Since my very first look into honey bees and having my own apiary, I have been keenly aware of the impact Bees have on our environment and our food sources. Due to the Bee Movie and media exposure, the public has become more aware of the risks of loosing bees and the effect on humans. It’s not just pretty flowers but food we eat every day.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), during the winter of 2006-2007 beekeepers noticed unusually high losses in their hives; loosing 30-90 percent of their hives. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a sudden loss of worker bee population leaving queen and young brood without anyone to care for them and maintain the health of the hive. Researchers believe that CCD is caused by a number of factors and are currently focusing on the following to decrease the massive struggle to keep our bee populations alive. These factors include:
- Increased losses due to the invasive varroa mite (a pest of honey bees).
- New or emerging diseases such as Israeli Acute Paralysis virus and the gut parasite Nosema.
- Pesticide poisoning through exposure to pesticides applied to crops or for in-hive insect or mite control.
- Stress bees experience due to management practices such as transportation to multiple locations across the country for providing pollination services.
- Changes to the habitat where bees forage.
- Inadequate forage/poor nutrition.
- Potential immune-suppressing stress on bees caused by one or a combination of factors identified above.
Some experts believe that one of every three bites of food we eat is brought to you by the pollination of the plant by bees. In some cases, Beekeepers transport their bees across country to make the pollination of our commercial crops occur. The demand of the human population on commercially available fruits and vegetables far outstrips the population of bees available in one area.
So What Can we do to Help?
On a more global note Huffington Post reports that several countries have banned the use of Neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides thought to be responsible for the decrease in bee populations. At home, in our own yards, we can also follow this practice of not using commercially available pesticides but also plant in our gardens and pastures non-GMO seeds that are meant to keep insects away (as bees are insects and it will prevent pollination). David Suzuki Foundation has written a good article with tips how to help the bees. To put it into something quick and easy to reference, here is a list of tree and plants that help the bees. Bees will fly up in a 5 km radius from their homes in search of food sources. So why make them fly to far when your backyard is right there.
In addition to things to eat, Bee’s need water and lots of it. Like many insects, Bee’s will drown in water if they don’t have a place to land. Put rocks or marbles in your watering station so they have a safe place to drink from.
Bee’s also need Homes!
While Laura and I provide lovely hives for our bees to live and grow in. Wild bee populations sometimes need assistance. Mason bees, as an example, are non-hive bees that work in solidarity rather than as hive. Mason bees often are the ones pollinating gardens and flowers and are the types of bees we most often see, unless of course your neighbor has beehives.
Mason bee houses can be as simple as drilled holes into a piece of wood or as lovely and complicated as the below images. The idea is that the mason bee will pollinate and collect enough stores to lay and feed her replacement for the following spring before she seals it.
So before you cut down all your weeds, spray with pesticides or plant those quick growing insect resistant plants, please consider this Bee food for thought and look into alternatives. When in doubt, contact your local beekeeper association for suggestions on how to keep your wild bee population alive and well. Locally you can join the West Kootenay Beekeeper’s on their Facebook page or at their website (both run/supported by Nette Lack) or follow Axel’s (our local bee inspector) blog page. As always, feel free to contact us here at Dumbledore’s Apiary and we will be happy to provide you with whatever information you need as well.
Cheers to you and your Bee Gardens, and thank you for considering this Bee Food for Thought.