We owe the beleaguered honeybee and his friends
Bam! Statistics on honeybee survival leave you reeling. Take a look at some news items released this year. (Bold italics my emphasis.)
From Reuters in May, 2015 comes this alarming report: “Honey bees…disappeared at a staggering rate over the last year, according to a new government report that comes as regulators, environmentalists and agribusinesses try to reverse the decline. Losses of managed honey bee colonies hit 42.1 percent from April 2014 through April 2015, up from 34.2 percent for 2013-2014, and the second-highest annual loss to date, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a report issued on Wednesday.”
Key Point: Sustainability of honeybee culture depends on maximum colony loss of 19 per cent each year (about one in five). The Reuters release shows losses of almost one in two colonies.
From Bayer Crop Science, major manufacturer of pesticides called neonicotinoids, comes this cheery report: “In its latest survey, the USDA reported that the number of U.S. honey bee colonies grew to 2.74 million, the highest level in years and an increase of 4 percent over 2013. This. . .shows we are on the right path toward a more productive and sustainable agriculture. . . As the chart shows, the number of U.S. colonies has risen over the past 10 years, helping to ensure there are sufficient bees to meet the pollination needs of agriculture.”
Key Point: Between the years 2006 and 2011, five million colonies (about 1 out of 3) were lost, at an economic cost of $2 billion.
From the US Dept of Agriculture in May 2015: “Total losses of managed honey bee colonies from all causes were 23.2 percent nationwide for the 2013-2014 winter, according to the annual survey conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This represents a noticeable drop in mortality compared to the 30.5 percent loss reported for the winter of 2012-2013 and compared to an eight-year average of winter losses of 29.6 percent.”
Key Point #1: The Bee Informed Partnership is an arm of Bayer.
Key Point #2: Summer losses were higher than winter losses during the past two years, a disturbing trend, since bees do all their work in summer. You need to add summer losses to winter losses to get a true reading of colonies lost. The Reuters news release now makes sense.
The poor honeybee is being studied to death, analyzed for risk assessments (done with smoke and mirrors?) and dissected in congressional hearings.
Here are some of the issues: CCD (colony collapse disease), mites from China, assorted viruses, winter weather, summer drought, queen die-off (a recent phenomenon), neonicotinoids, and poor nutrition.
Poor nutrition? Doggone it, shame on those bees. They are not eating a varied diet. Maybe that’s because they can’t find it. Manicured lawns and gardens, great swathes of monoculture, heavier use of herbicides have eliminated wild meadows and wild fields where bees forage wildflowers that most of us don’t plant in our flower beds.
And now, when the system is failing, it’s time to point the finger at beekeepers. Here is a list of their supposed sins.
(1)They are not inspecting hives for mites often enough.
(2) They are not aggressively treating mites.
(3) They are not feeding their bees high protein food and supplements when needed. (For beekeepers’ convenience, a special Megabee diet has been developed. How costly is that?)
(4) They are not using Best Management Practices.
(5) They are not splitting colonies in spring and summer when bees can build up stores quickly. Wait a minute, we just said that bees are having trouble finding food and queens are dying off and colonies are being lost in summer. Oh never mind.
The beekeeper today must work harder and spend more to pamper bees made sickly by conditions he can’t control. Used to be you could set ‘em out and forget ‘em unless a hungry b’ar was prowling.
What kind of cockeyed picture is this? Honeybees are feral. Feral means they don’t need humans to get along. They do fine by themselves, as long as the environment is bee-friendly. They have been on their own for centuries — found shelter, gathered food, and raised young all without us. And they pollinate food for us. We owe them.
If you would like to be part of a movement to create bee-friendly oases in your garden, or in your community, here are some suggestions.
(1) Do research on bee/butterfly/pollinator plants that will grow in your area. Natives are best but many non-natives work well (e.g., abelia, holly).
(2)Choose sunny/partly shady areas away from harsh winds. These oases of nectar can be scattered around your garden but each group should be large enough to accommodate clusters of identical plants so bees and pollinators can find them easily and learn how to work them.
(3)Try to have some bloom throughout the growing season. For butterflies, be sure to include host plants for caterpillars.
(4)Choose non-hybrids, if possible. Bees don’t like fancy, frilly flowers. They like simple, old-fashioned blooms that have productive nectaries and give visual signals they can interpret easily.
(5) Don’t be disappointed if honeybees don’t flock to your plantings. There may be no hives nearby. Other pollinators will, and you will be strengthening their numbers.
(6)Don’t use pesticides, especially neonicotonoids. Learn to tolerate some damage from chewing and sucking insects.
(7)Don’t buy plants treated with neonicotonoids, if possible. This is a tough call unless you know the grower. Some Big Box stores have promised not to market neonicotonoids but their nurseries may still offer plants that were dosed with these chemicals.
(8) Look for plants grown and sold locally by non-profits such as Master Gardeners and school ag programs. Watch for their sales in newspapers.
(9)Take pictures of your garden.
If you want to go further, you can become part of a new nationwide campaign – the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. Enroll, plant, and send them pictures. It was launched in July to register a million school, public and private gardens that support pollinators.
This is a huge collaborative effort by conservation and gardening organizations under the umbrella of the National Pollinator Garden Network. Check out http://www.millionpollinatorgardens.
For more about honeybees, their history in our country, the widespread use of neonicotinoids and how they work, the threat of the varroa mite, stories from beekeepers, and gardening practices that will bring pollinators to your special patch of eden, see our series of posts:
Who is Killing the Honeybee? Part I (Not I, says the Gardener)
Who is Killing the Honeybee? Part II (Pesticides and Who? Us Gardeners?)
Who is Killing the Honeybee? Part III (Two Beekeepers Tell their Stories)
What is Killing the Honeybee? Part IV (Brinksmanship? Ignorance? Greed? Inertia?)