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honeybees

A few years back I learned that honey was just as effective as cough syrup. Its antibacterial properties might even help cure some bacteria-induced ailments. Personally, I thought this was one of the best things that I had ever heard. I could take a spoonful of honey instead of nasty tasting medicine. My kids? Oh, the horror. Not honey! They opt for cough medicine most of the time. My kids are weird.

honey

My dad raised honeybees when I was a kid. Not all the time, but he kept hives at few different times over the years. I have fond memories of him checking on his hive in his protective suit, smoker in hand. As a research scientist for our state’s department of agriculture, my father studied bees, gypsy moths, and other pests that impacted crop production. In his later years, Dad didn’t keep hives any more, but continued to process honey for resale. Twenty years after my dad passed away and I still have a jar of his honey that is still good. Honey never goes bad.  Honey is a miracle in and of itself. In addition to being incredibly delicious, it has numerous health benefits including, but not limited to, cough suppression, allergy relief, and wound care.

Honeybees are not only the miraculous makers of honey; they are industrious pollinators responsible for assuring the healthy growth of many crops. We need these amazing little creatures. True, we don’t love them quite so much when they are buzzing about our kid’s juice boxes or we step on them while running barefoot through a soft patch of clover in our front yard. Yes, we worry about stings and at times find them annoying, but we all saw the Bee Movie, and we know what life would be like without them.

 

The Problem:

Like all living organisms in the food chain, honeybee populations have a number of natural enemies including mites, viruses, and fungus. Other less natural killers include some pesticides and other environmental issues. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the mysterious disappearance of adult honeybees from their hives, has been taking a toll on the honeybee population since at least 2006. Researchers have been seeking the source of this issue for a number of years without a final verdict. Some people have suggested cell phone use and towers, pesticides, the overworking of pollinator bees, the lack of food diversity for bees, or the total lack of food in urban areas.  Each year, I read my students The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: A Scientific Mystery and then we discuss the various methods scientists use to research this issue. In the end, the cause is still unknown. What we do know is that the population of honeybees continues to decrease at a rate that is not sustainable for beekeepers, and honeybees  are essential to the pollination many of the crops we rely on.

hive

Take Action:

Unless you happen to be a professional beekeeper or a research scientist who is able to study this matter, you are not likely to be coming up with the solution to this natural crisis. That doesn’t mean you can’t help. Here are a few ways you can help.

      Many people are turning to beekeeping as a hobby. Maybe you might want to consider it. While it does take some training, local beekeeper organizations and a few library books will likely give you the basics to get you started.

      Maybe you don’t live in the best place to keep your own hive.  How about planting some wildflowers? Bees need a variety of food in their diet, just like you and me. Planting wild flowers in your yard or working with local gardening clubs to plant wildflowers in public parks or urban gardens can provide bees with a healthy diet.

      While the link between pesticides and bee deaths is debated, it is generally thought that the use of insecticide that contains neonicotinoids can be detrimental to bee populations. Refrain from using these chemicals when possible. Maryland may become the first state to ban the use of these products by non-commercial farmers. You don’t need to wait until it becomes a law in your state to stop using these products.

      Someday you might come across a swarm of bees. Don’t panic! Bees are not likely to sting when they are swarming. (Think about those crazy pictures of the people covered from head to toe in bees; that’s why they aren’t getting stung). Before you reach for some insecticide, contact a local bee rescue organization and have them safely removed.

      Buy local honey. Not only is this great for your health, but you can support local beekeepers who are doing important work in keeping us fed.

      Donate to organizations that are working to support beekeepers and find solutions to the bee crisis.

Also, consider checking out this sweet company, BeeSweet Lemonade, and let you purchases make a difference.

The debate is still raging while the bee populations continue to dwindle. We can do something, so let’s try.

Written by Barbara Seidle

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