A honeybee extracts nectar from a flower. (wikicommons)

The Plight of the Honeybee—and How You Can Help

Darla Antoine
6/21/13

Honeybees are holy. They are matriarchal powerhouses, spiritual catalysts . . . and they’re dropping like flies.

It’s a phenomenon that’s become known as Colony Collapse Disorder. While its causes are contested and debated, it’s largely agreed that the bees are dying from some sort of a combination of exposure to pesticides (in the field and in their hive), and of exposure to pathogens and viruses. All of which may potentially be caused, and prevented, by commercial beekeeping practices. This is a big deal because it’s estimated that we rely on bees for up to 40 percent of our food—bees are the pollinators that make our food happen!

It’s been attributed to Einstein, but someone once said that if the honey bee goes extinct, we humans will follow four years later.

FOUR years later.

So what can you do? Well you can buy your honey locally for starters. Big operation beekeepers often harvest all of the honey in their hives and give the bees high fructose corn syrup to live off of during the winter. They also buy pre-fabricated honeycombs to speed the honey-making process up and to make the slats of honey produce more uniformly. The honeycomb is where the Queen bee lays her eggs. There are generally two sizes of honeycomb in a hive: large and small. These different sizes create different kinds of bees, which lends biodiversity to the hive, creating a healthier, stronger, hive. For example: the smaller honeycombs create bees that are disease tolerant, while the larger honeycombs create bees that are tolerant to the cold. That means that if there is a sudden cold snap, some of the disease-resistant bees might die, but there would be plenty of cold-resistant bees left to keep the hive going and to help regenerate it. And vice versa.

The problem in most commercial operations is that they slip in pre-fabricated honeycombs to save time and to get the bees producing honey faster. These combs are also reusable and disposable—easier and cleaner to work with. However, these combs are also only come in one size: large. That means large commercial productions for honey have a lot of cold-resistant bees and not many disease-resistant ones, which may be one reason so many honeybees have died in the last few years. This then leads commercial beekeepers to use antibiotics and pesticides in their hives— which is bad for the bees and bad for us when we ingest their honey or use the beeswax.

Another bonus to buying your honey locally: the honey will be infused with local pollens (from the pollen-collecting process) and over time this exposure to local pollens will help reduce or eliminate your seasonal allergies.

What else can you do to help the bees out? Become a beekeeper! It’s really pretty simple and inexpensive to get into beekeeping. I recommend finding a local beekeeper and asking her for some tips on getting started. You can also check out area beekeeping organizations for classes on beekeeping and other sources for getting everything you need to get started. You can also check out websites like BackYardHive.com Also be sure to check with your city or county ordinances—sometimes you can get a property tax break for having a hive on your land.

If you’re not a beekeeper, but still want to help the little beauties out, plant a diverse selection of flowers in your garden to help attract bees and consider not using chemical applications on your plants and soil. The bees will thank you for it.

Darla Antoine on a recent visit to Washington State.

Darla Antoine is an enrolled member of the Okanagan Indian Band in British Columbia and grew up in Eastern Washington State. For three years, she worked as a newspaper reporter in the Midwest, reporting on issues relevant to the Native and Hispanic communities, and most recently served as a producer for Native America Calling. In 2011, she moved to Costa Rica, where she currently lives with her husband and their infant son. She lives on an organic and sustainable farm in the “cloud forest”—the highlands of Costa Rica, 9,000 feet above sea level. Due to the high elevation, the conditions for farming and gardening are similar to that of the Pacific Northwest—cold and rainy for most of the year with a short growing season. Antoine has an herb garden, green house, a bee hive, cows, a goat, and two trout ponds stocked with hundreds of rainbow trout.

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