Colony Collapse Disorder is a hot topic these days and while no one can agree on what causes it or what it even is, one thing is clear; something needs to be done. Albert Einstein has been quoted as saying, “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left.” Scientists have speculated that CCD might be caused by a virus, parasite or environmental conditions. While the latest findings suggest that tobacco ringspot virus may be transmitted to honeybees via infected pollen compromising their nervous systems, it may not be as simple as pointing our fingers at just one thing. Perhaps we’re bombarding honeybees’ systems with more pesticides and poisonous chemicals than they can handle, while at the same time pests and parasites like varroa mites, tracheal mites, and the small hive beetle (all first arriving in North America in the 1980’s & early 1990’s) are proliferating much faster than bees seem able to cope.
My humble, non-expert answer to this questions is this: Keep bees! Keep bees and don’t use chemicals. Let’s help ourselves by helping bees naturally develop a resistance to these parasites. I know so many beekeepers who have told me that they would love to go natural and stop using “medicines” and chemicals in their hives but just can’t afford the losses that would follow. However, many of these same beekeepers go on to say that what they’re using to treat for mites is no longer working and that they’re losing more hives than ever. If losses are inevitable, I vote for losing some weaker hives and helping my strong colonies develop their resistance rather than moving on to a stronger and more dangerous chemical only to end up in the same predicament down the road.
The other way you can help bees (and yourself) is by cutting out chemicals. When gardening, use compost instead of fertilizer. Look into companion planting to deter certain pests and use mulch as an alternative to herbicides to control aggressive weeds in your garden. When we spray weed killer on a dandelion we’re not only eliminating an important source of nectar and pollen, we’re poisoning the pollen and nectar that the bees will forage and bring bring back to the hive.
You might think that it’s all fine and good to stop using bee-harming chemicals on your lawn and garden, but when so much of America’s farmland is regularly doused in a plethora of harmful pesticides and herbicides, individual efforts can seem futile. Right now there’s nothing we can do to force the large scale farming industry to stop using the harmful substances they rely so heavily upon, but we all have a vote. You can make a difference by choosing where to spend your hard-earned money. Buy organic, support your local, organic farmers, join a CSA (community supported agriculture) and grow your own fruits and vegetables. Vote with the dollars you spend.