Give Bees a Chance

Goodlifer: Give Bees a Chance

I have been thinking about bees a lot lately. While the world is worrying about economic collapse or who will be crowned the next American Idol, I am bummed about the empty hive that was buzzing with bee activity just six months ago. Their collective hum was unmistakable, the distinct smell of honey sweetened the air. Now, the wax shell is void of all activity, and I don’t know why.

Hive that should have WAY more bees in it...

Hive that should have WAY more bees in it…

Ours had been a mutually beneficial relationship during their stay: they came and went as they pleased, pollinating the blossoms on our Gravenstein apple tree which in Fall yielded the sweetest fruit. And since one good turn deserves another, we thanked them by nurturing an organic, pesticide-free garden filled with their favorites — borage, thyme, echinacea, allium, to name a few.

Borage.

Borage.

Echinacea.

Echinacea.

This year though, despite warming temperatures and pollen-filled blooms, there is no sign of them. Could something be killing our bees outright or causing deformities that weaken adult bees and make them more susceptible to viruses? Or worse, they could have succumbed to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

Since 2006, there has been a worldwide noticeable disappearance of honeybees, commonly attributed to the phenomenon of CCD, where worker bees simply do not return to the hive and the colony dies with no obvious cause. Why should we care? Some fruits — apples, pears, peaches, almonds, avocados, cantaloupe, cucumber, and watermelon — are entirely dependent on bees for their reproduction. Without the honeybee, these and many other gastronomical delights will get nixed from restaurant menus and home kitchens everywhere. More importantly though, bees are an indicator species, reflecting the health and status of the environment as well as the interdependency and interconnectedness of all life on earth. It was Einstein who said that if honey bees were to become extinct, human society would follow in four years;  I’m hoping that genius and prophecy don’t go hand in hand.

Busy Bee.

Busy Bee.

Even though this all sounds fairly bleak, I think that we can lick this one household at a time by planting honeybee-friendly gardens. Barbara and Jacques Schlumberger in Healdsburg, California did just that. They set aside an entire area dedicated to the attraction of bees, planted it profusely with bee-loving flora, named it the Melissa Garden (after Melissa officinalis, commonly known as lemon balm, a bee favorite), and built a website inspiring visitors to build honeybee sanctuaries around the world.

The Melissa Garden.

The Melissa Garden.

The Melissa Garden.

The Melissa Garden.

The Melissa Garden.

The Melissa Garden.

For the rest of us that garden on a much smaller scale, we can use plants that pull double-duty, choosing those which are enjoyed by bees and humans alike. These include: rosemary, borage, thyme, basils, and chamomile, for example. Pretty much anything in the herb family will do. And always, always forego the chemical cocktails which cannot distinguish between beneficial insects and harmful ones. Finally, if planting a garden is just not an option, support your local beekeeper and their industry by eating honey.

All I am saying is, whether you live in a small Manhattan apartment with only enough space to grow a window box of herbs or a 40-acre spread in Sonoma county, give bees a chance.

Top photo by robstephaustralia, Creative Commons.

About author
Jane is passionate about organic gardening, reading about gardening, all kinds of music, good food and wine, and her family (sometimes in that order). She is a graduate of UC Santa Cruz and proudly participated in the vote to name the Banana Slug as the official school mascot way back in 1986. When Jane’s not cleaning the garden dirt out from under her fingernails or listening to radioparadise.com, you can find her delivering library books to homebound seniors or knitting. A dyed-in-the-wool, native Californian, she lives in Marin County with her husband Roger and their son Jake.
1 comment on this postSubmit yours
  1. Thanks to everyone that shared links with me, I wanted to post them here to share with all you readers as well.
    There have been reports of a recent study, published in the journal Environmental Microbiology Reports, claiming that scientist have isolated a parasite from professional apiaries suffering from honey bee Colony Collapse Disorder and treated the infection with success. This may not be a perfect solution, but perhaps a step in the right direction.

    The Entomology Departments at Penn State and UC Davis are both doing important research about the possible causes of the dwindling populations honey bee population and Colony Collapse Disorder.

    It may not seem like a serious issue, but, honey bees pollinate about one third of the US’s food crops, without them we are facing serious food shortages in the near future.

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