Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Bee's Needs

Honey bees need our help. The list of diseases and pest they face is a long one and of course man is right up at the top of one. More bee keepers are needed. The number of beekeepers in Virginia has dropped from about 3000 in the 1980's to about 2000 today. However, the number of hives have dropped more than those numbers would suggest because the type of beekeeper has also been changing. More and more of the beekeeping population represents hobbyist with a few hives and not large scale commercial beekeepers with hundreds of hives. In addition, last year Virginia lost 40% of all it's hives to disease and pest.
Hobbyist, and small commercial beekeepers are on the front lines of the fight for honey bee health and they need your support. Human fear and lack of understanding create a host of problems for the hardworking bee.
Working outside as a gardener I run into bees quite a lot, sometimes literally. I work right in the middle of great buzzing masses that have flocked to the blossoms of a fennel, Vitex, Butterfly Bush, borage or other tasty bee treat. Over the several years and all of their falls, springs, summers, (and even winters) I have Never been stung by a bee. Okay, I take that back there was that one time I accidentally grabbed one up with a deadheaded flower and squished it into the palm of my hand. So that's one sting, and still every year countless people see me near a bee and exclaim in horror that I should jump up, run away, grab some spray, and on and on.

I used to think this fear of bees just rather silly, but now I understand that it is actually a real problem both for the beleaguered bee and beekeepers. Just last week I met a man who started beekeeping 20 years ago, but gave it up after a couple years because his neighbors were so afraid of his bees. Finally, after living near those same people for so long and having built a relationship with them he was able to pick up where he'd left off 18 years before. This is a positive story. In other examples keepers were forced to give up their hives because of frightened or unsympathetic neighbors. Another keeper friend of mine lost a good deal of his bees after his farmer neighbor sprayed his crops with an unfriendly pesticide. Fortunately in this case it was brought to that farmers attention and he agreed to stop spraying, or change his spray time to evening hours when the bees aren't active.

As a home owner you can do the same. Be patient with your beekeeping neighbor, and hopefully you'll be rewarded with some wonderful free honey. Watch what you spray and when you spray it. Some very familiar vegetable plant dusts are Not bee friendly. Many products will specify that they are highly toxic to bees in particular and those products will indicate that you are not to spray any flowering plants or areas with flowering plants close enough to catch drift. So always read the label, or of course better yet, just go organic.

1 comment:

  1. This is an issue we need to pay attention to-- without pollinators, growing things will be in danger. To support local beekeepers directly, we can buy local honey! The Ashland Feed store, Ellwood Thompson, Good Foods Grocer and many other places have local honey available. The uses of honey are endless: to sweeten drinks, baked goods, or even moisturize and heal cuts or burns.

    Thank you, Shannon, for digging into this issue.