Over the last few years there have been a large amount of articles and campaigns surrounding concern over the dwindling bee populations. Although research is still ongoing, early estimates suggest that up to 85%-95% of the North American Honey Bee population has disappeared.
It is important to note that the causes of this decline come from many different sources and it is because of this it why it is difficult to judge the extent of the problem. Also the majority of bee losses have occurred in North America as well as Europe, and the news you see about the decline is usually localised to that area. Australia is one of the countries that have escaped major bee loss, and this is due to the varroa destructor mite not as yet having made it to our shores as well as the lack of CCD (read on for definition). This is great, and I will go into that more as we go on.
So, the major impacts on bees worldwide are climate change, pollution, chemical pesticide use (particularly neonicontinoid pesticide, which has been in the news lately), the varroa destructor mite, and Colony Collapse Disorder (which is not yet fully understood).
Now, some of these things are a pretty big, and affect things bigger than just bees themselves. Also some are problems that, as an individual, you can only make a minor impact on a grander scale to, this blog will detail what an individual can do, from their home, to make an immediate and measurable impact to bees.
Living in Australia we are lucky to not yet be effected by both Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) or the invasive varroa destructor mite. CCD is the rapid disintegration of the hive, where bees simply disappear leaving behind healthy hive conditions. Australian scientists researching this behaviour believe it to be caused by a negative feedback loop where young forager bees are forced to leave the hive too early and are then dying and not making it back. The reasons for this are the environmental pressures, such as pesticides are killing the mature forager bees causing this stress on the hive structure. (Click here for the full SMH article)
The varroa destructor mite is an invasive parasite that terrorises the North American, South American, and European bee populations. It works by burrowing into the hive and attaching itself to the body of the bees. It then sucks out the hemolymph which can cause genetic abnormalities. The mite then move onto the larvae, infesting the young drones. If the infestation gets advanced it leads to the collapse of the hive.
Now that you know some of the bigger problems, what are some of the things that you can do? Well, urban beekeeping initiatives are becoming more common, and they are having some favourable results, but short of going out, putting on netted helmets and farming some bees for their sweet, delicious nectar, here’s what you can do:
- Plant some flowers in your garden or on your balcony. Like briefly mentioned in the welcome post, bees love purple, blue and yellow flowers. Bees have vision in the ultraviolet spectrum, and these flowers are particularly appealing to them. If you have access to wildflowers at your local nursery, they are even better
- Use organic or natural pest control on your home gardens. This one can be a little tricky, but there are plenty of natural alternatives out there rather than the ‘kill all’ chemical poison. Just ask your local nursery what ones they recommend for an organic, bee friendly garden. Working at a nursery part time myself, a good brand to look out for is ‘Nature’s Way’, which have a green and white branding. They have products for caterpillar, suckling insects and most of the common pests that ail at home gardeners. It is especially important when using pest control on edible crops to get the right ones. The organic choices are frequently the best for fruit or veg, because it simply washes off before eating. When it comes to neonicotinoid pesticides you will have to ask your nursery, or sometimes check the label of the plant. In some nurseries they label plants that haven’t been sprayed with a neonic pesticide so you know they are safe for bees, but it is best to double check. Neonicotinoids are currently being legislated in Europe due to their severely damaging effects on bees, so do your best to avoid them until Australia catches up.
- Okay now a fun one, go visit the many bee friendly cafes and restaurants that practice sustainable honey production, or even grow their own. The most notable one I can think of is Kylie Kwong who sources all of her honey from Wayside Chapel and is leading the way in sustainable urban produce. I will be showcasing a list participating cafes and restaurants in an upcoming post, and hopefully visiting them myself.
So that’s it, there’s a brief rundown on what the bee problem is and how you can help in your own small way. All that is left is to plant some flowers, go visit your local bee friendly eatery, and enjoy the honey knowing you’re doing your own little bit.