What would a summer afternoon be like without the lazy humming of a honeybee in flight? What would our gardens look like without their natural productivity? What food would we lose if honeybees stopped pollinating our crops for free? Unfortunately, we might soon know the answers to these questions. Colony collapse disorder has been affecting honeybees in the United States and abroad, resulting in the mass death of honeybees around the world. At first attributed to microbial bacteria, then to fungus, colony collapse disorder appears to be a combination of multiple factors that are negatively impacting honeybee populations. The current best guess is that the bacteria and fungus are killing bees that are already weakened by pesticide exposure and by having their food source harvested for human consumption.
That’s right, we might be the underlying cause of honeybee death. Bees work throughout the spring, summer, and fall to harvest pollen and transform it to honey. The honey stored in their hives is what sustains them throughout the winter months – if they don’t make enough honey while the weather is warm, the bees will die. Industrial beekeepers harvest the honey to sell it to humans – whether in its pure form, or as a sweetener in processed foods. They replace the taken honey with high fructose corn syrup – like replacing your vegetables with chewable vitamins and calling it a day. The lack of proper nutrition may cause the bees to become more susceptible to death from fungal diseases, predatory microbes, and exposure to agricultural pesticides.
So how can we stop this? Well, we can ask our politicians and representatives to pass legislation protecting honeybees and banning certain pesticides. The United Kingdom has already banned three pesticides that are commonly used on plants honeybees favor; over the next two years, we’ll see if it has a positive impact on honeybee population. At home, you can restrict your own use of pesticides in your garden. Focus on natural bug killers, like soap and oil, that won’t linger poisonously on leaves and flowers. You could also consider planting honeybee-friendly plants, like butterfly bushes, sunflowers, thyme, and lavender. Bees need fresh water too, so consider providing a water source, like a small fountain or filtered pond. If you have a swarm of honeybees in an inconvenient place, try calling a bee rescue service before the exterminator. Or, if you’re really passionate about helping bees, consider becoming an urban beekeeper! Be sure to check your local ordinances first, but having a hive in your backyard will ensure happy, healthy plants and a decent supply of fresh honey. Just be sure to leave plenty for the bees!
To learn more about colony collapse disorder, watch Queen of the Sun, a critically acclaimed 82-minute movie that is available on DVD. More Than Honey is another documentary on this subject which I saw at the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital. The film is in English and German with subtitles and is expected to be available in DVD format in the U.S. in October.