September 2015
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Where Have All the Honey Bees Gone?

When I was growing up, honey bees were everywhere. There was a field of clover behind my house. There were always honey bees browsing the clover blossoms. Today I don’t see honey bees very often. Most of the pollination in my garden and orchard seems to be done by carpenter bees and wasps. I appreciate their work but I would rather see my plants pollinated by honey bees than red wasps.

There has been much talk recently about a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia:
“Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen. While such disappearances have occurred throughout the history of beekeeping, and were known by various names (disappearing disease, spring dwindle, May disease, autumn collapse, and fall dwindle disease), the syndrome was renamed colony collapse disorder in late 2006 in conjunction with a drastic rise in the number of disappearances of western honeybee colonies in North America.”
Some say that if honey bees disappeared from the earth, man would be in serious trouble from mass starvation within a few years. Our current food system is so dependent on honey bees for pollination. We know that species go extinct all the time. It has been happening throughout the Earth’s history. New species are always emerging. But this occurs naturally over relatively long periods of time. The rate of species extinction has increased dramatically since the dawn of the industrial age. The industrial age is less than 150 years. It coincides with the discovery fossil fuels like coal and oil. Cheap energy has fueled an acceleration of growth that was previously unimaginable. Many think our planet cannot sustain this rate of growth much longer, me included. In the history of the Earth, the industrial revolution is barely noticeable.

Some people think that CCD is due to the pesticides. Fields of mono-crops are sprayed with pesticides. Then the farmers have to hire traveling beekeepers to bring in temporary hives to pollinate the crops. This can’t be good. Recently a new class of pesticides has emerged called neonicotinoids. These are particularly nasty. They are designed to be persistent in the plant for many seasons. I know nothing about them until I bought some berry plants at a big box store. I was shocked to find out what they were putting on the plants. You buy a berry plant to get berries, but the nursery treats it with chemicals that kill the pollinators. What a bunch of idiots.

I have also heard theories that the problems might be related to the pervasive radios waves. Bees have a natural ability to navigate and find their way home from great distances that boggles the mind. Natural systems can be amazing. Man is developing technologies that we find amazing too, but some of them could cause unexpected effects. Decades ago there was radio and television. In the past 30 years, the airwaves have become saturated with cellular signals and more recently Wi-Fi that could interfere with the natural ability of bees to navigate. I personally hope this is not the cause because I don’t see people giving up their modern wireless technology.

No matter which of these theories or combination thereof you might find plausible, it seems very likely to me that the problems are caused by man. Honey bees are too important to our natural systems to get this wrong. We need to stimulate the conversation so others stop ignoring the problem. We need to educate ourselves. Don’t buy plants treated with pesticides. Spread the word. Buy your plants from nurseries that don’t use these unhealthy chemicals. Or better yet, grow your own from seeds or learn to propagate your plants by grafting. Grow annual and perennial gardens so you are less dependent on the mass-production food system. Big agriculture is a house of cards. Get your own bees. If you don’t want to do it yourself, hire a beekeeper to take care of them for you. Your very survival might depend on it.

Resource for this post:
Wikipedia article on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD):
Wikipedia article on neonicotinoid pesticides:

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