Yes, I’m still learning how to adjust the lens on my new camera, but JOY!! That blurry little insect in the middle of my apple blossom is a honeybee! On two counts this makes me very pleased. First, our apple blossoms did not get frost bitten by the recent (normal) freezing temps. The flowers arrived early due to the unusually warm spring temperatures. Whew! The second reason this image makes me smile is the presence of ‘the sister’s’ as we affectionately call all honeybees, since it’s the females who are the worker bees out collecting nectar and pollen.
Our hive succumbed to Colony Collapse Disorder in 2011 and we did not replace it with starter bees as there is no known cure for CCD. There are many theories wending their way through the scientific community and in fact there is a study due out this June from the Harvard School of Public Health (to be published in the Bulletin of Insectology) which implies strongly that CCD is caused by imidacloprid. Imidicloprid is a widely used pesticide and it should come as no surprise that it also kills bees. Imidacloprid’s maker, Bayer CropScience in Monheim, Germany, has said bees aren’t affected by the pesticide, which is also no surprise, a large corporation denying culpability.
To many people the disappearance of honeybees seems like a trivial issue, in the face of such big ticket items like war, global warming and
name that teams last win/loss. But the fact is without bees to do the work of pollination, food becomes more scarce. Back up a few years to Bio 101 and recall that without pollination a plant won’t produce ‘fruit’ be it tomatoes, nuts, apples, avocados, etc. It’s true that other insects also pollinate plants. But honeybees do the bulk of the work. In fact with the mono-cropping prevalent in the agri-business model of today’s food production system here in the US, it is estimated that upwards of 15 billion dollars worth of crops rely on the the migrant honeybee and the traveling apiarist for pollination. [from USDA].
From Wikipedia here are the signs of CCD
Signs and symptoms
A colony which has collapsed from CCD is generally characterized by all of these conditions occurring simultaneously:
- Presence of capped brood in abandoned colonies. Bees normally will not abandon a hive until the capped brood have all hatched.
- Presence of food stores, both honey and bee pollen:
- Presence of the queen bee. If the queen is not present, the hive died because it was queenless, which is not considered CCD.
Precursor symptoms that may arise before the final colony collapse are:
- Insufficient workforce to maintain the brood that is present
- Workforce seems to be made up of young adult bees
- The colony members are reluctant to consume provided feed, such as sugar syrup and protein supplement.
CCD is no small matter. Even on the microcosm of our little ol’ homestead, we have seen decreased crop yields in the absence of having an active hive. Research continues today and while it would be a nice simple fix if in fact it is imidacloprid alone that is causing CCD. Unfortunately, it is more likely that CCD is caused by a combination of factors making the cure that much more elusive.
Our working plan for this year regarding the keeping of bees was to also NOT re-colonize our hive with a starter brood. But, while visiting a friend a few days ago on their farm (which they currently do not reside at) they decided to demo an old house on the property. They noticed that a steady stream of bees were flying in and out of the crack in the siding. The demo is not currently scheduled, and the weather has turned more spring like ie: cool/damp, but we are in the process of determining if ‘hiving’ this colony of bees would be possible. While it is not a difficult process, making sure that we can host the hive effectively is our main concern. I’m trying to determine the size of the hive, but it’s been difficult with the weather. My primary concern is of course having enough hive bodies to accommodate the (as yet unknown) size of this colony. I don’t want to hive them only to have them swarm off because our digs were too tight. So stay tuned, for more on that count. If nothing else, we’ll smoke them out before demolition so they can re-colonize some other nook or cranny on the farm. No bee shall be harmed 😉
And the next time you see a honeybee give a little nod of thanks to the sister’s that do the important work of keeping us fed.