In the past honey bees lived in wilderness areas or on farms where there were fruit trees, flowering shrubs, vegetable gardens and a variety of weeds flowering on roadsides and in ditches. A potpourri of nectars sustained the bees from spring through fall. In winter they lived off the honey sealed into the cells of their honeycombs.
Now, vast spreads are dedicated to the production of one crop. Three important U.S. crops that require honey bee pollenization are almonds, blueberries and cherries. Come flowering season the farmers rent honey bees from commercial bee keepers. Millions of bees are trucked in on semis; their hives stacked one on the other and wrapped round with tarps. Many travel from Florida to central California on a two to three day journey. When the California almond blossoms fall the hives are shipped to Maine for blueberry season.
Commercial beekeeping is a carefully managed business; the bees are fed synthesized sugar solutions laced with antibiotics, hives are split to increase production, queens are artificially inseminated to insure breeding takes place despite the constant movement of the hives. One advantage to this system is that the bee keepers can move their bees to avoid areas of heavy pesticide use.
Corn is grown over immense swaths of the Midwest; we are the world’s largest producer. The wind pollinates corn, so the health of honey bees doesn’t concern these farmers. Most of the corn grown today is genetically modified to resist pests with a toxin called Bt that is now found in honey bee colonies. The nerve poison Sevin is used by cotton farmers to control the cottonwood leaf beetle. This pesticide kills bees immediately, but some live long enough to carry the pollen back to the hive where it works its way through the entire colony over a period of months. The Bayer Company markets two systemic pesticides that permeate crops clear out to the golden grains of pollen. These poisons are found in honeycombs where the bee larvae develop.
Remarkably none of these issues alone is responsible for Colony Collapse Disorder. Scientists also suspect malnutrition due to lack of nutritional variety, climate change, toxins in the environment and even electromagnetic radiation from cell phone towers. The current hypothesis is that a combination of factors weakens the immune systems of the bees, making them vulnerable to pathogens and parasites.
Such a depressing topic, and after seeing the movie, I really just tried to forget. This past weekend our dear friends came to visit, she has early onset Altzheimer’s, full blown now. The funny, loving, intelligent woman we have known is vanishing. Could there be a common thread? Cognitive Collapse Disorder? Trying to forget is not an attractive option.