Bees are dying at an alarming rate, and you should be concerned.
Bees are essential for our survival because they keep our crops alive and thriving. Without them, we would not only lose the majority of our food resources, but also the animals that count on those crops to survive. The leading cause in the decrease of bees is Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and there are actions we can take to extend their livelihood.
Let’s start with the basics of the hive. Honeybees are unique in the way that they live to serve their queen. They produce beeswax, honey, and propolis. Propolis is a specific type of wax that is a natural antibiotic to the hive, and they stick it to the sides of the wooden frames in a domestic hive.
An average worker bee will make 1/12 teaspoon of honey in its lifespan, and in the summer one hive can have up to 50,000 workers. The queen’s purpose is to lay eggs, otherwise known as brood, keeping the hive active. Although almost the entire hive is made up of female worker bees, the queen is the only one that’s able to lay eggs. The male bee’s sole purpose is to mate and then die.
One huge leading cause of CCD are varroa mites. These mites suck blood from both adults and developing brood, shortening their lifespan. Varroa mites are something that are hard to keep away from the hive. There are precautions that beekeepers can take to reduce the number of mites in the hive, but they have become an inevitable pest.
Another large contributing factor to CCD is the excessive use of pesticides in large agricultural regions, as well as in home gardens. The use of pesticides on farms causes honeybees to carry the poisonous chemicals back to their hive, leaving traces in the honey.
CCD is happening all around the world, not just in the United States. After the 2015-16 winter, the U.S. reported the loss of 28.1 percent of colonies, which is way above the 15 percent that we can afford to lose.
Peter Somers, owner of BEEZ Hives N Honey in Salt Lake City, has his own theory about CCD.
“What happens is the varroa mite doesn’t necessarily kill the bee right away. They’re still born and they look normal, they go to work, and you don’t ever know that they’re sick. But their lifespan has been reduced by one-third to one-half,” he explains. “A bee lives six days, and the first three days are in the hive. If they’ve been parasitized by the varroa, they’re not going to get six days of foraging, they’re only going to get maybe two days of foraging and then they’re going to die.”
Somers adds that once the sick forager bees die, the whole balance of the hive is thrown off. This leads to more bees leaving the hive that aren’t supposed to leave in the first place.
“To make up for the foragers that they lost, they take the nurse bees and make them foragers earlier in life. The problem is they’re not ready to forage so they go out and die in a day. So the foragers are gone and then nurse bees are leaving to forage, and suddenly the whole hive is disappearing.”
The main thing we can do to help save the bees is plant bee-friendly flowers and avoid using pesticides in our gardens. Some of the most important flowers to a bee’s survival is what we consider to be weeds, especially dandelions. Other bee-friendly flowers can be herbs, fruits, veggies, and sunflowers.
When looking into what flowers to put in your garden this spring, choose the ones that bees love and go for organic alternatives to pesticides or even pest-repelling plants like garlic, onion, fennel, sage, thyme, and parsley.
If you’re really passionate about helping our environment, Somers says you could even start your own beehive.
“Beekeeping should be left to people who are passionate about beekeeping. Otherwise, [the bees] are not receiving proper maintenance and love,” he says.