Saturday, February 14, 2015

Weekly Bee Update: Population Decline

Beekeeping probably seems like an unnecessary skill for a city dweller such as myself. I've gotten a range of reactions from people when telling them my plans; spanning from offers to help to amused disbelief. Since there is no bee class this week, instead of updating you on what we learned allow me to let you in on my decision making.

The main motivation for keeping bees is an environmental concern, rather than a love of honey. If I'm being honest, I don't especially enjoy the taste of honey. Over the last century the number of bees, as well as other important pollinators, has plummeted. Unlike other pollinators, honey bees depend on humans for survival. Non-native to North America, all varieties of honey bee currently in the U.S. were brought here from the old world by early colonists (c. 1622) until they were banned from entering the country in the 1920s due to concerns over foreign diseases. Beekeeping has become less common since then due to a social shift in our society away from rural areas/agricultural lifestyle and of course a growing distrust of bees. Environmental factors such as pesticide use have impacted honey bees as much as any other pollinator, but even without factoring that in they simply can't thrive without beekeepers. The U.S. government has recently pledged to save the monarch butterfly, but no similar investment has been made by the feds in the future of the honey bee yet. It's pretty much up to us for now.

So that is why I'm determined to keep bees, even if it must be in someone else's yard, and even if they end up not producing much honey. Beekeeping isn't practical if, like me, you rent a small apartment . . . in a building with other tenants . . . in a city which does not allow beekeeping. What then can you do to make a difference? The Great Sunflower Project crowdsources data on bees from people all over the internet. All you need is a plant which attracts pollinators (such as a sunflower) and internet access. If you don't have a yard you may be able to grow a potted plant or visit a nearby park to participate. I usually don't bother with non-edible plants in my garden, but this year I'll include some flowers just for this purpose.

Wouldn't ya know, as soon as I sign up for a course in Acton, I find a class being offered in Lowell? However it's being offered by Merrimack Valley Beekeepers Association, and I overheard a student in my class telling the instructor about his poor experience with their course. He decided to retake a course elsewhere so it must not have been useful. I'm also a little surprised they would choose to hold the class here since bees aren't welcome in Lowell. I'll take this as a good sign that interest in urban agriculture is growing in my home city, and maybe that will lead to a lift of the ordinance in the future.

Now that you know about the plight of the honey bee I hope you'll do a little something to help whether it be gardening, participating in The Great Sunflower Project, or starting your own hive. How do you choose to protect our pollinators?

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