My mother recently downsized and I was encouraged to take home all my old high school yearbooks. I say encouraged as it was either take them home or they would be thrown out. I guess I can’t really blame her, as she’d only held onto them for the past thirty years. And yes, we did have printed paper back then. I was flipping through the volume from my senior year and came across the Favorites section. I had forgotten, I’d been voted, Most Likely to Succeed. At first I chuckled at my big hair and youthful expression. But then, I started thinking about success and how we as a society measure its value. Do we measure success by the clothes we wear or the cars we drive? Perhaps some do. Is it our bank account or popularity that drives us? For others, maybe so.
But how do we measure those intangible values like good health, happiness and love? And how do we reconcile our position in the natural world and the sustainable use of its resources? Do we exploit and take for granted with the brash outlook of youth, that they will always be here. Or do we blame others, big oil, big business, past and present for their mishandling and their greed? Do we view ourselves as just inhabitants or as stewards? And if the latter, what is our measure of success?
As a beekeeper, I blessed to work among creatures who inhabit the natural world around me. I gauge my own measure of success in maintaining healthy and productive hives.
Unless you’ve been living on a deserted island, you are probably aware that we are losing the honeybee (apis mellifera) at an alarming rate. Recent statistics from TIME magazine states that U.S. beekeepers lost up to one third of their hives this past winter. And indeed, the managed bee population has dropped from roughly 5 million in the 1950’s to 2.5 million today. Many blame this downward spiral on CCD(Colony Collapse Disorder)which is characterized by the lack of adult bees in the hive despite the presence of a living queen and immature brood.
CCD was first documented in 2006 but similar hive losses have been recorded as far back as the 1880s. The finger of culpability points in several directions. The first being the advent and use of neonicotinoid pesticides. Neonics were developed in the 1990’s as a replacement for organophosphates. This class of pesticide is less toxic to mammals and can be applied directly to the soil where it is taken up by the plant itself providing a targeted approach and limits the risk of over spray.
Another causative agent of CCD can be directly linked to the varroa mite. The varroa mite is a virus transmitting parasite that attaches itself to the immature larvae causing deformity and weakness in the adult bee. Weak hives become susceptible to other pathogens such as nosema, a pathogenic gut virus that normally affects the older foraging bee. They become weak and unable to return to their hive and usually die some distance away.
Each year, thousands of hives are shipped across the country to pollinate crops such as blueberries, cherries and almonds. The California almond crop is 100% dependent on the honeybee for pollination. Transportation, overcrowded conditions and poor nutrition play an elevated role in the reported percentage of bee losses.
Phew…, with all these dreadful things to contend with, its a wonder there are any bees left at all. And in the very near future, some have predicted, there will be none. That is exactly my point.
So by now, we understand the critical role the honeybee plays in pollination. But what about the honey? In 2010, according to the U.S. Honey Board, Americans consumed 410 million pounds of honey while domestic production was down to 147 million pounds. So, where do you think all the extra honey comes from?
Importation is at an all-time high to meet the demands of the burgeoning honey market. And while South America has been a reliable source, a few suspect Asian imports have made their way into the commercial honey market. Did you know that commercial honey may contain up to 30% unknown additives. Doesn’t that make you feel comforted?
So what can we do to ensure the success of the domestic honeybee? I thought you would never ask.
If you are still with me this far, I think you realize the challenges the honeybee faces. I took up beekeeping as a hobby with the idea I could make a difference. My hobby has now become a passion and my choice is to be an advocate for the bees through educational posts like this one and sharing my experiences with you. After all, it’s in our best interest that the honeybee does succeed.
TIIME: The Plight of the Honeybee by Bryan Walsh, August 19,2013