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 30-odd years.
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 80s 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? Is it our bank account or popularity that drives us? Or should we instead measure those intangible values like good health, happiness and love? How do we reconcile our position in the natural world and the sustainable use of its resources? Do we exploit and turn a blind eye believing they will always be here. Or do we blame others, big business or the current tumultuous political process for their mishandling of our natural resources or their greed? Do we view ourselves as inhabitants or as stewards? If the latter, what is our measure of success?
As a beekeeper, I am 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 of the plight of the Honey Bee (apis mellifera). Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) which is characterized by the lack of adult bees in the hive despite the presence of a living queen and immature brood and was first documented in 2006. The finger of culpability points in several directions. The first being the advent and use of neonicotinoid pesticides. Neonics were developed in the 1990s 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 overspray.
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.
The 2014-15 year showed summer colony loss higher than winter loss directly related to the Varroa mite infestation. 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 percent dependent on the honeybee for pollination. Transportation, overcrowded conditions and poor nutrition play an elevated role in the reported percentage of bee losses. By now, we understand the critical role the honeybee plays in pollination.
But what about honey? According to the U.S. Honey Board, Americans consumed 450 million pounds of honey in 2013. Domestic production in the same year was about 149 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 percent unknown additives. How does that make your feel? So what can we do to ensure the success of the honeybee? I thought you would never ask.
Consider becoming a beekeeper. Check your zoning laws, many urban areas are approved for backyard beekeeping. If you are considering the above, take a class from your local bee club. And, I would encourage you to find an experienced beekeeper to mentor you through your first year. If you cannot or are not interested in keeping bees yourself, buy local raw honey from a reliable source. Remember pollen is destroyed once honey is processed.
Plant bee-friendly plants and flowers that have staggered blooming periods to provide a continued source of nectar throughout the season. If you live in a farming area like me, discuss spraying times with your local farmer. Chances are he is as keen as you are to keep pollinators alive and healthy. Avoid spraying in the middle of the day when most foragers are out of the hive. Consider planting a flower, pesticide free zone around your fields. Above all, be informed and aware.
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 sharing my experiences with you. After all, it’s in our best interest that the honeybee is the most likely to succeed.
Rebecca O’Bea along with her husband own and operate Arbor Ridge Farm in Leavenworth. She can be found caring for her horses, chickens and bees and usually knee-deep in compost. Follow her on her blog THE BEE QUEEN at www.bee-queen.com and www.beequeennaturals.com