By Grace Dennis ’15
Have you ever thought of bees when you bit into an apple? Probably not, unless a swarm of bees was disrupting your picnic. Bees are much more than a buzzing nuisance; according to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), they are responsible for pollinating 35% of the food we eat. Many foods, from apples to avocados and almonds, wouldn’t be available without the help of bee colonies who pollinate the crops each year. Pollination is carried out by both wild bee colonies and farmed colonies raised by beekeepers that are “rented” by farmers each season.
In the past 10 years bees in the United States and across the globe have been spontaneously leaving their colonies and abandoning their pollination duty. This problem, known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), has already affected about one-third of bee colonies in the US (NRDC). CCD affects both wild bee colonies and farmed colonies and the exact cause is somewhat unknown. One possible cause of CCD is global warming, which is causing the bloom of flowers to come at different times, out of sync with bee hibernation cycles. Blooming flowers provide the food needed by the bees after they come out of hibernation. Another possible cause of CCD, primarily in wild colonies, is habitat destruction. Development has caused a loss of traditional honeybee habitats, which has decreased colony numbers. Pesticides are believed to be the primary cause of CCD, especially a type of widely used pesticides called neonicotinoids. Pesticides used on nearby crops and by beekeepers to control mites in the colonies harm the honeybees and may lead to CCD over time. Neonicotinoids have been banned for two years in many European countries in an effort to determine their effect on honeybee colonies.
Efforts at multiple scales are needed to help reverse the bee decline. Farmers can have the biggest impact on efforts to bring back bees. Farming practices that help preserve the natural habitat of bees could help bee colonies return to areas affected by CCD. Another major way farmers can help bring bee colonies back is to decrease pesticide use. The National Resources Defense Council recommends Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods to decrease the need of toxic pesticides near bee colonies.
On a smaller scale bee colonies can be restored through the planting of household gardens. By growing plants that bloom at different times of the year, bees species that come out of hibernation at different times will have a source of food and a great habitat to colonize. The Colgate Community Garden grows a variety of plants that help create a healthy habitat for bees. Another way to support bee communities in Hamilton is through the planting of gardens around Broad Street houses. If you don’t have the most green thumb, another way to help restore bee colonies is to buy organic produce. Through supporting organic practices you can ensure toxic pesticides that could harm bee colonies were not used.
Global bee decline is estimated to cost $5.7 billion each year (NRDC). While actions taken by farmers to reverse this decline are extremely important, consumers can also make a big impact. Planting household gardens to increase bee habitats is an option reserved mostly for more suburban dwellers, but anyone who buys groceries can opt for organic in an effort to save the bees. By taking steps to bring back the bees we can all help avoid a world without the delicious produce we consume every day.