Friday, June 20, 2014

Save the bees!

Bees... They are feared by some, but the ecosystem depends on them. Sadly, things aren't looking good for these industrious little fellows. Over the past Winter 23.2% of the US honeybee population died off. As bad as losing nearly a quarter of our bees sounds, that was actually an improvement from the 30% losses we have seen in recent years. Still... 23.2% is still a higher rate of loss than the 18.9% that keepers consider sustainable.

In fact, a government report has stated that the rate of decline that honeybees are facing is too steep to guarantee the long term survival of the species. This is terrible news! So much relies on the humble bee. They pollinate countless plants. Without them, foods that rely of pollination will become more scarce or disapear. Some of it is food that we eat. Apples, berries, tomatoes, cucumbers... Without bees, they become much less plentiful. But bees also pollinate crops that we don't eat, but our livestock do. With less food for them, we are in turn left with less meat.

A recent Harvard study has confirmed that neonicotinoid poisons found in pesticides is the main cause of Colony Collapse Disorder. Okay, we found the problem so it should be easy to fix, right? Wrong... While Europe has banned the use of these poisons, we have not. Money has taken over politics after-all, and companies like Monsanto have tons of money and tons of lobbyists to buy politicians. It seems they would rather protect their short-term profits, than the long-term health of the ecosystem.

What should be more important... The rich getting richer, or the continued survival of apples, mangos, kiwi fruit, plums, peaches, nectarines, pomegranite, pears, black and red currant, alfalfa, okra, strawberries, onions, cashews, cactus, apricots, allspice, avocados, passion fruit, lima beans, kidney beans, green beans, orchids, cherries, celery, coffee, walnut, cotton, flax, macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds and oil, lemons, figs, limes, carrots, cucumber, hazelnut, cantaloupe, coriander, chestnut, watermelon, coconut, tangerines, boysenberries, starfruit, brazil nuts, beets, mustard, broccoli, cauliflowe, cabbage, turnips, chili peppers, red peppers, bell peppers, green peppers, papaya, sesame, eggplant, raspberries, elderberries, blackberries, clover, cocoa, black eyed peas, vanilla, cranberries, tomatoes, grapes, etc...? Oh, and no more honey either!

a mason bee house
So what can you do about it. The easiest thing any of us can do is to not use pesticides in our gardens, and to plant flowers that are favorites of your local bee populations. A quick google search will tell you what flowers to plant in your area. But be careful... Flowering plants sold by big box stores have been found to have been treated with pesticides that actually kill bees. So rather than giving the little guys a helping hand, planting a tainted plant may actually be hastening their demise. 

If you are as concerned about the bee population as I am, you have probably planted bee friendly plants that were either sourced from a local nursery or grown from seed. You may have even flirted with the prospect of beekeeping. If you have the time, dedication, and space to keep honeybees, more power to you. I live in the city, so I don't have that luxury (or the time). I will be installing a 'bee house' in my back yard though. This isn't for honeybees, but rather Orchard Mason Bees. These little fellows are solitary, the males have no stinger, the female very rarely stings, and one female can do the pollination work of up to 200 honeybees. They do not live in colonies, or make honey, but they sure are industrious. 

one type of orchard mason bee
These little guys are native to North America (honeybees are from Europe), and if you like you can buy a pre-made mason bee house. Or you could do like me and build your own. Just get some untreated wood, drill 5/16" holes in it that are about 5" deep, place a roof on it to protect from rain, and place on the south side of a building. 

I will be using a cedar fence post so that I can make a mason bee hotel. They will pack the holes with nectar, lay an egg in it and seal the hole off with mud (each hole will have many egg chambers). They may not be honeybees, but they are the bees that I can help out. So help I shall! With any luck my garden will be thanking me with a wonderful bounty in the years to come.

-Brain Hulk

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