I’m in my garden which is 5 months old, and since the flowers bloomed like instruments in a symphony this spring, the bees having been humming around all the time too. So the posts below – about bees vanishing from the face of the earth – are a little scary – even if bees are scary for some people. I want to eat the fruit from my peach, pear and orange and lemon trees some day, so I love the bees that do all the work in my garden pollinating the plants. No bees, no fruit.Per U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics:
- One-third of the human diet is derived directly or indirectly from insect-pollinated plants.
- 80 percent of insect pollination is accomplished by honey bees.
Other insects that accomplish the remaining 20% of pollination are also drastically reduced.
The honey bee shortage affects apple growers in Virginia, almond growers in California (which produces 80% of global almond supply), and watermelon growers in Florida. Some crops that require pollination are: apples, avocados, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, melons, oranges, grapefruit, pumpkins, squash, sunflowers, tangerines, and watermelon. Also, forage plants like clover and alfalfa need pollination (and cows need clover).
The greatest value of honey bee pollination is seeds destined for worldwide distribution: 20 vegetables produce seeds only if their flowers are pollinated. Direct and indirect effects cannot be estimated: ornamental shrubs and trees, wild plants (on which wild animals and birds forage), beeswax, honey…
Unless the honey bee shortage is rectified, the worldover may suffer a shortage in quantity and quality of pollinated crops, beef and dairy products. It means higher prices and bad news for for families.
Some suggested reasons for the missing bees – decline in Chinese milk vetch due to weevil infestation (Japan); increase in cypress and cedar non-bee-flowering trees (Japan); fungi and weakened immune systems (US); chemical use (worldwide)
Can we do anything to help?
- Encourage beekeeping in your community.
- Make pesticide applications to your vegetable gardens and any plants when bees are not present in the garden, usually at dusk or after dark. Consider natural pest control methods.
- Spread the word.
AROUND JAPAN/ SHIIBA, Miyazaki Prefecture: The mystery of the missing honeybees
Shiiba is so well known for its honey that two years ago, to capitalize on the fame, local residents here launched a special Shiiba brand. There’s just one problem.The honeybees have all but disappeared.Nobody knows why for sure. November, the peak month for harvesting honey, came and went with no sign of the bees. Local honey growers are getting desperate.”I’m perplexed,” says Hisaki Nasu, 72, a Matsugi district resident known as the best honey grower in Shiiba.”This is the first time I’ve experienced something like this in my 60-year career as a honey grower. I don’t know what to do.”Most of the roughly 100 beehives set up around his house and the nearby mountains are empty. Even last year, when Typhoon No. 14 did considerable damage to the hives, he was still able to collect honey from 48.Experts say environmental changes caused by planted forests could be contributing to the bees’ disappearance, or possibly they are being poisoned somehow.Nasu’s theory is that the amount of honey harvested each year is a good barometer of a mountain’s health. In mountains, bees pollinate trees more than ground flowers, so Nasu says he believes the lack of bees may be attributable to the increase in softwood trees that do not bear flowers, such as cedar or cypress.He also suggests that acid rain may be damaging the flowers that attract bees. Not only are man-made hives being abandoned, he says, but natural ones as well.In Shiiba, beehives are everywhere, both natural and artificial. Most of the bees are honeybees endemic to Japan. The man-made hives are generally hollow logs, with an open bottom to allow the bees entrance.The queen nests during the spring and by fall the bees are hard at work making honey. The hives are lined with honey to attract the bees, but suddenly that approach isn’t working. Nasu has been trying new things to bring them back, such as planting red Camellia sasanqua flowers nearby.But some people are skeptical that humans can do anything.”It’s inevitable because it’s part of nature,” says Makoto Shiiba, chairman of a committee of local honey growers. “If we can find the cause, we’d like to know. But I think all we can do now is count on next year.”The town government’s planning and tourism department is taking a wait-and-see attitude.”We don’t know what to do because this is the first time this has happened, and any kind of activity would cost money,” said one town official. “It might be just a temporary phenomenon for this year, so we would like to sit tight and see what happens.”Fujio Hisashi, 71, a honey grower from Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, heard about Shiiba’s mystery and did some research on beehives in late October.Hisashi discovered that honeybees have been disappearing elsewhere, too–and that the areas have some things in common.”Honeybees are disappearing from areas where cedars have been planted all over the mountains,” he says. “Shiiba also has few flowers and bees must have been barely surviving even before this bad harvest.”Honeybees need honey from various types of trees that blossom at different times of the year, Hisashi says. He guesses that the long rainy season also made it difficult for baby bees to survive.But the case is far from closed, and experts are far from agreement.”If the honeybees decreased rapidly, then it was probably caused by external factors like poisoning rather than environmental change,” argues Jun Nakamura, associate professor at Tamagawa University’s Honeybee Science Research Center.He points out that there have been cases overseas where tannin, a substance found in tea flowers, poisoned honeybees in large numbers. Honeybees don’t particularly like tea flowers, but if the number of other flowers decreases for some reason, they will use tea flowers as a last resort.”In order to determine the cause of this plight, we need to interview not only honey growers but also study changes in the types of pesticides used in nearby farms, as well as other external factors,” says Nakamura.(IHT/Asahi: December 19,2006)
Other Worldwide bee-vanishing news:
The Honey Bee Crisis
Bees Vanish, and Scientists Race for Reasons By ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO
More links here.
- Amy U…
When honeybees in California started dying off I wasn’t very concerned. In fact, I was sort of happy because as the honeybees, which are non-native in the US, died off it allowed our native bees and other polinators to thrive! But now that honeybees are dying off all over the world I’m concerned. I hope we can find the cause and correct the problem.
Great info, thanks!
Thursday May 24, 2007 – 07:50pm (PDT)