TO BEE OR NOT TO BEE
Bees are in peril...we all have heard it.
Three quarters of all flowering plants and 1/3 of all food plants need pollinators. Although bees being helped with this job by butterflies, bats, birds and more, they are responsible for 80% -90% of all animal depended pollination. With this in mind, being short of honey seems to be the smaller problem.
Why are they dying so rapidly is still under investigation. The so aptly named Colony Collapse Disorder, which describes the faltering of bee hives worldwide, seems to be a caused by multiple factors.
1. To increase crop yield per acre, more and more chemicals have to be used. A few years ago the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency (...really??)) approved the use of neonicotinoids, or short neonics, which meanwhile have found to be toxic to bees. Just to get an idea of the amount of neonics that are being used, here an excerpt from eXtension: "At some 95 million acres planted this year, corn alone accounts for almost a quarter of the harvested acres in the United States. It is the largest use of US agricultural land and virtually every seed is coated with neonicotinoid insecticides." (3)
These neonics might not kill the bee directly, but weaken them over time. Eventually they might not be able to feed the colony, will be more susceptible to diseases or can even get lost on the way back to the hive. Earth Justice has a great infograph to this topic: Bees' Toxic Problem
All of the studies have been done on "domesticated" honey bee colonies, that makes me wonder how contaminated the honey might be AND how the wild bees are faring, as they collect most likely from the same areas....
2. Hand in hand with the use of pesticides goes the loss of habitat due to monoculture crop growing, urbanization and modern "lawn-care". The dwindling variation of food options has impacted the bees' diet and led to malnutrition.
3. Domesticated bees have been bred for a maximum of honey production, efficiency in pollination and non-aggressiveness. A plausible theory suggests that this caused some inbreeding, which resulted in a decline of diversity and resilience to natural enemies.
4. Varroa destructor...the name says it all. The mite that drives bee-keepers insane since the 80s is still around. There are methods to deal with the mites, but with bees weakened by chemical overload, loss of habitat and inbreeding the Varroa mite is still a big threat to the honey bees.
This seems overwhelming, but every one of us can help!
Plant bee friendly plants, BuzzAboutBees has a great collection of suggestions, as has the David Suzuki Foundation.
Please let weeds be(e), at least dandelions and clover!
Don't use herbicides or pesticides in your garden.
Instead of a perfectly "mowicured" lawn, try a wild flower meadow.
Bees are thirsty! Provide them with a "watering hole". Any shallow bowl will do, put a few rocks in it and fill it with fresh water but leave some of the rock surface exposed. Place it strategically near the plants that can profit from pollination. Change the water often.
Buy local honey to encourage local bee-keepers to stay in business.
Buy local and ORGANIC food. Among all other advantages, organic food has not been treated with neonics!!
Spread the word! Share bee related information as this blog and help inform others.
Add your name...there are multiple organizations that are fighting for the bees and hence for us, give them your support:
Xeres Pollinator Protection Pledge
Bee lovely and help save the bees via Care2
Earth Justice: Down to Earth
Earth Justice: Infographic: Bees' Toxic Problem
Rabobank: The plight of the Honey Bee
rcinet: Canadian conference on the worrisome decline of bees
The Xeres Society: Bring back the pollinators
Care2: Our bees are dying
BTW, I was desperately looking for bees to photograph this spring for this blog...I saw one! and of course I didn't have a camera at hand...All the above images are from my archive. We had a hard winter and I sure hope I will see more bees this summer.