I’m sure by this point most of you have heard that we have a serious problem with bees. I’m not talking about killer bees, which seem to have appeared in places they really shouldn’t exist. I’m talking about pretty yellow and black striped honey bees. It is called Colony Collapse Disorder and it was recognized to be a problem in 2006. Suddenly large populations of bees simply disappeared and nobody seemed to know why. Over the laste few years, several hypotheses have surfaced, none of which can completely explain the phenomenon, but all of which are plausible.
Some point toward disease as the culprit. Some have suggested that killer bees have squeezed honey bees out of their normal habitats. However, two of the theories that seem most likely to be causing the phenomenon are cell phones and pesticides. It has been suggested that cell phone signals somehow interfere with the signals honey bees use to communicate, in essence causing them to get lost. Unable to find their hives, they simply die. As far as pesticides are concerned, this is again, not a far fetched idea. Pesticides and insecticides are regularly used, particularly on commercial farms. While the flowers the bees feed from may not actually be sprayed, runoff and wind can carry these chemicals quite a ways, contaminating their food sources and killing them.
Why should I care?? Well, we should all care. Honey bees are responsible for pollinating a huge number of crops that we all rely on regularly. Without them these crops would disappear. Some of these include: onions, cabbage, peppers, melons, cucumbers, almonds, strawberries, soybeans, apples, avocadoes, eggplant, vanilla, tomatoes and grapes. The list goes on and on.
What can we do about this?? I for one make it a point to support local honey bee farms by purchasing their honey so that they can afford to keep the hives going. Beekeeping is tricky work. It can be expensive and fickle. One of the farms I frequent has 4 hives. They treat them equally and all 4 are located in the same spot on their farm. They tell me that every year for whatever reason one of the hives simply dies off and they have no idea what they did differently to cause that hive to perish when the others do perfectly well. So they buy new bees and repopulate the hive and start from square one.
The second thing you can do is to get involved in beekeeping yourself. Many people are putting up hives on their properties and letting the bees do their work. For those who are allergic to bee stings, this may not be a popular idea, but for those who have the space, the money and the desire, it can be an incredibly rewarding hobby and one they know is actually having an effect upon the environment and our future.
Ironically the company who has done the most to support research on Colony Collapse Disorder has been Haagen Dazs. Many of their flavors rely upon honey and crops pollinated by honey bees so they have created a special research fund to determine the cause and help fix the problem. Hopefully their efforts will help curtail the perpetuation of CCD and develop a course of action to help eliminate it.