By all indications, the grace period on our Profligate Human Progress charge account is over, we missed the minimum Kyoto Protocol payments and the interest and penalties for failing to meet our environmental obligations is poised to take us to the ecological cleaners.
As for me, I know something is going horribly wrong in the world. I know because my bees told me.
For the past three years or so, the buzz in the beekeeping community has been about a mystery affliction—called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)—that causes bees to just disappear from a hive. They don’t swarm and run off like spoiled brats. And they don’t just die, as evidenced by the lack of corpses in and around the hive. No, over a matter of days, 50,000 or so bees just disappear without a trace.
And we’re not talking some minor absquatulation. This is wholesale devastation. So much so that it is estimated that in 2008, 1 million hives were lost in the United States.
So what, you ask? Will that mean honey will cost more, you wonder? That’s not the least of it. Busy bees are responsible for pollination of everything from fruit trees to broccoli, alfalfa to almonds. And unless we figure out what’s wrong with this picture, and fast, it won’t take long for there to be serious shortages of those foods, meaning Red Delicious apples could top $10 a pound; almonds $25. Or more.
Scientists and apiarists have been digging into this crisis ever since it surfaced with a vengeance in 2006. To date, no clear culprit has been identified. But 34-year Boulder County beekeeping veteran and owner/founder of Niwot Honey Farm, Tom Theobald, has a good idea: Neonicotinoids (basically chlorinated nicotine) and clothianidin, relatively new pesticides that have been banned in Germany and severely restricted in France because of their suspected link to CCD.
They are commonly used on corn, and Theobald says the long-lasting and powerful chemicals can be found in corn pollen. So in the summer, when corn pollen is plentiful, the bees store it up for use later. Then, in the early fall, when the hive starts gearing down for winter, the bees tap into the stored pollen to feed to the new brood of longer-lived worker bees that will tend to the queen.
That stored pollen, which contains traces of pesticides, kills the brood (the bee larvae), and interrupts the fertility of the queen, right when Theobald says the hive is most susceptible.
Add to this the fact that, for the past eight years, the Environmental Protection Agency has largely been giving these pesticides a rubber stamp and turning a blind eye to any meaningful study or regulation and we’ve got a significant problem.
“People will have to start missing some things and not mind getting all our veggies from China,” Theobald says, before public outcry starts producing some meaningful study. “I think it borders on treason and jeopardizes the security of our country.”
But we aren’t helpless. Get a hive and get in the game. Keeping bees is easy, fun and legal (or, at least in Lafayette, soon expected to be so) and you’ll hardly know they’re around. Better yet, the Colorado State University extension offices in Boulder County will soon be registering people for its fall beekeeping class ($75, bouldercountybeekeepers.org for info).
And the results are amazing. My lone elderly apple tree bore about two dozen, worm-riddled apples the year after I moved into my house. The next year, with my new hives, the limbs sagged under the weight of hundreds of apples, not to mention copious production from my raspberries and tomato plants.
“Unless we can pump new people into the (beekeeping) business or as hobbyists, we’re headed for disaster,” Theobald says.
So don’t just look to reduce your carbon footprint; support a local queen and be a beekeeper.