by Owen Voutsinas-Klose
One-third of the world’s food crop depends on bees to pollinate fruits, vegetables, and the two most widely grown crops in the world, corn and soybeans. However, billions of bees have died over the past several years and many believe this may some day be the cause of a major world food crisis. The deaths have been blamed on a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), called in ancient times “may disease” or “autumn collapse.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says many of the bees’ deaths are caused by a class of insecticides called neonicitinoids that includes Clothianidin and Imidacloprid, made by the pharma company Bayer AG. The bee shortage has contributed to an increase in food prices that may develop into a large scale famine in less developed areas of the world. Here in the United States, some beekeepers have lost up to 20% of their bees.
“It is clear to me that pesticides have caused CCD in my hives,” says beekeeper Marianne Olive. “It’s important to educate people on the dangers of pesticides and the harm it causes to honey bees, the micro-organisms in the soil and to all insects, pets and people.” The owner of Olive’s bar in Nyack says that big pharma isn’t only to blame. “These pesticides are not the only cause of the disorder. Parasites, mites and fungus are also to blame,” she says.
Advocates say the mass bee deaths caused by insecticides are preventable. When seeds are coated with insecticide before planting, a residue forms on the leaves, flowers and stem while the plant is growing. A bee pollinating several thousand plants a day will be exposed to small amounts from each plant. The other members of the hive become exposed to the insecticide once the bee carries it back in its pollen. The insecticide doesn’t kill the bees immediately. It takes prolonged exposure to cause deaths.
It’s more than just bees that are affected by Colony Collapse Disorder. If we didn’t have bees to pollinate our plants, it could lead to famine.
“Without honey bees pollinating our fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, trees, flowers, most flowering bushes, and so much more, the human race is threatened,” says Olive. “If we loose 100% of honeybees, the human race will cease to exist after about 25 years. China lost a large percentage of their bees and farmers are hand pollinating many crops for food.”
“Gardeners can help boost the bee population by keeping hives themselves and by planting varieties that attract bees,” says Jennifer Hausler, an Upper Nyack gardening enthusiast and author of the Nyack Backyard blog. “Every garden should have some plants that attract pollinators. Some things I typically plant that attract bees are Anise Hyssop, Cleome, Echinacea and Sage. You can also make a home for mason bees from old bamboo, or by drilling a stump.”
Although not immune from this phenomenon, small farmers and backyard beekeepers have fewer problems with colony collapse disorder than large commercial operations, says the Cornell Extension Service.
Many of the small Rockland-based beekeepers would disagree with that assessment. Monsey resident Elliot Eichler has suffered extreme bee losses during the past three years. “I currently am not even keeping bees because my entire hive died out over the winter,” said Eichler, an apiarist for more than 50 years.
Ron Breland of West Nyack, a beekeeper since 1973, says that CCD has many causes. “The best explanation is death by a thousand cuts, many reasons, some of which are toxic environment, mismanagement of hives, a lack of understanding about what is a colony of bees, lack of bee pastures,” he says. Short supply of wildflowers and too many lawns with pesticides are additional culprits. Breland has creates five-sided beehives which he believes are the better for bees producing stronger colonies.
“It costs about $100 to buy a three-pound box of honey bees with a queen,” says Olive.“The hive bodies, wax frames, food for bees, smoker, honey extractor, bee suit, hive tools etc are way over $2500 start up. Each year I loose my bees, I have to rebuild my hives and install new wax frames.”
See also: HUMAN NATURE; Bees Buzz A Path To His Hive, NYT 1/31/2001