Though worldwide bee health has been on the decline since the 1990s, it wasn’t until the fall of 2006 that beekeepers nationwide began noticing millions of bees vanishing from their hives. This syndrome, named Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, is characterized by the disappearance of adult honeybees (Apis mellifera) from the hive, leaving the newborns to fend for themselves. Ever since, researchers have been scrambling to discover why bees are dying in record numbers. If you’re not a huge fan of the bee, why should this matter to you? Well, if you like to eat food, you should be concerned.
Besides gathering nectar to produce honey, bees pollinate agricultural crops, home gardens, orchards and wildlife habitat. As they travel from blossom to blossom in search of nectar, pollen sticks to their furry body and is transferred to another flowering blossom enabling it to swell into a ripened fruit. It’s estimated that about one-third of the human diet is derived from insect-pollinated plants and three-quarters of all plants on the planet depend on insects or animals for pollination.
There are differing theories about the cause of CCD but most scientists now believe it is from a combination of factors: pathogens, pesticides and nutritional stress.
While scientists across the globe search for cures, we can act locally to combat CCD and improve the health and environment of the honeybee.
Plant for Pollinators: Some really pretty flowers that invite bees are the ones we love from Granny’s cottage garden: Sunflowers, Shasta daisy, Black-eyed Susan, Lupine, Aster, Wallflower, Zinnia, Echium, Rosemary, Lavender, Hyssop, Salvia, Buckwheat, Sedum, Coneflower, Rhododendron. Your local, independent nursery will have many of these flowers. If not, go to one of my favorite nurseries to get fabby Granny plants: www.AnnieAnnuals.com. (No, that’s not me. It’s another dirt diva/queen bee, Annie Hayes.) Or for seeds: www.rareseeds.com.
Eliminate Pesticides: Pesticides kill beneficial insects including pollinators and natural enemies of pesky garden pests. Go organic, which means adding compost to your soil to make it healthy and productive. You won’t need chemical fertilizer or pesticides if you use compost. It’s full of microorganisms that feed the plants and keep them healthy for you so you don’t have to work so hard. Call 1-800-clean-up to dispose of all that chemical warfare sitting in your shed.
Consider Beekeeping: The Bay Area has lots of resources for nascent beekeepers. Contact the organization nearest you to learn more:
Alameda County: www.alamedabees.org
Marin County: www.marinbeekeepers.org
San Francisco: www.sfbee.org
Santa Clara County: www.beeguild.org
Sonoma County: www.sonomabees.org
Bee Informed: The internet is rich with research and reports on CCD. Educate your family and friends. Organize a screening of Silence of the Bees from the Nature television series or Queen of the Sun: what are the bees telling us? And hurry up. The queen bees are getting annoyed at our ignorance!