Kristen Baldwin had a problem. She’d started a hobby brewing mead – a wine that requires about 15 pounds of honey for a five-gallon batch.
“Honey can get expensive, especially at those quantities,” said Baldwin, who works as a gas system mechanic for our company. So, how could she get the honey she needed without breaking the bank? “That’s how I started thinking about bees. Now, don’t get me wrong in thinking that’s the only reason I got into beekeeping. I also have a geology degree with an environmental specialization, so I love the environment. I’m trying to be as sustainable as possible.”
Baldwin was immediately bee-witched by backyard beekeeping. She planted more than 150 trees and bushes and more than 100 flowers. She bought a hive, bee suits, equipment and the star of the show – a shoebox-size, three-pound box of honeybees.
Diane Silas, one of our company’s gas distribution pipeline engineers, had a different motive last year when she started beekeeping. Her garden was less than bee-utiful.
“I didn’t have enough bees in our area, so it was always a pretty pathetic garden,” she said. “I was like, I’ve got the space, and this was something I could do to help a creature or a colony, and in the long run I could do my part to help the environment.”
Backyard beekeeping isn’t easy. Novices can’t just wing it. They quickly learn to protect their tiny livestock from diseases and insects and keep them warm during winter. Both Silas and Baldwin spent hours learning about beekeeping, and they faced first-year challenges like insect invaders who tried to rob them of honey.
According to the USDA, the number of honeybee hives in the U.S. has declined from about six million in the 1940s to about 2.5 million today for reasons like disease, habitat loss and pesticide use. Other bee species and butterflies are also declining.
Although more beekeepers won’t reverse the trend, land stewardship practices like those of backyard beekeepers benefit all pollinators, said Meghan Milbrath, an assistant professor in entomology at Michigan State University and the coordinator of the Michigan Pollinator Initiative.
“To keep bees, beekeepers have to keep them in a safe environment with a lot of flowers, which provide nectar and pollen,” she said. “And they have to keep their land at low risk for pesticides and other chemicals, so when you start keeping honeybees and improving the habitat, you’re supporting all of our native pollinators.”
Baldwin and Silas are doing their part, but Milbrath said large landowners like Consumers Energy have the biggest impact.
“Some insects and plants require large swaths of habitat to thrive,” Milbrath said. “Large areas of restored land can be a haven for pollinators, providing both food and nesting sites. When large landowners adopt practices to support pollinators, we can really reverse the trend on habitat loss.”
Between our lands and rights of way, we manage more than 250,000 miles of land across Lower Michigan. As part of our commitment to sustainability, we use pollinator seed mix on lands and right of ways like pipelines, solar parks and other areas with open space. We also operate under a federal agreement to protect monarch butterflies through habitat management.
As for Baldwin, she’s looking forward to raising a glass and celebrating the fruits of her labor this year.
“I’ll probably collect the honey in June,” she said. “I’ll possibly be drinking some mead of my very own by December. The first batch I’ll drink myself and see how it is. After that, I might share.”
Silas said honey or beeswax would be nice, but she’s focused on having a better orchard and garden and will stick with her bees.
“This year I’m going to do more studying and be a better beekeeper,” she said. “I want to fill in my information gap and be a better person for the bees.”
Protecting pollinators at home
You don’t need to be a large landowner or beekeeper to be a friend of bees and other pollinators. Here are some sweet ideas to celebrate Earth Month and keep your yard abuzz:
- Plant trees and flowers to keep your landscapes blooming year-round.
- Find areas to let plants like clover, milkweed, goldenrod and dandelions grow.
- Give your lawn a couple of weeks between mowing.
- Avoid pesticides and other chemicals that kill insects.
Our company’s commitment to sustainability
Our clean energy transition also sets an industry-leading goal to reach net zero emissions by 2025, which would benefit species habitats across Michigan and beyond. Our Clean Energy Plan would eliminate coal use and dramatically expand renewable energy including wind and solar. We’ll also meet our goals through implementing energy-savings programs while saving our customers $650 million over the next 20 years. These efforts are part of our commitment to our Triple Bottom Line – People, Planet and Prosperity.
Follow our Force 4 Michigan blog for more stories about our sustainable practices. And visit our Force of Change page to learn more about what you can do to reduce energy, save money and improve our planet.