Colony Collapse Disorder: What’s the buzz?
For at least a decade, honeybee colonies throughout the world have been hit with a mysterious condition, dubbed by scientists as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). In infected hives, the adult worker bees leave the hive and never return. They abandon their queen and some larvae, as well as honey and pollen reserves. Furthermore, bees from other colonies, which would usually “rob” a weak colony immediately, leave the hive untouched for weeks. These bees simply disappear, a phenomenon that California’s extension apiculturist and trained insect pathologist Dr. Erin Mussen describes as “unheard of.”
Recent years have seen varying levels of CCD devastation, but since its onset in the U.S., CCD has destroyed 36 percent of America’s 2.4 million hives. And, preliminary accounts of hive losses this year suggest that beekeepers were hit hard again.
Although scientists cannot pinpoint the exact cause of CCD, most explain it as a “perfect storm” of stressors. These stressors may include, but are not limited to, various pesticides and fungicides, forced migration, poor nutrition, parasitic mites and viruses, various pathogens and the bees being pushed too hard to perform their commercial pollination duties.
Honeybees are predominantly responsible for the pollination (and thus reproduction) of nearly 100 commonly consumed crops — roughly one-third of the U.S.’ agricultural production. Honeybees pollinate all the heart-healthy and cancer-preventing foods that the USDA, physicians and our health-conscious friends have finally convinced us to eat and love.
“The USDA recognizes that the honeybee is the backbone of America’s agricultural system,” explains Gloria Degrandi-Hoffman, a leading bee researcher for the USDA.
Honeybees pollinate crops like almonds, berries, apples, cantaloupe and cucumbers. Oh yeah, and honeybees make honey!
As lovers of the Earth and all she supports and is supported by, it’s important that we take some action to help sustain the honeybees and protect the agricultural system that they serve and that we depend on. Spring is upon us, and as Earth Day approaches this April, the honeybees are out in foraging flight. Let’s take some positive eco-action, honeybee-style.
Here’s how we can help:
Spend a half hour or so on the Internet researching CCD and honeybee loss. Look at all the crops that depend on the honeybee for pollination. Then look inside your refrigerator, your pantry and in your fruit bowl. Think of how many of the foods that you commonly consume rely on these small pollinators.
Plant a bee garden! It’s easier than you might think. Select plants that are attractive to bees — this will depend on where you live, so do a little research to determine what bee-friendly plants grow well in your particular climate. Lavender does well in most environments — honeybees love it and it can be dual-purposed as an aromatic bath soak after a long day in the garden.
Choose plants with a long blooming season.
Plant as many bee-friendly plants as your garden allows space for.
Just like us, honeybees require water while foraging, so place a birdbath or a shallow bowl in your garden.
Avoid pesticides. Really. Keep your garden organic — it’s better for the health of you and your family and it’s better for the bees! Research indicates that insecticides have potentially harmful effects on honeybees. Instead, try using biological pest controls like ladybugs. Ladybugs are beautiful and eat only the harmful pests in your garden. Plus, kids love them! If you must apply pesticides, please do so mindfully and opt for insect-specific insecticides.
Place a Bee Condo in your garden! Invite bees native to your community to take up residence and pollinate your garden.
Write to your congresspeople. Demand that more money be allocated for honeybee research. Take an afternoon to visit an apiary, and bring the kids with you. Educate yourself and our small stewards on the many wonders of the honeybee. Donate if you’re able — UC Davis is undertaking some exciting new research with the generous support of Haagen Dazs (50 percent of their flavors depend on crops pollinated by honeybees). Enjoy bee-pollinated food this growing season; they work hard to make it abundant and affordable.