Did you know that Missouri has more than 450 species of bees, including several kinds of bumble bee? Many of those natives have evolved to pollinate very specific plants such as blueberries, squash, tomatoes or peppers. Did you also know that the honeybee is NOT a native of the US? Bees, both our native bees and the honeybee, are responsible for pollinating around 75% of the produce that we eat, and they maintain the habitats on which many other animals rely. That’s a big responsibility.
It has been a somewhat thankless job. Between changing climates, new diseases and large scale agricultural practices post-WWII — including chemical fertilizers and pesticides — bees have had an increasingly difficult time. Big Ag monoculture farming practices were supposed to have been better and more efficient, but the reality is that they have destroyed the balance between soil, microorganisms, water, livestock, crops and pests making them unsustainable in the long run. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) was discovered in late 2006. CCD is a spooky occurrence in which the bees simply abandon their hives. All of the adult bees just disappear leaving behind their future — the brood and the honey. Researchers have decided that there is not a single cause but a combination of stressors breaking down the natural system. And, although CCD seems to have abated, we still see a 25% loss per year partly due to large scale migratory operations spreading mites that cause disease.
So what is the future of beekeeping? Are we really doomed? Or is this an opportunity to discover that bigger is not better; faster is not necessarily a good thing; more is not the ultimate goal? There is so much to learn. We are learning that urban settings actually offer more diversity in bees than rural or suburban areas. We are also learning that we can have a positive effect on the native bee population simply by altering our mowing schedule, planting natives and adopting organic practices. The future of honeybees may be with small backyard producers. YOU could be part of that solution.
To learn more, you could check out any of the many books that DBRL has on beekeeping. You could also attend The Future of Beekeeping at the Callaway County Public Library on Tuesday, October 24. To make sure there’s a future for us, we need to make sure there’s a future for bees!