In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
Bees of all species seek nectar from flowers blooming in each season like this Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha).
Has Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) been solved? Here's what you should know about the state of honey bees, along with some ideas for your garden.
CCD Reports 2010
Sharp declines in U.S. commercial honey bee colonies first began in 2006, and since then the number of managed colonies dropped an average of 30 per cent each year (Congressional Research Service, 1/7/2010). USDA researchers are focusing on 3 major possibilities because they have concluded that no one factor is responsible. The causes may be one of the three or a combination: 1) unintended consequences of pesticides, 2) introduction of a new parasite or pathogen (virus) and 3) a combination of stressors that compromise apian immune systems and increase their susceptibility to collapse. The report provides a map showing that as of December 2009 all the states in our regions except Louisiana and Alabama have reported cases of CCD. While reports indicate that this is a problem primarily of commercial hives, gardeners report fewer honeybee sightings. Unfortunately this may mean that wild hives are affected, too, thus perpetuating the problem in an uncontrollable environment. Because gardeners are active participants in the natural world, the result is a trend toward identifying and planting pollinator-friendly plants and using fewer pesticides in their gardens.
Bee Research Controversy
Just when you thought no solution was in sight, a recent New York Times article by Kirk Johnson (Oct. 6, 2010) proudly announced, "Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery." What a relief, that a fungus "tag-teaming" with a virus are interacting to cause colony collapse disorder. The how remains to be determined, but since both proliferate in cool, damp weather in the apian digestive system, the scientists have a place to start, according to Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk of the University of Montana at Missoula. Father of the "Bee Alert" team, Bromenshenk and Charles Wick, microbiologist with the US Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, co-authored the results of their research and were interviewed by Johnson. It is a positive piece about cooperation between the public and private sectors and, by not mentioning pesticides specifically, seems to imply vindication. Nor does it mention Dr. Bromeshenk's commercial interest in a device to detect various bee ailments with sound technology, among other concerns. Katharine Eban delves into these issues in a subsequent piece for Fortune magazine (Oct. 8, 2010) and reprinted online by Nitasha Tiku for New York Magazine. While this discussion may seem arcane and not about gardening, it really is. Because our gardens are close at hand and heart, their ecology directly impacts each of us and deserves a deeper look.
Thought into Action
It's like University of Florida entomologist Jamie Ellis says, "Colony collapse disorder has put honeybees in people's living rooms." An interview with the scientist appears in the fall 2010 newsletter of the U of F Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab and focuses on the growing number of beekeepers in the state. Ellis says that 1500 are registered and he estimates twice as many are unregistered, a 33 per cent increase in the last 3 years. The numbers of backyard beekeepers has grown exponentially across our regions since the advent of colony collapse disorder, but few educational efforts have the scope of University of Florida IFAS Extension Bee College and its allies, Master Beekeeper, 4-H and Junior Beekeeper programs. That means more people aware of the stress honey bees face and more willing to keep beehives on their property. Reaching further to raise awareness, alumni of the Master Beekeeper program now advocate for bees statewide in Florida. If you have caught the buzz, find out more in your own state by visiting your Cooperative Extension Service, or strike up a conversation with a local beekeeper at the Farmers Market.
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