- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
That question challenged 4-H’ers entering the 2013 National 4-H Beekeeping Essay Contest, sponsored by the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees, Jesup, Ga. Essay coordinators urged the 4-H’ers to gather information from scientists, beekeepers, farmers, gardeners and other sources.
Elise Dunning, 14, a home-schooled eighth grader from Enumclaw, Wash., sought out staff research associate Billy Synk of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, as a key resource for her 967-word essay.
In a telephone interview, she "asked me a little about beekeeping but more about how pesticides are used and how that relates to toxicity and colony collapse disorder issues," Synk said.
Dunning went on to win the first-place award of $750 in a contest that drew state-winning essays from 21 states. Each state winner advances to the nationals.
Dunning's other sources included PBS Nature, The Silence of the Bees, 2007; beekeepers Wade Bennett and Dennis Carlson of Enumclaw; and the book, How to Reduce Bee Poisoning from Pesticides, (Pacific Northwest Extension Publication, 2006) by Helmut Riedl, Erik Johansen, Linda Brewer and Jim Barbour.
“Imagine yourself in the blistering heat, wishing you were sipping lemonade and watching the honey bees buzz about,” began Dunning. “Instead, you are painstakingly hand-pollinating every single bloom with a wand composed of chicken feathers and bamboo. This is a completely alien idea to many of us. China, though, has succumbed to this fate of hand-pollination after their honey bees disappeared.”
“Honey bees are mysteriously vanishing worldwide. Although there are many theories concerning their disappearance, there is strong evidence that pesticide use is one contributing factor. If we wish to save this exceptional insect that many of us are hasty to shoo away, our use of pesticides needs to significantly change. Working together to accomplish this goal, beekeepers, growers, and homeowners can raise public awareness of honey bee health, scrupulously follow application guidelines, and consider choosing natural alternatives to pesticides.”
“Many people don’t realize how much we depend on honey bees. Incredibly, about one-third of everythingon our table is a result of honey bee pollination. This includes nuts, fruits, flowers in our centerpiece vases, and even most of our dairy, since cows feed on honey bee-pollinated crops such as alfalfa.If more people recognize how much the honey bee contributes to our lifestyles, they will likely be more thoughtful with their chemical use.”
Dunning also advocated communication. “Start a conversation with your friends and family about saving the honey bee! Plan a wildflower-planting day, discuss using natural alternatives, or set a date to shop for pesticides listed as safe for honey bees! …Increasing public awareness of the honey bee’s peril and importance in our lives can inspire anyone to become a honey bee rescuer.”
Dunning acknowledged that chemicals are often used on plants and in bee hives. “However, the choices we make about which chemicals, when to apply, and how to apply them could make a huge difference in the honey bee’s survival. When choosing pesticides, it is a good idea to avoid those which have a residual hazard longer than eight hours. There are three insecticides that are primarily responsible for bee poisoning: organophosphates, n-methyl carbamates, and neonicotinoids.The organophosphate is in many cases no longer available and was originally developed for chemical warfare during World War I. Chemicals are often unavoidable with crop production, but there are many things growers can do to make their application more bee-friendly.
“One of the most straightforward steps we can take to protect our honey bees is to meticulously follow pesticide application instructions and guidelines. For example, since honey bees only forage during the day, spraying a pesticide in the evening that would not leave a toxic residue by morning could help reduce bee deaths.Another precaution that could be taken before applying a toxic pesticide with a long residual life is to ask neighboring beekeepers to move or confine their bees temporarily. Despite the inconvenience, it is worth it to protect honey bees from exposure to chemicals.
Dunning also advocated that beekeepers try to use “at least one” natural alternative to pesticides in their hives. “Although there are many pesticides available for this issue, natural alternatives, many of which are common household items, can work instead,” she wrote. She noted that 20-year beekeeper Dennis Carlson, owner of Dr. D’s Bees, Enumclaw, uses powdered sugar to remove mites from inside his hives; and 25-year beekeeper Wade Bennett, owner of Rockridge Orchards, “uses a unique alternative to eliminate mites, which includes sprinkling dried, ground up honey into his hives. He also uses mint oil to rid his bees of trachea mites. Natural alternatives definitely pose fewer risks to bees than pesticides. In my opinion, everyone should use at least one substitute to help save the honey bee.”
“Our pesticide use,” the 4-H’er related, “is one reason for the honey bee decline, and using natural alternatives as well as being careful to follow rules for chemical application can help alter the effects.”
“Most importantly, though, speaking out and spreading awareness of the honey bee’s jeopardy can save this bee from toxic chemicals. Our actions and day to day choices, whether chatting with family or applying chemicals to our yards, need to be carried out with the honey bee in mind.”
Dunning lives with parents, younger brother, two dogs and two frogs in Enumclaw. Her interests include 4-H dog care and training, reading, spelling bees, and gymnast activities.
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology judges the California state level of the contest and frequently answers questions about bees.