01 Jan The Importance of Bees
By Daniel Gasteiger
It’s hard to imagine that anyone involved in gardening might not yet have heard of Colony Collapse Disorder. Living in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, I’m at the epicenter of the phenomenon: the first apiarist to report a colony collapse was from Lewisburg.
Colony Collapse Disorder is both disturbing and mysterious. In case you aren’t familiar with the problem, beekeepers report that they find once thriving hives spontaneously go empty-not a single bee remaining. The bees apparently don’t die in the hive-they simply leave-but conventional wisdom is that they die. Over the winter of 2007/2008, the United States lost close to 30% of bee hives surveyed.
If it’s Bad for Bees, it’s Bad for Us
Without honey bees, many of our crops don’t produce-or they produce very poorly. Honey bees pollinate fruits, nuts, grains, and vegetables. To maintain a thriving agricultural food supply, we need to maintain a thriving honey bee population.
So, it is disturbing to hear that more than half the hives in a commercial apiary might cease to exist in a single season. It has me-and many actually qualified experts-wondering: what causes the collapse? What’s becoming of our honey bees? Is there anything I can do to help?
What to Do
Until we know what’s making honeybee colonies collapse, we can’t stop it from happening. In the meantime, every gardener should keep bees in mind. Care for your garden as if it’s a honeybee playground:
- Don’t use chemicals that might hurt honey bees. Go organic.
- If you must treat against insects, do so in the evening after bees have gone home.
- Grow a mix of plants that flower in each season so there is always bee food available.
- Let weeds flower before you whack them. Dandelions and clover are terrific bee food.
- Let herbs (and other plants) flower as late into autumn as they want. If they’re flowering, don’t pull them until after frost-kill.
- Provide sheltered spaces in your garden where bees can get out of wind and rain.
- BECOME A BEE KEEPER! It stands to reason: if more people raise bees, there are more hives that could survive the colony collapse epidemic.
Does Keeping Bees Seem Crazy?
Unless you’re deathly allergic to bee stings, raising bees is not a huge pain. Startup costs are high, but they’re far lower than those of many sports and past times. You can put together a single bee hive for about $160, and will spend another $60 for three pounds of bees and a queen (you get them mail-order). If you want to harvest honey from your bee hive, you’ll need to add more components in the first season, and these may cost another $150. (A good tennis racquet costs more than $300.)
I was about 12 years old when my dad started bee hives from scratch. Assembling them and moving the bees in was incredibly fascinating. Eventually, we ran four hives. The week-to-week maintenance was minor; the biggest work came at season’s end when we harvested honey and insulated the hives for winter-we sometimes bottled several gallons of honey, and my dad even made beeswax candles.
In the next few months I’ll write more in my own blog, Your Home Kitchen Garden, about raising honey bees. Please check in from time-to-time for further inspiration. In the meantime, do what you can to make the bees around you happier, and extend your passion for gardening into a passion for beekeeping.