An occasional bee hovers over the blooming crocuses, and I realize how much I miss our own honeybees. It was so exciting to see the bees fly from their hives after the long winter to begin to replenish their supplies. This Saturday we will pick up bees for two new colonies and start over—avoiding last year’s mistakes, and as many new ones as possible.
A recent article in The New York Times told of a big decline in commercial bee populations over the winter, “wiping out 40 percent or even 50 percent of the hives needed to pollinate many of the nation’s fruits and vegetables.”
Beekeepers and researchers believe that new pesticides “incorporated into the plants themselves” are to blame. This seems so obvious to me—pesticides kill insects indiscriminately. Commercial bees are shipped around the country, pollinating one single crop at a time. So it seems equally obvious that these bees would be more vulnerable, with the stress of frequent travel and the lack of diversity in each monoculture they pollinate. Honeybees’ saving grace may be their importance to our food system—because bees are so essential in pollinating a large portion of our food supply, we have to take notice; it is critical that a solution is found.
With our two hives, we have only ourselves to blame. We mishandled our swarm last summer and failed to replace the older queen in time. In other ways we’ve done what we can to help them survive, planting a diverse array of flowering plants which bloom through spring, summer and fall. And of course we use no pesticides on our property. So with more experience and good intentions we hope our new hives will prosper for years to come.