Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Beginning with the bees

Nobody knows exactly what is wrong with the bees.

Since 2006, beekeepers have been reporting the loss of 30% - 90% of bees in many hives, with no clear cause.  The syndrome has been labeled Colony Collapse Disorder. 

My father-in-law, who has raised honey for many years in Carlisle, MA, had several recent years with no honey production. 

The book A Spring Without Bees (Lyons Press, 2009) focuses on harm from pesticides.  The USDA's Agricultural Research Service lists a wide variety of possible causes, but it too worries considerably about pesticides as a possible cause: "Pesticides may be having unexpected negative effects on honey bees."

Because bees provide essential pollination services to U.S. agriculture, ARS sounds very concerned about consequences:
While CCD has created a very serious problem for beekeepers and could threaten the pollination industry if it becomes more widespread, fortunately there were enough bees to supply all the needed pollination this past spring. But we cannot wait to see if CCD becomes an agricultural crisis to do the needed research into the cause and treatment for CCD.
This year, happily, my father-in-law at last has two hives in production (the two on the right in the photograph above), still far below his best years.  I asked him if this meant things were looking up for U.S. beekeeping.  He responded dryly, "I haven't heard that they are."

Note: I'm moving to California for a sabbatical year at UC Davis.  This morning, I took my family to the airport and then departed from my wife's parents home for the drive west.  Along the way, for the next ten days, I will visit and occasionally report on sights and people relevant to U.S. food policy.  A beekeeper in Carlisle is a beginning.

My Conestoga wagon.

1 comment:

Allison said...

I'm reluctantly hopeful honeybees are making a comeback. I have a pretty large garden and this year I've seen a few honeybees. I haven't seen them around for a few years. I have lots of other bees and flying insects though. The honeybees were really attracted to my moon plants and as a result, I usually only saw them in the early evening when the flowers bloom.

I did speak to someone about my cucumbers though because, while all my other plants & veggies seem to be fine, my cukes aren't getting pollinated. I was told that with sustained high temperatures (consistently over 88 degrees), pollination is less likely.

Have there been any studies about the bees and high temperatures?