Save the bees, honey

Published 8:49 pm Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The white blooms blossomed on the rhododendron bush, and brilliant color flashed from the flame azaleas, but the air, crisp with the scent of newly mown grass, seemed strangely silent.

“There ought to be bees on these flowers,” the beekeeper said. “Where are the bees?”

Brian Crissey, PhD, says almost every beekeeper he knows in Polk County has suffered a 75 percent to 100 percent loss of hives in the last year.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Three of his own hives have died out. Across the nation, one third of managed bee colonies were lost this winter, 42 percent above last winter’s losses, according to the seventh annual national survey for the 2012/2013 winter season.

The survey exists as a joint endeavor of the Bee Informed Partnership, the Apiary Inspectors of America and the United States Department of Agriculture. Most survey respondents were backyard beekeepers, rather than commercial beekeepers, which have been hit with even more force.

Where did they go and why?

For 30 million years, bees have kept the same forms and lived in the same kind of culture, Crissey said. Now, in the past six years, half the U.S. bee population has disappeared in what’s been deemed colony collapse disorder, and the effects have been felt in Polk County. At 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 16, beekeepers and anyone interested will meet to discuss how to save the bees in Polk County. The meeting will occur at Crystal Creek Center, 1689 Silver Creek, Mill Spring.

Bees, the state insects of North Carolina, do much more than make delicious honey.

They pollinate flowers and 80 percent of the agricultural crops in this country, including broccoli, strawberries, cashews and almonds. Migratory beekeepers will transport hives to California every year, gaining more income from having the bees pollinate the almonds than they gain from selling the honey itself. This year, though, of the 1.2 million hives needed for the almond pollination, only 400,000 were available, Crissey said. A loss of bees means a loss of biodiversity.

“Without bees, we’d be left with wind-pollinated foods, like grains,” Crissey said. “Of course, we can live on that, if it’s all we have left.”

The bees may suffer from toxins in pollen generated by genetically modified crops, or from systemic pesticides, such as neonicotinoids, that travel through water and get circulated throughout plants, contaminating leaves, nectar and pollen.

Many European countries have banned these pesticides, but the manufacturers have a strong lobby in the United States. Cell phones, too, could be causing disruption,” Crissey said.