Somehow, over the course of this month, I went from being completely unaware of the existence of local honeybees, to becoming completely obsessed with the plight of honeybees everywhere.
I try to remain ignorant of current events as much as possible since, let’s face it, no news is good news. But, sometimes, blogs report the news. And, sometimes, blog posts are news, so I don’t have the benefit of a total news blackout.
After reading several accounts of honeybee die-offs in this country and Britain, I started to notice a trend, so I did a little research on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). You know, how all of the honeybees in this country are DYING. Have you heard about this? Because it’s really kind of important. During the past year, large beekeepers in the U.S. have reported staggering numbers of honeybee losses (30 - 70%), and they have no idea why. The worker bees just disappear from the colony, never to return, leaving a sickly queen and a few inexperienced bees to tend to all of the baby bees, which eventually die from neglect.
My first instinct was to curse those winged deadbeat dads. My second instinct was to take stock of my own honey supply. Frantic, I e-mailed Andy Reseska of Reseska Apiaries in Holliston, which provides the honey for the Boston Honey Company and Golden Meadow labels. I wanted to make sure that his bees were okay. I was relieved to hear that 95% of his colonies had survived the winter, with no evidence of CCD. A 5% decrease in my honey consumption, I decided, was something I could live with. I didn’t think about it again for weeks.
But soon, the cogs of my mind, once clogged with sticky honey, started to move again (oddly, to the rhythm of Margaritaville). I love margaritas. They’re made with limes. Limes are delicious. They grow on trees. Well, I mean, assuming the honeybees pollinate the flowers so that the fruit can grow.
Wait a minute. Pollination. That’s the other reason we have bees.
I had no idea that most beekeepers raise bees specifically for pollination rather than for honey, and that, in fact, farmers rely on them. Since we grow far more food in this country than the resident bee population can pollinate, farmers pay beekeepers to truck in migrant bees for the job. Once the pollination is done for, say, almonds in California, they might ship them over to Florida for oranges, or Maine for blueberries, or here for cranberries. If all of the bees die, the food doesn’t grow.
Here is a short list of the crops that depend on honeybees for the vast majority of their pollination: almonds, apples, apricots, asparagus, avocados, blueberries, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, grapefruit, kiwis, macadamia nuts, onions, pears, plums, pumpkins, squash, and watermelon. If I missed anything delicious, it’s only because the other stuff relies on honeybees for merely half or less than half of its pollination.
Well, I was so freaked out, I started running up and down my street yelling, “THE BEES. THE BEES,” causing massive street-wide panic that the South American killer bees had finally descended upon us. Actually, it’s more serious than that. If the Department of Homeland Security had a color-coded National Threat Advisory for our country’s food supply, this bee situation would qualify as a Red (Severe) with an exclamatory “Holy Shit” written in the margins in capital letters.
But maybe there’s no reason to get hysterical. I mean, the local supermarket also carries food that comes in a box. Box trees don’t require pollination. And, if we get a hankering for fresh fruits and vegetables, we can always import them. If all goes well, we’ll arrange to get most of our supply from the Middle Eastern countries because, well, what are friends for? Then, it’s only a matter of time before we figure out a way to genetically modify pigs to grow grapes from their testicles. Then, at last, I can attend wine tastings and get a gold star for my astute observations, like, “Mmmm. Bacon-y!”
(Benevolent scientists are working on this problem. For more information, Penn State has podcasts on the subject of CCD.) (CCD, as it pertains to honeybees, not Sunday school.) (Sunday school is being studied by the scientists at the Discovery Institute.)