Cute little fuzzy buzzy bees darting from flower to flower, devoted to their task. I am an avid bee watcher. They are fascinating creatures to observe, so active and alive.
I wasn’t always like this. For most of my life I never paid much attention to bees, only enough to get out of their way. As a child I saw them as mysterious and dangerous. Now as an adult knowing their precarious position my heart soars every time I see one.
I no longer take these essential little dynamos for granted. We owe much to bees and this goes far beyond honey. It is the by-product of their “busyness” pollinating roughly three-fifths of the food plants in the United States that keeps us in groceries, so to speak.
One full third of our diet depends on bee pollination.
We can thank our helpers; the bees for many of our favorite foods including: strawberries, apples, apricots, blueberries, kiwi, almonds, coconuts, pomegranates, cherries, okra, onions, sunflowers, tangerines, oranges, hazelnuts, soybeans, cauliflower, avocado, cucumber and watermelon just to name a few.(See complete list)
The Disappearing Act
By now many of us have heard of the bees disappearing. Scientists, the media and people in the know have been all abuzz about this phenomena they named Colony Collapse Disorder. (CCD) It seemingly came out of nowhere and since its abrupt appearance in 2005, it has been affecting millions and millions of bees all over the world. It is characterised by the disappearance of worker bees that leave behind a queen, a few attendants, and maybe a few drones. Basically abandoned, the infected are left to wither and die with a hive full of honey.
There have been many different theories floating around as to the cause of Colony Collapse and there has been much finger pointing. Many of the fingers point to our reliance on the pesticides and chemical fertilizers essential to our large commercial food production and the increasing use of Genetically Modified crops.
There has been evidence to support tracheal mites and varroa mites, known threats to bees. Some have proposed Nosema; a fungus as the cause, while others suggest it may be a virus such as Israeli acute paralysis.
Some are even blaming the commercial bee industry itself. Saying that the stress the hives undergo during frequent moves on trucks - typical of the way large commercial farms operate are helping to cause CCD. It should be said that smaller bee operations and hobbyists have reported less occurrence of this devastating disorder, this is probably due to the genetic diversity that smaller hives tend to have.
I personally think it’s a combination of many different factors and it’s a sign of modern civilization’s thirst for utter dominance over nature. Our total disharmony with our wild roots is catching up to us. Our disregard is showing and the signs are everywhere, not just in bees. We are being given a rather stern warning that we should heed.
An inspirational Sunflower
Save the Bees
And how do we save the bees? I’m no scientist. I am just a backyard gardener with a yen for the planet. Yes, I care but what can I really do personally? What can we all do?
The best action you can take to benefit honey bees is to not use pesticides and if you must use pesticides try not to use them at mid-day when honey bees are most likely to be out foraging for nectar. Try to use natural fertilizers instead of chemical ones.
Plant a large number of native nectar producing plants particularly in the colors pink, purple, and blue. Some plants to consider are red clover, alfalfa, foxglove, bee balm, and joe-pye weed. ( See complete list of plants)
And put in a good word for our friend the bee. They get bad press. At the very least people just don’t care about bees. Some people hate bees and others are afraid and justifiably so, in some cases. (See Africanized bees)
But for the most part most of us will never encounter any killer bees. Just the garden variety, the cute fuzzy buzzy bees busy with helping transform our world into a garden; one flower at a time. Leave them to their important task. They mean no harm to you and will only use their stinger in self-defense. They are gentle creatures. If you encounter a hive in a natural area, leave it alone. We are meant to coexist with bees and we can as long as we learn to respect them for what they are and what they do.
We must change our attitudes about bees if they are to survive. The facts remain that while the number of bee keepers have been decreasing, the number of companies specializing in the removal of unwanted hives is on the rise.
Love them, hate them or fear them… we need them.
As the world population swells over the coming decades demand for food will surely increase. We will need not only the bees to help feed us but we will need to rethink our role on the planet. We’ll have to realise that we need to foster a cooperation with nature as well as our neighbors. We’re all in this together. You, me, the bees… the whole world. By saving the bees, we are in essence saving ourselves.
English: Honeybee (Apis mellifera) landing on a milk thistle flower (Silybum marianum). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
References and Suggested Reading
The Honey Trail by Grace Pundyk. © 2008
A Short History of the Honey Bee by E. Readicker-Hendersen. © 2009
USDA website; page on CCD