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A Spring without bees

I’ve been a bee keeper for 30 years. Every spring I anxiously run down to the hives to see how they overwintered. The sound of honey, native and bumble bees is sheer music to my ears in the spring.

This article is a wake up call to everyone and to encourage conservation action. In the United States, honey bees have dropped from 6 million hives in 1944 to 2.4 million hives in 2006. More disturbingly, 94% of the native wild bees have been wiped out. If the overall rate of decline continues, managed honey bees will not exist by 2035.

With the complete disappearance of honey bees the world’s food supply in terms of calories would not be jeopardized because grains (wind pollinated) is the primary source of dietary energy. However, supplies of animal pollinated – mostly fruits, vegetables and nut crops, which provide the bulk in vitamins and other essential nutrients, would be dramatically changed. There is no doubt we would see higher food prices and shortages.

There have been a lot of ideas proposed to explain why this is happening. These are: cell phones, tracheal and varroa mites, new resistant pathogens (disease resistant mites and Nosema), stress, lack of nutrition due to a lack of biodiversity, new diseases such as Israeli acute paralysis virus and genetic engineered crops (GMO) poisoning pollinators (Bacillus thruingiensus)

Myself, I’m going to point a finger at 2 culprits. Lack of habitat and insecticides. Let’s look at the insecticide piece. Interestingly, it might be genetics that is the bee’s downfall in regards to insecticides. According to the Genome mapping done is 2006, researchers have determined that bees have fewer gene families related to immunity – a lowered resistance to new pathogens. The grooming behavior of the nurse bee makes up for this genetic deficiency. Also, bees have fewer numbers of genes governing detoxification making them susceptible to pesticides and other toxins. Nurse bees prevent poisons from entering the hive. Seriously ill bees are quickly ejected from the hive. When poisoned by pesticides, weaker bees will do an alarm dance to tell the nurse bees that incoming nectar and the source of the nectar is contaminated.

To summarize, honey bees have an inherent weakness against disease. Bees have approximately 1/3 as many genes for immunity as compared to most insects. This may be due to evolution in a highly social environment. Nurse bees groom and externally detoxify incoming bees, alarm dance to protect the hive from poisons and remove seriously sick bees from the hive.

As of 2010, in the United States, African honey bees and organic bee operations have not reported any Colony Collapse disease cases. Surveys done by large scale bee producers seem to suggest that beekeepers close to corn, cotton, soybeans, canola, sunflowers, apples, vine crops and pumpkins are the most affected by CCD. Why? Pesticides?

After agriculture, the biggest users of pesticides is golf courses and home owners for lawns to control and kill grubs. Let’s face it, the lawn is a wasteland for most wildlife because there is no seed or fruit available. Most grasses are mowed before they have the opportunity to flower and bear seed. Short grasses provide no shelter for insects, birds or small mammals.

In order to achieve that perfect lawn, homeowners will apply 10 times more toxic chemicals than farmers do. Maybe it is time for a mind shift away from a perfect lawn as a status symbol to thinking that an imperfect, not so green lawn, is a statement of your commitment to a healthy environment and neighbors!

So let’s shift to ORGANIC. In fact, 82% of the time, organic maintenance of the lawn will control grubs. For the other cases, nematodes will control destructive bugs. You might as well be part of a growing move. 70 Canadian cities have banned pesticide use altogether both residential and commercially.

Here are some ideas and tips for healthy lawns.

  • build healthy soil
  • plant right for the site
  • practice smart watering
  • think twice before applying pesticides
  • practice natural lawn care.

Healthy soil is key to organic lawns. Use compost and mulch mowers. Be careful of fertilizers – check to make sure you are not getting any added pesticides or herbicides. Mulch mowing is like adding green fertilizer. Other options are applying fish, kelp or corn gluten meal which encourage good soil by encouraging microbes and organisms.

Check soil to make sure it is not compacted – Aerating it may help. Also over watering is a main lawn problem. The average lawn requires 1″ of water per week. Really, you only need to water if there has not been enough rain. To measure your watering, place a tuna can beneath the sprinkler. When the can is full you have watered your lawn enough. Another consideration is changing the grasses in your lawn to more drought resistant types.

So let’s try to garden organic and give our bees and pollinators a chance.

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