As you may or may not be aware, over the past 20 years, the American
Honeybee population has been reduced; this is also true
of other European bee-stocks around the world. At least
partly to blame is the Varroa mite. Varroa mites can only
replicate in a honey bee colony. The mites attach to the body of a
bee and weaken it by sucking its internal juices and spreading
viruses to the bees. Ultimately, this will not only kill the
individual bees, but it will also weaken the colony and can lead to
the collapse and death of the colony. Also of concern is
colony collapse disorder (CCD); a symptom of CCD finds worker
bees simply flying away - leaving a few guardians, the queen and the
hive's young to fend for themselves. While the cause of CCD is
unknown, the Varroa mite has been cited as a possible indicator and
a potential contributor. Additionally, nutritional stress,
lack of forage food, pesticides and the practice of transporting
hives large distances for commercial pollination are also being
investigated as contributing factors.
Why do I care? Why should you, you ask? Bees are of
integral importance to the human food chain; they are the principal
pollinators of hundreds of fruits, vegetables, flowers and nuts.
In fact, a 2000 Cornell University study concluded that the direct value of honey
bee pollination to U.S. agriculture is more than $14.6 billion.
What can actually be done to help the situation? Actually,
the help is all around us; it comes in the form of native
pollinators. The familiar honeybee is actually a European
import to the United States, but the honeybee's native American
cousins are still here; bumblebees are chief among them. While Varroa mites have been found on bumblebees, the Varroa cannot
reproduce in a bumblebee colony and, to date, no bumblebee colonies
have exhibited CCD and none have been found to have been decimated
by Varroa infestation.
Aren't bumblebees just fat and lazy?!
No! Bumblebees are workhorses of the bee world; they pollinate
crops and trees at rates up to 200 times faster than their European
cousins. Beyond that, there are other advantages offered by native
pollinators; many are active early in the spring, before honeybee colonies reach
large size. Native bees tend to stay in a crop rather than fly
between crops, providing more efficient pollination. Because they
fly rapidly, native bees can pollinate more plants. Unlike
honeybees, the native males also pollinate the crop. Native bees are
usually gentle, with a milder sting. Additionally, there are certain
North American crops that are only pollinated by native bees.
Check out my Bumblebee houses!
Another bee native to North America is the Mason
Bee; these bees are extraordinary pollinators! Mason Bees are
solitary bees, meaning they don't live in a hive structure,
preferring instead to nest and lay their eggs in holes. They
use mud as a kind of mortar to seal their eggs in chambers - thus
their 'mason' name. As a result of their solitary nature,
these bees do not exhibit an aggressive hive defense behavior; this
docile behavior makes them perfect for living close to humans.
Check out my Mason Bees!
Lastly - give feral honeybees a chance. Those pretty,
manicured lawns that look so attractive to many homeowners are not
attractive to bees; bees take nectar from flowers and when we "weed"
our lawns, we take away the clover and other "flowering weeds" that
bees love. So, keep some clover growing in your yard - just
pick a spot and let it grow naturally. It can be as
out-of-the-way as you'd like - the bees will always find it.
Additionally, while mulch is an effective (and attractive) barrier
for weeds - it's also a tough barrier for bees. Many bees
prefer to burrow rather than nest in a tree or bush, but they need
access to exposed ground to be successful. So, create a little
"bee space" in your yard.
Keep in mind that you don't need to turn your lawn
into an overgrown, tick-infested jungle...just arrange for a few
strategic spots of bare earth and clover and the bees will take care
of the rest. Your flowers, plants and yard will look great. Better fruits and vegetables from your garden,
better flowers in front of your house. Where's the downside in