It seems quite likely that many people have by now some familiarity with colony collapse disorder, or CCD. The effects of this not entirely understood phenomenon have both beekeepers and scientists furiously working to understand, and hopefully mitigate this crisis. Vast numbers of the world’s bee populations—upwards of 50%—are simply disappearing.
The loss of nature’s most effective pollinators is resulting in billions of dollars in lost fruit, vegetable, nut and flower production. It is estimated that one in three bites of the food we consume is a direct, or indirect, result of bee pollination. For example, birds feed off the pollinated fruits, seeds and berries. Bees pollinate alfalfa, which in turn feeds cattle.
The complexity of our natural systems indicate that bees are of vital importance to the well-being of multiple species, and, like the canary in the coal mine, an unhealthy bee is a reflection of the degree of poor health that exists within our environment.
Colony collapse disorder has occurred when there are no adult worker bees evident at a hive, and yet there are no dead bees present either. The bees simply disappear, leaving the queen bee, a capped brood and food stored in the combs. Normally, worker bees will not leave a nest while there is still a brood that requires tending, or food remaining in storage.
Beekeepers must deal with events such as swarming and absconding as part of running an apiary. It is well-noted that swarming (a reproductive process in which one colony splits and becomes two) is a familiar problem for beekeepers and it typically occurs when the hive no longer meets the needs of the colony and bees swarm away from the hive to find better accommodations.
Typically, this happens because there is not enough room in the current hive to support further growth. It is considered to be the result of poor hive management, (i.e. overcrowding) and can be difficult to control. Bees will also abscond (simply leave all together), which is typically a result of poor conditions within the hive. Disease, pests, starvation and poor ventilation are some of the many causes that can transpire into absconding. However, neither swarming nor absconding is part of CCD.
As large-scale, professional apiaries and scientists attempt to get a handle on the problem, there are methods that any gardener can implement to improve local conditions. Beekeeping is a hobby that increases bee populations and the greatest increase in new beekeepers is in highly urbanized areas. Local bylaws permitting, it would seem as though there are few unsuitable places to raise bees.
The cost in purchasing a hive and colony is not overly expensive and a quick Internet search should reveal many organizations and retailers in your area. It is not even necessary to extract the honey, wax or any of the other valuable products bees produce. If you opt out of closely tending your hive, the benefits still end up being increased productivity for vegetables and flowers, and a resulting robust harvest.
Should you be disinclined to don the beekeeping suit, there are still helpful alternatives to bolster the numbers of the wild bees. Adding more bee-friendly plants to a garden will attract the indigenous bee population. Diversity is the key. The greater the variety of desirous plantings, the greater the attraction a garden becomes as a food source. There are many bee-friendly plants available at local nurseries and it will be easy to make good planting choices for spring, summer and fall.
Since nature functions so beautifully and efficiently, it is probably not even necessary to purchase more plantings for your garden. Bees are fond of dandelions, clovers and many other plants that consider weeds. Dandelion leaves even make a delicious salad fit for the human table. There are several attractive ground covers that can replace grasses in hard to grow places, such as under trees. Perhaps dandelions aren’t your thing, but there are so many options available that it is worthwhile to investigate exciting new ideas in garden design.
Saving our bees is as important for us as it is for the other species that inhabit and use natural flora. Increasing crop yields, diversity of plantings and a deeper gene pool for bees are ways that we can push back against the onset of colony collapse disorder. While the scientists and large-scale apiaries continue their important work, it is nice to know that one SOB’er can make a difference.