Not just on National Honey Bee Day, which is Saturday, Aug. 16, but every day.
This year's theme is “Sustainable Gardening Begins with Honey Bees.”
Some grassroots-minded beekeepers established the day in 2009 "to build community awareness of the bee industry, through education and promotion," according to their website. "Our commitment is to continue that philosophy."
"Oh, but I'm just one person!" you say. The NHBD's response to that is a quote from Edmund Burke (1729-1797): "No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little."
Here's what we did: We removed our lawn: no lawnmower, no edger, no lawn. Our garden is a bee garden. We planted lavender, artichokes (and let them flower), catmint, alyssum, cilantro, cosmos, tower of jewels, zinnias, guara, blanketflowers (Gallardia) sunflowers, Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), lantana, California golden poppies, honeysuckle, salvia, oregano, African blue basil, sedum, peach, tangerine, pomegranate, lemon and other bee favorites. A drip irrigation grid system, timed to turn on at 4 in the morning, keeps the plants healthy, and the nectar and pollen flowing. It's a veritable oasis. It's a welcome mat. It's a pool of floral resources. C'mon in, the flowers are fine!
It's also important to select seasonal plants, especially for late summer and fall, when food resources are scarce. Avoid pesticides. Buy local honey. Support the bees. Support the beekeepers. Become a beekeeper or let beekeepers maintain their hives on your property, if you can.
Get involved with bees!
If you're like me, you love to photograph them. I can sit for hours in our bee garden and just watch them go about their bees-ness. Here are several of my favorite images:
Beekeepers and almond growers are concerned--and rightfully so--about the some 80,000 bee colonies that died this year in the San Joaquin Valley almond orchards. In monetary terms, that's a loss of about $180,000. But the loss isn't just financial. It could have long-term effects.
Beekeepers believe that pesticides killed their bees after the almond pollination season ended but just before they could move their bees to another site. This is a serious blow to both industries. Growers need the bees to pollinate their almonds. Now some beekeepers are vowing this is it; they'll never to return for another almond pollination season.
"When should the colonies be allowed to leave the orchards?" he asks. "When pollination no longer is happening. That does not mean that the bees should remain in place until the last petal falls from the last blossom."
"Why might beekeepers desire to move their hives out of the orchards 'early?' Once the almonds no longer provide nectar and pollen for the bees, the bees find replacement sources of food. Unfortunately, those sources may be contaminated with pesticides that almond growers would never use when the bees are present. Some common pests that surge right near the end of almond bloom include Egyptian alfalfa weevil larvae and aphids in alfalfa, and grape cutworms in vineyards. Delayed dormant sprays sometimes are being applied in other deciduous fruit orchards, even when the trees are in bloom. Often blooming weeds in the crops are attracting honey bees. If the year is really dry, the bees may be attracted to sugary secretions of aphids and other sucking bugs."
Mussen says it's "not difficult to see that accidental bee poisonings often happen. Despite our California regulations requiring beekeepers to be notified of applications of bee-toxic chemicals within a mile of the apiaries, bees fly up to four miles from their hives to find food and water. That is an area of 50 square miles in which they may find clean or contaminated food sources. Thus, growers whose fields are 'nowhere near' any known apiary locations may accidentally kill many bees with chemical applications."
"It seems," Mussen says, "that a combination of exposures of colonies to truly bee-toxic insecticides, followed by delayed effects of exposure to fungicide/IGR mixes during bloom, really set the bees way behind. The problem proved so severe that a number of beekeepers stated that they were never returning to California for almond pollination. That is not a good thing, since we really don't have too many colonies coming to almonds as it is."
In his newsletter, Mussen goes into depth about when and how bees pollinate the almonds and what could be causing the problem and how it can be resolved.
His take-home message? "Our honey bees cannot continue to be exposed to as many toxic agricultural products as they are, or we will not have enough bees to fill the pollination demand for our nuts, fruits, vegetable, forage and seed crops."
That's serious business.
His bees went MIA due to a mysterious phenomenon we now know as colony collapse disorder (CCD), characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive and leaving behind the queen, nurse bees, brood and food stores. Without the adult workers bringing in nectar, pollen, propolis and water, the hive collapses.
Today, just above everybody knows about the declining honey bee population and the importance of improving bee health and safeguarding their pollination services.
So it was with great relevance that when a UC Davis team asked for photos of "Women Feeding the World: Farmers, Mothers and CEOs" that the images included beekeepers.
Brenda Dawson, communications coordinator for the Horticulture Innovation Lab, formerly the Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program (CRSP), spearheaded much of the project, which spotlights, elevates and praises the status of women involved in food production throughout the world.
In the olden days, women in agriculture were considered "farmer's wives" or "farmer's daughters," but rarely farmers.
Farmers they are. They always were. UC Davis illuminated them.
The project featured four images of beekeepers, ranging from women in California and Washington state to Bolivia and Botswana.
