Are The Bees Dying off Due to Stress

Read article at Are the Bees Dying off Because They're Too Busy? from AlterNet.

Are bees dying because factory farms are "overworking" them? California bee farmers who let their hives take it easy find their colonies are thriving.

Honey is just one product of those highly productive bees; the pollen and wax they produce are valuable, too. Exploiting them -- making use of everything possible -- is another lesson from boutique farmers.

Commercial beekeeping has come to resemble other kinds of factory farming. Beehives are crammed close together in rows just a few feet apart; in the wild, a square mile supports at the most three or four hives. A wild colony's diet is diverse, comprising pollen and nectar from myriad plants. To compensate for the lack of forage around bee lots, bees are typically fed high-fructose corn syrup, the same stuff that's contributing to a human health crisis. And just like other agricultural livestock, bees become stressed when you crowd them together. They're more susceptible to diseases and parasites, less able to function naturally.

In nature, most flowers don't get pollinated. But you don't get a billion-pound harvest by letting nature take its course. The agribusiness way is to rent hives for the two-week almond pollination season. This year, growers paid $150 per hive, placing three to five hives per acre.

The natural lifecycle of a bee colony follows the seasons, with a hibernationlike rest period during the winter. Unfortunately for the bees, the lucrative almond pollination season comes at the worst possible time, around Feb. 10, a miserably rainy time of year. A colony may rear ten to 12 generations of bees in a year. The "winter bees" must survive the cold months and live long enough to raise the vigorous new brood that will bring back the spring pollen and begin the cycle again.

Malnutrition could be another piece of the syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Wild bees live on water, nectar, and pollen. Nectar provides the carbohydrates they use for energy and to make honey, while pollen is a rich mix of protein, fats, minerals, vitamins, and micronutrients. Bad weather may have destroyed some nutrients vital to the bees as well, making the pollen useless to their bodies.

Qualls thinks inbred queens are another possible factor in collapsing colonies. Maybe that's what happened to Peter Scholz. In every winter, the colony he has in his backyard dwindled away -- or, you could say, collapsed. Scholz gave up, but left the hive in place. Two springs ago, a feral swarm moved in. This colony is thriving, and he expects to get 50 pounds of honey this year. "It makes sense in a Darwinian way that the hives that flourish locally and swarm are the ones you want to adopt," he says.

Swarming is the natural process by which a colony reproduces itself. Capturing swarms is a popular pastime for backyard beekeepers -- and it may provide insurance against whatever disasters are befalling commercial operators.

Related: Vanishing honeybees mystify scientists.


blog comments powered by Disqus