Where Have all the Honeybees Gone?

Oh, you guys, I’m so excited! I have a guest post up at My Plastic-free Life! It’s Beth Terry’s blog all about reducing the plastic in her life, and it’s awesome. Please stop by and say hello. 🙂

I have talked a lot about my love of local eating. I am not a hard-core locavore by any stretch, but I am finding more and more local sources of foods I love. And I’m gradually expanding my own garden each year, too. Along the way I’m learning things about food and trying new things.

One of the things that I’ve discovered since I started eating more local food is honey. Of course I’ve eaten honey nearly my whole life. But I always bought it at the grocery store, and it always tasted the same. Now that I’m buying it at the farmer’s market I’m trying many different varieties. Clover, alfalfa, buckwheat, wildflower, raspberry, blueberry, cranberry, and my favourite jewelweed. Each is different. Some are mild, some are strong. Some aren’t even all that sweet. I’m sort of amazed that I went through 30 years of honey eating before I realized that there was such variety.

So I was particularly saddened to learn about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). In late 2006 beekeepers in North America reported unusually high disappearances of honeybees. And the phenomenon continued. In the winter of 2007/2008, 36% of hives in the US were lost to CCD.

Cases of CCD are characterized by a complete absence of adult bees in the hive, with no dead bees in or around the hive. All the workers just…disappear. Eggs and larva are present, and the hive is filled with honey. While bees do abandon hives, they don’t do it when there are young present, and particularly not when it’s still filled with food. There’s no explanation for where all the bees have gone. And this is not a localized phenomenon, colonies have disappeared across North America.There are a number of theories as to what is causing CCD. Everything from climate change, to cell phones, to pesticides, to mites and parasites have been blamed. The US Agricultural Research Service says that there is no single answer, although they do rule out cell phones. They think it’s most likely a biological cause like a virus, parasite, or mite, in combination with pesticides.

So what? We can live without honey, right? Well yes, but bees pollinate a lot of the food that we eat. Fruits and vegetables ranging from pumpkins to strawberries to apples depend on bees. If we don’t have them, we lose 30% of our food. This is not a small number. Even companies like Burt’s Bees are getting the message out:

So what can we do? Suggestions include avoiding pesticide use, supporting organic farmers (to further reduce pesticides), and planting flowers that bees like. The good news is that this year honeybee populations seem to have stabilized after beekeepers changed their practices. Although we’re hardly out of the woods yet. We need to remember that we are part of an interconnected web of existence, and we depend on other creatures for our survival. If we lose one piece, the whole thing can collapse in on itself.

I am hopeful that the honeybees will return. You can bet that I won’t be swatting any that come across my path anytime soon. And that I will appreciate the wonderful honey I eat all the more.

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  1. I appreciate our honeybees and worry about their health and continued existence (we really do need them).

    On another note, I’m reading Savage’s book on Healing Children Naturally and am at a part in the discussion of sweeteners. Apparently, honey is little better than white sugar, nutritionally speaking, and a better option is molasses. Just wondering, have you tried it?

  2. There are a few things that we all can do to help bees:

    1) Provide nesting areas for them (It’s easy to make a bee house. All you need is a block of untreated wood and a drill)
    2) Discontinue the use of insecticides around our homes and in our gardens.
    3) Provide food for them. Most crops don’t bloom continuously, so in order to attract bees, you’ll have to make sure that they have good variety of plants to feed from, so that there is always something in bloom for them.

  3. I just finished up a mini-unit on this in my botany class. There’s a great PBS documentary on this called “Silence of the Bees.” It’s available streaming on their website if you’d like to check it out.

  4. Just found you through Beth at FakePlasticFish. I am worried about the bees too. They are plentiful in my backyard here in No. Calif. I saved one from my son’s sand and water table yesterday!

  5. I’ve given you an award! Come on over to my blog to check it out!

  6. Thanks for this post Amber. I had been wondering about the current plight of the honeybee, but not enough to go out of my way to find out. I am glad their numbers are stabilizing but this is one of the biggest environemtnal problems happenng right now I think. Without the bees it’s going to be hard to eat fruits and veggies! And those are kinda important!

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  1. […] As it turns out, they’re really pretty bad. Pesticides have been implicated in the widespread disappearance of honeybees. They are also highly toxic to amphibians, including frogs, whose numbers are in serious decline. […]

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