And, it’s not just them.
All pollinators are in trouble. The European Honey Bee is simply the first casualty. For several years now, we’ve known honey bees were on a steep and seemingly unwavering decline, but I don’t think I realized until recently how bad things are. I have a friend through the construction industry (Hey Pat!) who is also a beekeeper, and I’ve been thinking about getting bees myself so I called him the other night. He was very enthusiastic about a visit (which I’ve yet to do), and the art of beekeeping. When we discussed Colony Collapse Disorder, his mood became somber. He has three hives, and lost two of them within a week this spring. The bees were there one day and gone the next. He ordered two more packages of replacement bees, but he is worried.
We all should be. According to the 2010 Preliminary Report of the Apiary Inspectors of America, European Honey Bees are disappearing or dying at a rate of 28.6% nationwide based upon inspection of twenty percent of all recorded hives. Although these losses were less than in 2007/2008, and not all were from CCD, it is still frightening. Even more alarming was a show I watched on Planet Green the other evening, The Last Beekeeper. It followed three beekeepers as they leased their bees out to pollinate California’s almond crop. Unlike some of the shows on Planet Green’s lineup, the plight of the bees and theirs keepers was measured and eloquent. I don’t want to give anything away, but scientists are getting closer to figuring out why bees are dying. They just don’t know how to fix it.
I’ve noticed all of the pollinators are down in my garden this year which tells me their numbers are down everywhere. Now, bear in mind it’s early in the season, but I have some theories about why there aren’t as many. Chemicals are toxic to all insects, the environment and ultimately, us. Our biological systems are not so very different from every other creature on this earth, including insects. If a chemical paralyzes and kills an insect, well . . . .
After watching The Last Beekeeper, I felt a bit overwhelmed, and as always, I wondered what one person could do. If you want to read more about the decline of the honey bee in North America, there is a plethora of information. The USDA National Agriculture Library is a good place to start.
Now, normally, I don’t rant on my blog, but here goes.
First, stop using chemicals. With a move toward organics, biological controls are better than ever. One of the best ways to stop garden pests is to check our gardens every day (especially if we grow vegetables). Most serious gardeners I know no longer use insecticides. I mean, we can get those in the food we buy at the store. We don’t need them for the food we grow at home.
We may not be able to stop others, but we can be the first to stop.
While thinking about all of this earlier today, I popped over to read Gail’s blog, Clay and Limestone. Her writing is always insightful, but today she wrote beautifully on Hover Flies, one of my favorite pollinators. She also alerted me to National Pollinator Week. Although it wasn’t a meme, I’ve decided to join her in posting about pollinators and what we can do to attract them to our gardens.
I quit using chemicals long ago. Next post, I’ll share about great plants to grow to attract pollinators to your garden.
We can’t fix everything, but, with one step in the right direction, we can begin.
I always leave a fairly large patch here and there of clover for my bee’s . You cannot plant enough . Blossoms everywhere.
Thanks, Dee, for spreading the word about the tragic plight of the honeybee. People have to think about our connectedness to the world as a whole, and without these tiny creatures how will we eat? Not using chemicals whenever possible is an important step, but what effect are genetically modified crops having on the bees? GMO corn, for example, contains a pesticide to ward off worms.
My Foster hollies at the front of my old house bloom each spring and always attract honeybees, but this spring very few came. It saddens me to think this colony is so diminished. I did see bumblebees in the althea at my new house, and I’ll have to see what I can plant there to attract their smaller cousins.
Hey Deb, yes, the GMO crops are probably having an effect on everything. Fortunately, corn is pollinated by wind instead of bees, but I always wonder what it does to us in our bodies. Will be become sensitive to Bacillus thuringiensis (which is what the gmo corn has)? I’ve gotten to where I don’t buy corn anymore. It frightens me.~~Dee
Honey Bees says
Swarming is an inevitable part of the reproductive cycle in honey bees. Although honey bees reproduce through mating and egg-laying, swarming is how they create new colonies.This means a new queen is needed for the colony expansion. One female will emerge to take the position of the queen and will stay in the original hive. The old queen and half of the entire population however, will go and find another suitable place to start anew.
