination is important because without pollination, plants wouldn't grow. And without plants - our food chain would die off and that carbon dioxide we tend to exhale would asphyxiate us. So, yeah, bees. 

But why the concern about bees? Don't we have bees and aren't they doing what they're supposed to do? Yes, we have bees. But not in the numbers we used to have bees. And they seem to be disappearing and dying off. I'm not here to defend that - you can use the rest of the Internet to confirm it.  (Again, Monsanto and both think this is an issue - that should be enough to jolt us into action.) The bottom line - we need more bees.

And in a hurry.  

Wait, isn't this a supply chain article? Yes. Bees are the perfect metaphor for supply chain management.  They are constantly sourcing - never satisfied with sole suppliers for their pollen. They deliver and inventory their product. And they're aces at delivering customer satisfaction (to their queen and to us, the honey consumer). And without them, the planet will go dark. So, yes, the perfect metaphor for supply chain managers.   

We need bees. And they're dying off. Please click on the links above to learn more and take these steps - courtesy of the gardening expert - to do your part to bring the bee population back.  

  1. Don’t use pesticides. Most pesticides are not selective. You are killing off the beneficial bugs along with the pests. If you must use a pesticide, start with the least toxic one and follow the label instructions to the letter.
  1. Use local native plants. Research suggests native plants are four times more attractive to native bees than exotic flowers. They are also usually well adapted to your growing conditions and can thrive with minimum attention. In gardens, heirloom varieties of herbs and perennials can also provide good foraging.
  2. Chose several colors of flowers. Bees have good color vision to help them find flowers and the nectar and pollen they offer. Flower colors that particularly attract bees are blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow.
  3. Plant flowers in clumps. Flowers clustered into clumps of one species will attract more pollinators than individual plants scattered through the habitat patch. Where space allows, make the clumps four feet or more in diameter.
  4. Include flowers of different shapes. There are four thousand different species of bees in North America, and they are all different sizes, have different tongue lengths, and will feed on different shaped flowers. Consequently, providing a range of flower shapes means more bees can benefit.
  5. Have a diversity of plants flowering all season. Most bee species are generalists, feeding on a range of plants through their life cycle. By having several plant species flowering at once, and a sequence of plants flowering through spring, summer, and fall, you can support a range of bee species that fly at different times of the season.
  6. Plant where bees will visit. Bees favor sunny spots over shade and need some shelter from strong winds.