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The Bee Side: Colony Collapse Disorder

Your apples, your cranberries, your nuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, some of your coffee (are all pollinated by bees) and then indirectly, a lot of our dairy eats alfalfa and alfalfa seed production is reliant on honeybees. We need these bees if we want to produce that food. If we want to continue to eat apples, we need to have bees. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, Penn State Apiarist The only reason for making a buzzing-noise that I know of is because you’re a bee...The only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey....and the only reason for making honey is so I can eat it. Winnie the Pooh

Honeybees are social creatures living together in a colony to serve the queen. One queen bee lives in a hive of a thousand workers, 95% of which are female. The male bees, called drones, serve only to mate with the queen. With the beehive image representing a symbol for industry and cooperation in many cultures, two purposes are fulfilled by a colony: to pollinate nearby crops and to produce honey. Honeybees are finely tuned pollination machines, designed specifically for the job.

History of the Honey Bee Designed to pollinate.

Hair for pollen to stick to

Static collects from flying which helps gather pollen once at the flower.

Gathering honey is nothing new. Having stemmed from ancient times, rock paintings can date collection back to 13,000 BCE. Antenna can smell,

measure temperatures, and measure levels of O² & CO²

Notched legs clean antenna

What it comes down to is this:

Honeybees put 1 out of every 3 bites of food on our dinner table. Without bees working to pollinate crops, we would end up with a diet of gruel, wheat, oats, corn, and rice. Vegetables and fruit would be nearly nonexistent or unaffordable. Pollination occurs either by insects or by wind. A hive visits 100,000 flowers in a single day, which is how commercial beekeeping operations make their money. Pollination contracts with farmers who rely on bees to grow fruits and veggies is what keeps beekeepers in business. Honey production is a resulting side project.

business of the Honey Bee A Big Operation.

In 2006, the first public cries were made in regards to missing bees in the United States. David Hackenburg, a big player in U.S. bee business, discovered hundreds of his hives missing one day. There were no dead bees left behind, it didn’t look like any of the usual suspects such as mites or disease. The bees had just flown off and never came home. Hackenburg’s story wasn’t unique. World-wide, bee boxes were being found abandoned. This collapse has been documented in 35 U.S. states along with Taiwan, Argentina, China, France, Italy, and more.

As a result, American bees are coming up short in pollinating major crops such as almond groves. Concerned almond farmers have called upon the government for assistance, and permission has been granted to import very confused Australian bees across the ocean in airplanes. Although a quick fix, this is not a long-term sustainable solution. Bees are dying, but it’s not just a question of whether or not there will be enough bees for pollination. This phenomenon should be realized as an indicator of environmental quality. When the bees die, there is something much greater that is off, and it is going to affect us all in one way or another.

The disease, The culprit

David Hackenburg, Beekeeper

Colony Collapse.

After scientists started to study the afflicted bees, distinct symptoms were identified: No dead bees remain behind No usual suspects such as mites or pathogens Only a handful of young & a queen (if any) remain Rapid loss: a colony would never leave young behind

All fingers point in an alarming direction. Pesticides. Currently, around 95% of food is treated resulting in 1 billion pounds of pesticides used annually. In the last 20 years, average corn yield has doubled from 75 to 150 bushels per acre, and in the next 20 it’s expected to double again. This kind of growth is understood as success despite the decreasing quality of corn, not to mention the same degree of crop loss despite pesticide use. Specifically, during this decade there has been an increased use in systemic pesticides. These chemicals are applied to the soil and are absorbed through the plant’s roots. Effects of the systemic insecticides slowly deteriorate mental and physical systems of not just bees, but also frogs, bats, butterflies, hummingbirds, and all native pollinators. These symptoms don’t always surface immediately, and used amounts aren’t lethal to an individual bee. However, over a long period of time, sublethal deterioration becomes problematic.

Previously in France, a similar occurrence took place under the name of Mad Bee Disease. The French beekeepers rioted and protested until eventually the pesticide was banned to protect the environment. Other countries have gone along with France and have placed bans on systemic pesticides. As a result, in regions where new products were not applied to crops, the bees bounced back within a year.

This is promising news!

Along with pesticide use, monoculture is distressing the bees. Monoculture is the practice of planting a single crop over a wide area, year after year. Farms are not diversified anymore. This deters bees because of the limited blooming period of a single crop. Pests also love and thrive off monocultures, calling for more pesticides. Beekeepers are constantly moving away from monocultures to be near more diverse landscapes in order to keep their bees away from large amounts of pesticides.

The Beekeeper in you How we can help!

We hear the buzzzzz, so what should we do? Colony Collapse Disorder comes as a blessing in disguise. We, as humans, are creating vulnerable environmental conditions, and the bees are letting us know. There isn’t just one place of blame, but rather an unbalance of multiple environmental damages. Bees are being placed in the forefront of public consideration, which is where they need to be for appropriate action to take place. National awareness can come in many forms, so here are some places to start! Among all else, simply spread the story. Even the Obamas have become beekeepers, homing the first ever beehive at the White House.

1. Eat Local & Organic

2. Buy Local Honey

3. Plant a Garden

We don’t have to wait on the government to control pesticides; many farmers already are doing this themselves! We have the power to “vote with our forks” three times a day about what we chose to eat or not.

Replacing sugar with honey is a great place to start. It’s the most ethical & delicious sweetener available, taking the least amount of carbon to get to your table. Also, be weary of funny honey, or imported honey blends that is sold as pure honey. It out prices U.S. producers, which hurts local production.

Aim for a meadow rather than a lawn with native plants & flowers for bees to visit. Avoid toxic chemicals; holistic gardening is usually more effective. Cut a flower patch or veggie garden into your lawn, there’s nothing more rewarding than enjoying your very own bounty!

4. Become a Beekeeper! Even hosting a single hive can make a difference. Backyard beekeeping has become a trendy and rewarding hobby. In 2010, New York agreed to allow beekeeping within the city following the leads of cities like Seattle, Chicago, and San Francisco.

Share the story of the honeybees: It’s not a hopeless cause! Give Congress & senators a call to express concerns about the bees, and what goes into our food. Politicians respond to letters and media, and together we can assist the bees and expedite natures way of saying, can you hear me now? For more info about CCD, check out Lyndie Raymond, 2012

The Bee Side: Colony Collapse Disorder  

A guide to bees, colony collapse disorder, and what WE can do to help.

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