Honey Bees are not native to America. Their establishment here is credited to European settlers and their long sea voyages in the 1700s and 1800s. These arduous trips, which lasted six to eight weeks, required the bees to remain tightly confined. In such an unnatural environment, this precious cargo was difficult to keep alive and losses were great. These hard working pollinators were vital for the re-establishment of food gardens and those survivors were carefully nurtured to assure their success.
By 1639 colonies of bees were well established in the woods of Massachusetts. Hives will multiply on their own when they become over crowded. This created a steady migration naturally as well as being moved with the pioneers. By the 1800s they were deep into the mid West.
In 1848 the Mormons brought hives to Utah in their covered wagons, hence this states’ emblem became the beehive. Eventually honeybees were introduced to California and other Pacific coast states.
Like previous times, our value and need for honeybees remains strong. A current example is in the California San Joaquin Valley. Here 1.6 million beehives are needed to pollinate the almond groves. Seasonally, semi trucks deliver pallets of hives for the pollination of almond blossoms. Many deliveries arrive from cold weather states like Colorado and Montana.
For adequate coverage a minimum of 2 hives per acre are needed and this valleys’ crop covers nearly 800,000 acres. J This one agriculture harvest requires nearly two thirds of all commercially available hives. Eighty percent of the nations almonds are grown in this valley and it is a multibillion-dollar crop that is crucial to California.
In 2006 global alarms went off signaling a sudden disappearance of honeybees. Three years later, in 2009, a total of one third of the bee population had disappeared and this was now being called “Colony Collapse Disorder”. Because beekeepers have experienced a great loss in hives many are deciding to forgo delivering to the California groves.
Researchers worked hard to find the cause and finally the National Academy of Sciences came to the conclusion it was not one singular culprit but a combination of several.
The puzzle slowly came together and various opinions were found to be all partially correct. From fungus, Varroa mites, and a weakened immune system which has all added to this alarming problem. The bees are simply unable to withstand the continuous exposure to a toxic soup made of new chemicals, pathogens and parasites.
These losses are being felt worldwide for beekeepers, almond producers, or anyone involved in producing real food. The department of agriculture states one quarter of Americas diet depends on food that is created by honeybee pollination. Everyone, that buys food, will feel the change. Fewer bees means there will be less food harvested which results in even higher costs at check out. A humbling message delivered to those who blindly consider themselves superior to natures’ tapestry of sustainable relationships.
To date nearly 50% of the hives needed to pollinate the nations fruits and vegetables have been wiped out. During the last two years evidence is growing stronger and pointing to a specific class of chemicals as being one of the largest culprits. This new generation of pesticides is called neonicotinoids.
Neonicotinoid is a neurotoxin that is derived from nicotine. This systemic insecticide is absorbed into the all parts of a plant including nectar and pollen. Whether in a food producing plant or the flowers purchased for your garden, this silent killer becomes a final meal for the honeybee as well as other insects.
On December 1, 2013 the European Union made the initial global gesture for change before more drastic losses occur. To Quote Claire Kreman, who is the professor of environmental sciences at Berkley Institute: “the European Union –today (Dec. 1)- boldly begins a two-year ban on selected pesticides thought to be harmful to honeybees and other pollinators – the United States should help protect pollinators by banning these pesticides. But the (United States) should do far more, and become a world leader in championing sustainable alternatives to harmful pesticides.”
The California Almond crops may be America’s version of a “canary in the coalmine”. Not understanding and appreciating the natural world is proving again to be a costly disconnect. The hard lesson learned from nature, is that once it is gone, you just cannot turn to a factory and place another order.