Imagine a world without insects, especially bees.
If you’re allergic to bee stings, you could be quite happy with this 🙂
It’s easy to think of bees as an annoyance – disrupting a late afternoon barbecue with their buzzing, guzzling nectar from clover in the summer lawn while playing outside or stopping the pool for a sip of water.
Or we can think of bees as one of the most important animals in our ‘supply chain’ of unprocessed, nutrient dense food as well a producer of honey – a unique food chock – a – block full of goodness! That unique literary term hails from Australia – home sweet home!
What’s the Buzz About Bees?
Let’s start out looking at bees and why we should take notice of them and how we can help them to thrive.
Bees are directly and indirectly responsible for creating about one-third of all food consumed by Americans. That’s one out of three items at each meal that would not exist without bees – does that surprise you?
The folk at American Beekeeping Federation, advise bees pollinate almonds, carrots, melons, tomatoes, apricots, cherries, pears, apples, avocado, kiwi and my favorite –blueberries!
Additionally, Michigan State University says bees are responsible for pollinating cotton and hay used to feed livestock.  In this age of searching out less processed food, our supply of grass-fed meat, milk, cheese and yoghurt is directly affected by the presence of healthy bees!
Now we have an idea of the impact of bees on our food supply, let’s go back to school and look at what happens during pollination!
Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the male parts of a flower to the female parts of a flower of the same species, which results in fertilization of plant ovaries and the production of seeds.  In the case of crops, without pollination, the fruit or vegetable can either not form, or form and die early due to lack of fertilization.
Bees Are The Best Pollinators
There’s a common association between bees and pollination because they’re the most efficient pollinators. Their hairy bodies trap pollen and carry it between flowers. Bees need large quantities of nectar and pollen to rear their young, and they visit flowers regularly in large numbers to get these foods. In doing so, they concentrate on one species of plant at a time and serve as good pollinators for this reason.
Image Courtesy of Dan Mullen via Flickr
A bee’s small and compact body size enables them to pollinate flowers of many different shapes and sizes. The pollination potential of the bees is increased because they can be managed to develop high populations and moved to the most desirable place for pollination purposes. For example, in an apple orchard,
Pollination can also occur with the help of bats, birds – especially hummingbirds due to the red colored flowers that catch their attention. Due to their poor eyesight, bats rely on their well-developed sense of smell and usually pollinate at night. Not surprisingly, wind is the least efficient pollinator due to lack of specificity, frequency and temperature.
Bee activity is affected by weather extremes and they are happiest when:
- temperatures are between 60F (16C) and 105F (41C)
- winds are less than 15mph
- their food source is within a 1.5 mile radius.
Now we know a little about the importance of bees, their likes and dislikes, let’s take a look at bee populations to find out how much they’re decreasing and possible reasons.
Where Have All The Bees Gone?
The extent of insect loss has garnered attention in the scientific and agricultural communities as far back as 1962 with Rachel Carson warned about the over use of DDT to control mosquitoes in areas affected by malaria.
Image Courtesy of Mechanoid Dolly via Flickr
Most recently, the term ‘colony collapse disorder’ (CCD) has been in the news and even has an entry in Wikipedia! 
The Canadian Honey Council has characterized the phenomena by:
In collapsed colonies:
- Complete absence of adult bees in colonies; with no or little build up of dead bees in the colonies or in front of those colonies.
- Presence of capped brood in colonies – not usually left in the hive
Presence of food stores, both honey and bee bread – either not robbed by other bees or when attacked by hive pests such as wax moth and small hive beetle, the attack is noticeably delayed.
In cases where the colony seem to be actively collapsing:
- An insufficient workforce to support the brood that is present
- The workforce seems to be made up of young adult bees
- The queen is present
- The cluster is reluctant to consume provided feed, such as sugar syrup and protein supplement.
Pesticides and Bees
Since the publication of this article in 2007, farmers, beekeepers, gardeners, health advocates and scientists have all been pointing to the heavy use of pesticides as a key contributor to CCD. Elizabeth Grossman explains how one specific class of pesticides – neonicitinoids – the most commonly used class of pesticides. Although the pesticide breaks down into water soluble components, it finds its way to soil and water supply in excessive amounts and when not exposed to sunlight can take almost four years to breakdown. If there are multiple growing cycles in those four years, more chemicals could be used and not broken down.
The toxicity to bees and other insects comes in the form of neonicitinoids being present in plant tissues including those frequented by the bees and taken back to the hive. I think about it like stepping in some mud and taking it everywhere you walk for the next two hours to understand the implication.
‘These compounds are a nightmare scenario for pollinators,’ says one beekeeper.
In 2013 the European Commission (EC) imposed a two-year ban the use of three neonicitinoids on seeds, grains and plants attractive to bees to protect the bee population.
In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was sued by several commercial beekeepers and environmental groups for not properly ensuring health protections, particularly with respect to pollinators.
It is my opinion that neonicitinoids are not the only cause of CCD.
Rather they give to it, along with a lack of crop rotation and various mites, parasites and other bugs not in balance with large scale agriculture.
Knowing that bees are the number one pollinator and directly affect one third of our food supply, keeping them healthy keeps our families and communities healthy.
Here are some ideas for keeping bees buzzing!
- Become a pollination detective and involve the whole family. This can be accomplished in your own backyard, own neighborhood, on a local trail or at the local botanical garden. The local community garden may also help out!
- Learn about beekeeping from your local beekeeping group and decide if you’re game to have some in your backyard!
- Support local beekeepers by buying truly raw honey. Raw honey has not been altered by processing and is usually unfiltered. Take time to read the label and find the source of origin
- Learn about the medicinal benefits of honey. It’s antibacterial and has been found in the pyramids of Egypt as well as in modern hospitals for wound care
- https://www.facebook.com/guthelp – February posts have focussed on honey production, bees, etc. (yes, I admit a shameless plug!)
- http://www.honeyflow.com – Great new Aussie invention to make honey harvesting less sticky!
- http://www.ted.com/talks/louie_schwartzberg_the_hidden_beauty_of_pollination. One of many TED educational videos on the pollination with incredibly intoxicating photography
- http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/11/tests-show-most-store-honey-isnt-honey/#.VrzoS8fLrww A great article explaining how store bought honey is made and why filtering to remove the bees knees is not good for us
Have you noticed less bess in your yard during summer?
Or do your vegetables and fruit trees produce less fruit than five years ago?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
 http://www.aces.uiuc.edu/vista/html_pubs/BEEKEEP/CHAPT8/chapt8.html Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
 Elizabeth Grossman, 2013 http://e360.yale.edu/feature/declining_bee_populations_pose_a_threat_to_global_agriculture/2645/