Worried about our honey bees

I’m worried about bees. I love big fat bumblebees and bumble just happens to be one of my favourite words.
I wasn’t always a fan, though. There was an incident when I was six involving my brother, a hornet’s nest, and a lit firecracker. I don’t recall much about the event but I do remember my brother’s words, “Don’t tell mom,” as he packed river mud onto the 14 stings on my back.
It’s not just bumblebees that I am worried about; I am worried about all bees, but the honey bee definitely is having a hard time these days. Honey is delicious and that’s reason enough to be concerned, but it’s the bigger picture here that has my heart experiencing some arrhythmia.
I recently saw the film “Queen of the Sun,” a 2010 documentary that examines the peril of the honey bees, specifically colony collapse, and the message we should be hearing from the honey bee.
It should be incredibly obvious that when bees are in peril, so is our food supply.
The film detailed many reasons that may be the cause of colony collapse, some of which are the establishment of large monocultures, like the almond farms in California, where fields upon fields of almond trees stretch for miles.
The almond farmers truck in honey bees from all over the United States for the intensive pollinating required in the spring when the trees are in blossom. The land that farms these almonds grows no other crops (hence, the status of monoculture) and therefore, there is no food source to sustain the bees the rest of year.
This travel plan for the honey bees is a very stressful one and their weakened systems allow any number of diseases—mites and the like—to cause them harm.
If these almond farms, or any other monoculture farm for that matter, would set aside a small portion of land on which they could grow bee-friendly crops, then the bees would not have to be trucked to the farms in such numbers.
Of course, there is far more technical information of which I know very little that I can’t possibly fit into this column. But what struck me about the information relayed in the film is the intervention we humans inflict upon the life of bees and how we have upset the natural balance.
When we start “messing” with natural systems and changing nature’s patterns, that’s when we get into difficulties. Moving from mixed smaller farms to large factory farms, we have stressed the land, the animals, and, as a result, we threaten the environment.
I left the screening of the film feeling somewhat hopeless, wondering how on earth we are going to right the myriad of wrongs. Aside of running out and buying up a bunch of bee hives and doing it “right,” the film did leave the viewers with some realistic steps to take to help the situation.
These steps will not solve the crisis, but it does buy us some time while we figure out how to do things better.
Some of the suggestions from the film were:
Our gardens or any spare area on our lawns should be planted with bee-friendly flowers and flowering herbs. A square metre of the same type of blooms is a good rule to follow, as bees like to forage in volume.
Weeds are a good thing. My beloved dandelion and clover is a happy meal for bees. If there is some weed that you just have to be rid of, let it flower, then before it goes to seed, pull it out or just cut it back.
The bees will thank you.
The obvious commitment of not using chemicals or pesticides in our gardens or lawn. We used to be proud of the golf course-style of lawn but we know better now (hopefully).
A small dish of fresh water beside our gardens is a great aid to thirsty bees.
Be vocal. We can show our concern for bees with our wallets and buy only local, raw honey from beekeepers caring for their bees in a respectful and sustainable manner.
Small positive steps taken by many can create effective change. I hope to invite some bees to my garden for tea very soon.