Overworked? Stressed out? Is it killing you? Well some scientists are beginning to think that might be what is killing our commercial bee colonies. We are working them to death. Commercial beekeepers have been experiencing colony collapse; the bees are abandoning their hives and dropping dead. Scientist have been scrambling to figure out why the colonies are collapsing before financial and economic disaster strike.
Honeybees are not indigenous to North America. Our native plants will survive without bees and the pollination they bring. But so many crops grown in the United States, things we think of as everyday foods, like almonds, grapes, plums, cucumbers, cantaloupe, asparagus, apples, cherries, tomatoes and zucchini depend on bees for pollination. It used to be that a farmer or orchard grower would invite a beekeeper to keep his hives on his land in an agreement that benefited both. The bee’s work would operate on a natural schedule, working with the seasons, and hibernating in the winters.
But big agribusiness doesn’t work that way. The bees must accommodate their schedule. Rather than living on the land and doing their work naturally, they, and their hives are trucked in for the two week pollination season, and then trucked to another part of the country to do the same work. In the course of a year a hive can be trucked from California to North Dakota and then to Florida. All this traveling doesn’t allow for much of a winter hibernation, as the almond pollination season begins mid February.
When hives occur naturally in the wild, an square mile will support three or four hives. The bees enjoy a diverse diet of pollen and nectar from a variety of plants the diversity of this diet provides a rich mix of protein, fats, minerals, vitamins and micronutrients. But life is very different for a bee living in a commercial, agribusiness hive. The hives are crammed close to together in rows that are just a few feet apart. Because there is not enough forage to support that many bees, the bees are fed high-fructose corn syrup. Add to that the dearth of pollen last year because of drought and temperature changes, and the bees may be suffering from malnutrition. This would may them more susceptible to the concentration of viruses and diseases that occur when living creatures are housed in high-density conditions.
Commercial bee keeping operations make most of their money from pollination and not honey. Many even kill off their hives at the end of the season so as to not have maintenance cost in non productive periods. Food activists have been warning us that agribusiness’s way of growing food is dangerous to our health, it appears now it may also be dangerous to the health of bees.