Honeybees and Your Garden
Last year after carefully planting my yearly garden, I watched proudly as every plant popped up right on schedule. Once my yellow crookneck squash and zucchini had huge blossoms of saffron yellow, however, I noticed their "babies," the squash, were small and oddly misshapen. Puzzled I realized that although I had seen plenty of butterflies flitting here and there, and had seen way more wasps than I was comfortable with, there was a curious absence of the honeybees I had always more or less taken for granted, trusting them to do their jobs right on schedule, with neither fuss nor fanfare. Where were the honeybees?
Colony Collapse Disorder
For lack of a more precise term, scientists have dubbed the phenomena of the disappearing honeybee "Colony Collapse Disorder" or CCD. And while there are documented collapses of the honeybee colonies in our history (one in 1896, a minor one in the mid-1970's and a more serious one in the early 1990's) none of these came close to the magnitude of the present mysterious disappearance of our honeybees. Since their arrival in the United States honeybees have largely been taken for granted, so it's hard for us to get our mind around the facts that this tireless little worker may be on the brink of extinction.
According to Bee Alert Technology, in April of 2007, it was noted that colony collapse disorder has been found in 27 states, and that at least 26 percent of beekeepers have lost 50% or more of their bee colonies, some as high as 80%. Bee numbers on some parts of the east coast and in Texas have fallen by more than 70 percent, and sunny California has seen colony drops of 30 - 60 percent. It is estimated that because of the sharp drop in bee colonies, the number of beekeepers has been cut nearly in half since the 1980's. Other countries, including Germany, Poland, Switzerland and Spain are also reporting sharp declines in their bee populations.
Ø A fairly standard and even conservative estimate is that $15 billion dollars a year is added to United States crops by the honeybees' pollination of fruits, vegetables, tree nuts and berry crops.
Ø One third of the human diet, or one out of every three bites of food we put into our mouths comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for about 80% of that pollination.
Ø There are anywhere from 85 to 90 flowering crops dependent on honeybee pollination
including apples, nuts, avocados, soybeans, broccoli, squash and cucumbers as well as
citrus fruit, peaches, cherries, blueberries, strawberries and melons.
Ø If, after reading the above, you are considering ingesting only animal protein, consider that even cattle, which feed on alfalfa, are also dependent upon the honeybees.
Ø Without honeybee pollination, California's almond crops-their top export crop-would
produce only forty pounds of almonds per acre, while with the help of honeybees the
trees will easily produce nearly 2,400 pounds of almonds per acre.
A likely culprit in the disappearance of honeybees lies in the truly massive amounts of pesticides now used to more quickly produce bigger, better crops. I think it will surprise most American to find that the United States grows nearly two-thirds of all genetically engineered crops, and, in 2006, about 130 million acres were planted with genetically manufactured crops. Even more astonishing is that a very large percentage of the soy, corn, cotton and canola have had a particular gene inserted into their DNA which systemically produces pesticides both created and patented by Monsanto throughout the plants. These genetically modified crops are specially designed not to die when herbicides are sprayed on them, and the theory is that only the surrounding weeds will bite the dust (literally!). What these innovative scientists did not count on was the amazing adaptability of Mother Nature, who seems to be producing weeds that can now withstand the herbicide sprays, leading frustrated farmers to spray more and more poisons, leading, of course, to the weakening and death of more and more honeybee colonies.
The disappearance of the honeybee-for whatever reason-is an alarming phenomenon which should be an all-out call to arms to every citizen in the United States who enjoys having food on their table each and every day. Remember, change comes one person at a time, but the results can be well worth the effort, and, in this particular case, may actually be deemed a life or death situation.