Honeybees are in danger and need our help. In the last few years, populations have decreased in half, due to diesease and the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which has resulted in beekeepers losing 30-90% of their hives for completely unknown reasons. But one of the things we can do to help honeybees is to simply start keeping them, and giving them a safe and healthy environment to live in. The benefits for you, the bees, and the environment will be great, in addition to all of the sweet honey and beeswax you will gather. For all of these reasons, I’ve decided to start keeping bees myself, after a friend loaned some spare equipment to me so that I could begin.
Raising bees has a long history throughout human civilizations, and our modern soceity is more dependent than ever before on the humble honeybee. 15 to 30% of our food is pollinated by bees. Without them, our fruit trees would not produce fruit, nor would many nut trees or garden vegetables. Obviously, a greater bee population will result in better pollination, and that’s exactly why the disappearance of the honeybee has been so worrisome. I am attracted to the idea that simply keeping bees will result in more productive gardens and strengthen the local ecology with the introduction of a huge influx of new pollinators. And of course, honey and beeswax are other obvious (and sweet) benefits.
Beekeeping and sustainability
But will keeping bees really help to actually “save the bees”? Maybe. I was surprised to learn that many commercial beekeepers, up to 1,300 of them, migrate across the United States with their hives. The hives are loaded onto pallets and into trucks and then set up on huge industrial farms to help pollinate trees and plants, especially almonds in California. How could that possibly be healthy, never mind sustainable?
It is still unclear exactly what causes Colony Collapse Disorder to occur, but apparently it is much more prevalent in industrial beekeeping. Is is safe to assume that traveling with bees to industrial farms, where pesticide use is all too common, is dangerous to the health of bees? Is monoculture killing bees? Is is some combination of all these factors?
Perhaps this is a good reason why we need more small beekeepers, whose hives can be more closely monitored and do not travel thousands of miles in a year. Integrating bees into local and organic food production seems like not only a human benefit, but a great service to the bees themselves.
Image credit: Flickr via Michele Ferretti