I was outside a few days ago working in my vegetable garden, and bumble bees were hovering nearby. Those bees got me thinking about honeybees, and I realized that I hadn’t seen many honeybees this season. Then I read in our local paper that Colony Collapse Disorder, or “CCD” has been attributed to more disastrous bee die-offs over last winter. The USDA estimates that 1/3 of all the colonies were lost!
We should remember that our honeybees are not native to North America. They were brought here by European settlers, and displaced many of our indigenous wild pollinators. But rely on them we most certainly do, for pollinating crops from apples to broccoli.
Here in Rhode Island, beekeepers have also suffered major losses. CCD continues to affect colonies across the United States and Canada, and the scary thing is no one has been able to pinpoint a single cause of this disease. Researchers suspect a combination of pathogens, pesticides, malnutrition and parasites such as the varroa mite, but the bottom line is, they still don’t know why honeybees suddenly desert their colonies and disappear forever. One French study says that bees stay healthier if they can collect pollen from many different sources. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, today’s agriculture usually involves the mass production of single crops.
Those who are studying CCD agree on one thing: there isn’t nearly enough funding for research into this problem, especially considering what is at stake. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, the Pennsylvania state apiarist argues that if one of every three cows was dying “they’d call out the National Guard.”
As fellow gardeners, I’m sure you are already aware of the importance of bees as pollinators – in our own gardens, and in the pollination of important food crops. While there’s not much we can do about CCD other than stay informed, we can help bees where we live. If you haven’t done so already, add some plants to your garden that are superior nectar sources. These include: Monarda (Bee Balm), and Eupatorium, (Joe-Pye Weed). Plant in clusters, or drifts – not isolated single plantings. Buy local honey. This supports your local beekeepers and the bees. Finally, if you absolutely must spray pesticides, (and the bees wish you wouldn’t) please don’t spray at mid-day, when the bees are out foraging.