Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Scarce Bees

“If bees disappeared off the face of the earth, man would have four years left to live.”  Albert Einstein

Dark Honey Bee (photo by Ron Hemberger via greatsunflower.org)

My family has a long tradition of beekeeping. My uncle and maternal granddaddy kept bees. Knowing his beekeeping days will end someday, my uncle asked me to take it up. I wish I could, but time and space are limited and town codes say no.

The last few years some folks in town have bemoaned their lack of squash, beans, and other plants which require insects, mostly honeybees, to do their pollination. Some plants do not need bees, such as strawberries, tomatoes, and corn which are wind and gravity pollinated, though bees do help as they are attracted to the blooms.

It is estimated a third of our food would not exist in the absence of bees. Folks, that’s serious.

Bees are dying off in alarming numbers. The cause is still being debated. It is called Colony Collapse Disorder. A recent study in the UK claims to have found insecticides to be the culprit. Other studies have found other causes. The real question is to whether or not we humans are causing their demise. http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_26906.cfm 

We are blessed with many honeybees in the Victory Garden. I believe the reasons to be the flowers, mainly sunflowers, we plant and we are ideally situated in a clover meadow.

Some folks in our fair town, including me in my own backyard, rarely see honeybees. I have many flowers such as zinnias, roses, lantanas, and rudbeckias, but I seldom see a honeybee. My Minnesota Midget cantaloupes and pole beans had sporadic production this year. I believe that is due to insufficient pollination.

Besides the general die-off, honeybees are scarce for other reasons:

1.    Our monoculture Bermuda grass yards for homes and parks have replaced clover meadows which provided much of their nectar and pollen.
2.    We indiscriminately spray insecticides which kill both good and bad insects.
3.    There are fewer beekeepers and therefore fewer hives, just as there are fewer gardens.
4.    Our draconian town codes with wide open space requirements for bee hives allow only people with large estates to have hives. That alone makes it unfair. It seems the town fathers believe they must protect us from ourselves. It matters not that the reality is we have clover meadows swarming with bees with adults and children and pets romping through them. Thus their prohibition must be based on some upscale community view rather than a real and present danger.

Bees have a normal range of two miles from their hive. With no legal hives I am aware of in our town, we are dependent on bees from more than two miles away. That alone limits our honeybee population severely.  I wish the town fathers will see their folly. In the interim some churches with large lots could install a couple of hives as a community service.  Local beekeepers would install and maintain the hives in exchange for the honey.


 Perhaps  the town will install a few hives in a remote corner of Johnson Park and the new Hinton Park, and fence it off to keep children and pets away.  I have asked, but have been told it will not happen.

Ain’t God good!

Carl Wayne leads the Collierville Victory Garden. He is available to speak to groups at no charge. Contact him about visiting or volunteering for the Collierville Victory Garden or about speaking engagements at 485.6910 or mymaters@yahoo.com. Or contact your local extension service 752-1207.

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