Dee, it’s terribly alarming to plant for the pollinators and not have them show up! A friend who keeps European honey bees said he lost more then half his colonies to the arctic cold we had in February. He has already lost some to disease. I think the torrential rains have taken a toll on the solitary bees that live underground..I see fewer this spring then ever. Thanks for the shout out and sweet compliment. gail
Dee, I am deeply concerned about our pollinators. I was suprised to come by today and see just this topic. My Sunday Stroll today features some pollinators in my garden.
In my comments, my mother (Cloudhands) and I discussed “toxins” in the garden.
Linda Lehmusvirta says
Indeed, people simply must stop using pesticides! Organic or otherwise. Organics kill bees and other beneficial pollinators just as “effectively” as synthetics.
We all like to poop on the big companies, but gardeners do an incredible amount of damage. And it’s so easy to contribute to the earth with flowers and no chemicals. Accept the “bad” bugs with the good!
Thank you, dear friend, for this great post. We have so many stinging things down here, have seen a lot of small bees in the holly in the spring, but honey bees? I don’t know. There were also the horrible aggressive large bees I took for honey bees last year. They were attempting to live in our attic. After a number of us got stung, and for doing nothing more than sitting on the porch, we did spray them. For gardening, we have not used chemicals for years. Too much trouble. Will be learning more, thanks again.
Brit Gal Sarah says
You are so right, I have no doubt all the chemicals are a big part of this problem. I can’t remember seeing a Honey Bee yet this year!
sharon Lovejoy says
Thanks for this dear Dee.
And syrphid flies give me so much delight too.
We CAN fix everything. If you don’t shoot for 100% you’ll never even make 50% (ask BP, now getting 50% of the oil, unless they are lying again). I had a major lack of spring pollinators–few berries on serviceberry and cherry trees, and I finally hand pollinated the virburnums which seems to have worked very well. Look forward to next post.
Great post. So many people are going to the newer systemic insecticides. They use it on lawns and in flower gardens. The poor bees and butterflies don’t have a chance.
I think ranting about stuff like this on blogs is great except that we really are preaching to the choir. Good gardeners are aware of the danger and have stopped using chemical pesticides. But, the vast majority of homeowners must have that perfect lawn and perfect roses and so will continue to use pesticide no matter who suffers.
I read that the Canadian Government has seriously regulated the sale and use of pesticides in that country. Not only that, they take an active role in teaching their citizens how to control pests safely and effectively. Our government has continued to promote the use of poisons and parrots the chemical companies claims that they are safe and necessary.
That would be heartbreaking to have your bees just gone like that. I will look for that show.
Mr. McGregor's Daughter says
Great post. I’d love to keep bees someday (after the girl gets over her insect phobia). I hope you do venture into beekeeping. I’m also hoping that people will finally get the message & stop spraying poison.
Any thoughts about what to do about Houston fireants – I’m chem-free in all other regards … nice post!
Gardener on Sherlock Street says
Lisa at Greenbow says
I have also been thinking about how the city goes around spraying for mosquitoes. Of course they say it only affects mosquitoes but I have noticed a decline in butterflies in and around my garden. I attribute this to this spraying too. I just don’t like it. I am going to put a sign on my front lawn that says DO NO SPRAY.
Lisa at Greenbow says
Excellent rant. We need to be reminded of the importance of pollinators.
Pam's English Garden says
Dee, This is a very important topic! And very timely for National Pollinator Week, June 21-27. Maybe I’ll do a post also. Pam
True, we can’t fix everything, but we can set a good example by not using insecticides in our gardens. Excellent post on a topic that should be of interest to everyone, not just gardeners.