By Tom Havran
If you do one thing outside this summer, plant a bee garden.
Throughout the history of bee keeping, a phenomenon has occasionally occurred where worker bees en masse fail to return to their colony’s hive. Recently, this phenomenon has increased to epidemic proportions and has been named Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). It’s estimated that one-third of the hives in the United States succumbed to CCD last year. When CCD occurs, the next generation of developing larvae in the hive perishes, and any remaining adult worker bees die or disband.
The alarming increase of CCD doesn’t bode well for our food supply, as many fruit and vegetable crops rely on honeybees for pollination and proper development of the produce we eat. Pollination is also necessary to ensure adequate supplies of fertilized seed to plant future generations of these vital crops. If the trend continues, we may well be on a path to widespread crop failures, limited supplies and soaring prices for certain bee-pollinated foodstuffs. (Interestingly, the genetically engineered soy and corn that has come to dominate the U.S. food supply does not rely on honeybees for pollination. If CCD continues unchecked, it might actually be a boon to purveyors of genetically engineered corn and soy.)
Why is CCD happening?
The current theory on the increase in CCD is that several factors are conspiring to decimate the bee population:
- Widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides
- Parasitic varroa mites and bee-specific viruses leading to malnutrition
- Environmental stresses due to a variety of factors such as climate change, habitat loss, mono-cultured food crops and transporting beehives via trucks to distant growing areas
What can I do?
Fortunately, there are many simple actions that you can take to help save honeybees:
- Plant a diverse, bee-friendly landscape throughout your property, selecting plants with staggered blooming times for maximum benefit. Don’t have a big yard? Try a pot of bee-friendly herbs and flowers on your deck, front stoop or in a window box. Here’s a handy tool that allows you to select the best pollinator-friendly plants suited to your local region and climate: http://www.pollinator.org/guides.htm
- If you are a gardener or a farmer, avoid the use of herbicides and pesticides. Especially don’t use the neonicotinoid pesticides (acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid), or the newly EPA-approved sulfoxiflar in your garden or on your crops.
- If your municipality or neighborhood covenants allow it, let dandelion and clover bloom in your lawn to provide much needed biodiversity, pollen and nectar to foraging honeybees.
- Provide a clean water source, such as a small water feature or birdbath in your yard. In fact, a simple small container of clean water with twigs or rocks for the bees to land on is all it takes.
- If you have the right yard for it, consider leaving shelter for bees in the form of undisturbed land and/or dead trees or piles of branches.
- Support local beekeepers in your area by purchasing their honey and other products.
- Consider keeping a hive of bees yourself if you have the space and resources to provide for them. Or contact a local apiary, beekeeping organization or community garden to find out if you can sponsor a hive.
- Support manufacturers, retailers, nonprofits or research organizations that are working to protect honeybees and solve the mystery of CCD.
- Use your purchasing power to support a local, organic and diverse food supply.
For more info on bee gardens, sponsoring a hive and other actions you can take to save bees — along with a bounty of videos and links — visit the nonprofit Honeybee Conservancy.
About the author: Tom is communicator of natural living for Frontier, Simply Organic and Aura Cacia brands. In other words, he’s a very imaginative copywriter. A local boy, raised on a farm just down the road from the company’s headquarters in Norway, Tom enjoys drawing, plant hoarding, cooking and living the simple life in the beautiful state of Iowa.