They included bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey of Washington State University, formerly of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis; commercial bee queen breeder Jackie Park-Burris of Palo Cedro, a past president of the California State Apiary Board and the California State Beekeepers' Association; Queen Turner, former Humphrey Fellow at UC Davis and the head of the beekeeping section, Ministry of Agriculture, Botswana government (Kathy Keatley Garvey photos), as well as an image of Bolivian beekeepers taken by former Peace Corps volunteer Britta L. Hansen of the Horticulture Innovation Lab.
Dawson lauded the many campus and community organizations that "came together" to sponsor the event and its online gallery and campus display, including several units from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences: the Blum Center, Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program, International Programs Office, and Program in International and Community Nutrition. Additional sponsors include the World Food Center, Office of Campus Community Relations, Women's Resources and Research Center, and the off-campus organization Freedom from Hunger.
CBC described the images as "powerful photos" of women feeding the world.
That they are. And they're especially significant because March 8 is International Women's Day.
It was bound to happen.
As soon as New York City lifted its ban on backyard (and rooftop) beekeeping, scores of folks began making a beeline to take classes from the New York City Beekeepers' Association.
Hugh Raffles, an anthropologist and author of Insectopedia, wrote about the trend in a recent New York Times piece.
"The benefits of urban beekeeping are substantial," Raffles wrote in the July 6th edition. "Despite the conventional view of the city as a slough of pollution, urban honey is likely to have significantly less chemical residue than commercial honey made beyond the boroughs. This is partly due to the high levels of pesticides in commercial agriculture and partly because small-scale beekeepers tend to use fewer drugs in the care of their hives than commercial operators.
"Then there’s the health of the city. Take the honeybees of East New York Farms!, an organization of urban farmers and neighborhood farmers’ markets. These Brooklyn bees pollinate crops for the entire neighborhood. They aren’t just making honey: they’re building community, creating income and employment and maintaining vital urban green space."
Raffles goes on to say that "Local honey will benefit the health of the planet as well: minor transportation costs, no-fuss manufacturing (courtesy of the bees), minimal processing, simple recyclable packaging and centralized retailing provide a model of effective, low-carbon production and distribution."
Raffles points out, however, that rooftop beekeeping does have its pitfalls. "For one thing, unless you own your building, your landlord has to approve the hive’s installation, and he has to feel confident about the reactions of the tenants and the roof’s ability to support a 250-pound hive box. Then there are the costs: around $250 per hive, plus about $200 for the bees, the protective suit and other equipment. And even though the image of bees has softened in the wake of colony-collapse disorder, popular fear of bees is ever-present."
We think the new movement toward urban beekeeping also will result in a younger generation of beekeepers, including 4-H club members signing up for beekeeping projects.
Perhaps, too, there will be more ethnic and gender diversity.
According to the latest survey by the USDA National Agricultural Statistical Service, the average age of beekeepers today in the United States is 55. And the survey showed that white males comprised 90 percent of the beekeeper population.
“Honey bee insurance” buzzed into the news Feb. 1 when Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., appeared on the CBS Show, "Face the Nation" and blasted the state of the economy and President Obama's economic stimulus plan.
"I doubt if the government buying $600 million worth of automobiles would provide the kind of stimulus that we're talking about here," McConnell said. "And we certainly don't need honeybee insurance. Look, this thing needs to be targeted right at the problem, if we're going to spend this enormous amount of money.”
Honey bee insurance? I listened closely for more details, but none came.
What he didn’t say--or explain--is that this is a form of crop insurance, similar to what is offered to many crop producers.
One of the earliest to write about honey bee insurance was UC Davis apiculturist Eric Mussen, who discussed revenue insurance in the November/December 2002 edition of his “From the UC Apiaries” publication. At the time, beekeepers were exploring ways to protect their investments against devastating losses. The program works like this: pay a premium to an insurance company, and if a devastating loss occurs, you’re protected up to a specific portion of your loss.
The program is now under way, but is not offered yet in some states, including
So, bottom line: Beekeepers who elect to pay a premium will receive compensation if the honey crop revenue falls below the listed “trigger” value of that year. The compensation depends on the level of coverage purchased for the colonies they own.
Currently, only honey production--not pollination or queen or bulk production--can be insured through this specific honey bee insurance program, Mussen says. And this is based on weather conditions. If there’s a drought, for example, and the bees have little food, satellite images would verify the lack of plant growth.
Back in 2002, Mussen estimated that the insurance would cost a little over 6 cents for each dollar of coverage. The federal government’s subsidy would reduce the beekeeper’s premium to three cents per dollar.
Fact is, government subsidies are nothing new, but they are new to beekeepers.
Fact is, government subsidies are nothing new, but they are new to beekeepers.
Beekeeping is an agricultural industry involving risks, just like those who plant almonds, strawberries or watermelons. Insurance is part of a good management plan.
It’s taking the good with the bad.
It's like the daphne (below) that offers scented flowers but beware those poisonous berries.