|A bee on a sunflower in my vegetable garden|
I am an environmentalist. At least I am most of the time. I recycle and compost. I don’t spread chemicals on my lawn to kill weeds or spray my apple trees, flowers or vegetables. However, I will spray poison ivy with Round-up if there is too much invading areas where I walk or work.
So recently when I moved a tub of pine cones in my lean-to where most of my gardening stuff is located and a swarm of what looked like tiny bees flew out, I retreated quickly, but wasn’t willing to get out any wasp spray to spray them because I’m well aware of the plight of the honeybees.
Around 2006, commercial beekeepers began noticing their honeybees were disappearing. They would open their hives and find them full of honeycombs and even honey, but no actual bees. Sometimes the hives would be full of dead bees from CCD; colony collapse disorder. As many as one-third of U.S. honeybee colonies have collapsed or disappeared during the past winter, a 42% increase over the year before. This is a disaster for the beekeeping business which is a big business in this country. Some of the bigger beekeepers have as many as 6000 hives. In addition to local beekeepers, there are those who haul hives to large agricultural farms. From Maine’s blueberries to the almond orchards of central California, bees are at work pollinating crops. The loss of honeybees is a problem for all of us because it’s estimated that one in every three mouthfuls of food we eat is because of bees. For instance, almonds are California’s most valuable agricultural export worth more than its wine grapes and are totally dependent on honeybees. Apples, asparagus, avocados, broccoli, blueberries, and onions are 90% dependent on bees. And the list goes on for foods dependent almost as much on these pollinators.
Scientists are working hard to figure out what is causing the problem. Agricultural pesticides are an obvious suspect, especially a new class of chemicals known as neonicotinoids. Other scientists are working on a parasitic mite or bacterial and viral diseases or genetically modified seeds.
Before I get back to my bee problem, here are some more facts about bees. The life span of a bee is about 20-30 days. During its short life each worker bee will produce one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey. Estimated annual amount by which bee pollination increases crop value is $15 billion. In a single trip, a worker bee can visit up to 100 flowers and carry more than half its weight in pollen. In order to produce 1 pound of honey, hive workers fly a collective 55,000 miles and tap 2 million flowers. A colony typically comprises 20,000 to 30,000 bees. Bees do not hibernate in the winter, but create a winter ecosystem inside the hive and live off honey with the bees maintaining warmth by working their wings. According to Hannah Nordhaus in her 2011 book, The Beekeeper’s Lament, “Honeybees are the glue that holds our agricultural system together.”
I already knew much of what I wrote above before I read TIME’s Aug. 19, 2013 article “The Plight of the Honeybee” by Bryan Walsh, but it is where I got the facts I quoted.
So when I realized I had a problem, I contacted the Trumbull County Beekeepers’ Website and found the names of some beekeepers who will come and take swarms of honeybees. I wasn’t sure that’s what I had because they seemed much smaller than the honeybees I’m used to seeing on my flowers and the dandelions blooming each spring on my lawn and in my gardens. One couldn’t come for three days and another was on his way to Cleveland and said he’d stop that evening on his way home, which he did along with his son and a nephew. He said they weren’t bees, but some type of yellow jackets and needed to be destroyed. They will attack and kill bees even the bumble bees that live in the rafters of my lean-to. That information made me realize I hadn’t been seeing or hearing those bumblebees for a while. They’re large gentle giant bees and not aggressive at all. He recommended I spray the yellow jackets at night and then cover the container with a large plastic bag to keep the fumes in. It took two nights of spraying – one with a new can since my first one was years old – and still they were active. My son came over and sprayed more thoroughly. Then he called later and suggested I pour ammonia in the bin that night. I did that and covered up the bin again, and the next day all but a few stragglers were dead. I was only stung once the day after I sprayed the first time when I moved the container to see if they were gone. Not too smart, right? Actually, several days after writing this, I found out they weren't completely killed and busy rebuilding their nest and starting to multiply again so my battle is not yet won.
Since all life’s little adventures and misadventures are fodder for a mystery writer, I have some new ideas for future books. Killing with bees and/or yellow jackets is not a totally new method of murder. It’s been done before. I know of two books where the author used bees, but there probably are not any totally new methods of murder out there anyway so I am going to use them. The why and how are still to be worked out. Also, this beekeeper was an interesting man. We had a lengthy discussion on bees and other things. He told me a bear had wiped out almost all his hives and that’s when I realized it was probably a bear that had finished off my crop of blueberries. (that's for another blog) He also gave me a bottle of his homemade elderberry wine that had won first place in a county fair wine tasting contest. So he is going to become a character in a future book, too. The wine was delicious, by the way.
So in what way are you helping our little honey makers?
Have you considered not having your lawns and gardens sprayed with insecticides?