Categorized | In Season, Markets, News

Saving the Bees: A Cluster of Problems

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For years, one of my summer pleasures was watching the hundreds of honeybees that found their way daily to the water fountain on my patio.

They would crowd to the water’s edge in the deep basin at the bottom, drink their fill (or maybe nibble at the rim of algae that formed just above water level), then buzz off to tend to bee business back at the hive or in the neighborhood gardens.

bee on flowerLast year, they weren’t there. This season, I’ve seen a few of these welcome visitors, but on the order of a handful rather than hundreds.

My experience may or may not be because of the widespread colony collapse disorder. “My” bees may have simply found another waterfall.

But, worldwide the disappearance of bees is a major concern of beekeepers, farmers, scientists and those in businesses that rely on bees, as well as those of us who are aware of where our food comes from — and the role bees play.

Bee populations are decreasing at the rate of 30+ percent per year.  (While honeybees are most often in the news, there is also growing concern about the bumblebee population.)

If you look at recent scientific studies, the problem appears to not have one cause but a number of possible and/or probable causes.

The United States Department of Agriculture, “Report on the National Stakeholders Conference on Honeybee Health” said, “Research into Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and poor colony health has been unable to identify a unique causative agent but consensus is building that a complex set of stressors and pathogens can result in colony losses.”

The report, which you may read in full here, includes the following factors as just a starting point for their discussion, which took place during a conference in October in Alexandria, Va.:

• Factors that can lead to poor health include disease and arthropod pests, pesticides, poor nutrition and beekeeping practices.

• The parasitic mite Varroa destructor remains the single most detrimental pest of honey bees and can magnify the role of viruses in bee health.

• Pesticide exposure to pollinators continues to be an area of research and concern, particularly the systemic pesticides such as neonicotinoids. Despite concerns regarding the potential hazard that systemic pesticides may represent to honey bee colonies, when pesticides are viewed in the aggregate at the national level, the frequency and quantity of residues of pyrethroids coupled with the toxicity of these insecticides to bees could pose a three-fold greater hazard to the colony than the systemic neonicotinoids.

If you are concerned about exactly what pesticides or insecticides to be careful not to use, another website is helpful. The Xerces Society has published a chart offering guidance as to what to use or not use — if you need to use any at all. This site is a good resource for information on other endangered species of invertebrates as well.

I decided years ago to not use insecticides in my yard or garden. I haven’t used weedkillers for some time, either. I just wait, and hope, for the day when the bees will reappear, and not just in my own back yard.

Overhead view of honeybees on a combWhole Foods’ ‘Share the Buzz’ campaign to raise awareness

If you’ve shopped at Whole Foods Market recently, you’ve probably noticed their “Share the Buzz” campaign designed to raise awareness about the diminishing bee population.

Throughout the stores you’ll find signs on products from brands that support honey bee preservation. Their donations go to The Xerces Society, a nonprofit that advocates for bees through research and education. The society, in turn, will provide bee-friendly tools and training to the stores’ farmer partners.

Also, from now through June 26, for every organic cantaloupe purchased at a Whole Foods store, 25 cents will be donated to The Xerces Society, then matched by them to help provide education and tools to farmers for honey bee preservation.

Whole Foods offers more, including featured films, simple tips for creating a more bee-friendly world and environment and things to share on social media. Check out their Share the Buzz material by clicking here.

Also, while it is true that bees are not the only insects that pollinate our crops and plants, this article on Huffington Post shows how the market would look if bees were no longer around. Click here.


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